The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority plans to use eminent domain to acquire a property in northeast Oklahoma City that was once expected to be planned to be used for development as a shopping center anchored by an Uptown Grocery Store.
Hank and Susan Binkowski bought the property at the corner of NE 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Avenue for $500,000 in 2014 when it was home to one of their Buy for Less stores.
The 52-year-old grocery was small by modern standards, and the building and surrounding shopping center were run down and not improved in years.
The Binkowskis joined with then Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis to announce a deal to build a new, 50,000-sq. ft. Uptown Grocery and adjoining shopping center that would include a Career Tech Branch, healthcare tenant, restaurants and retail.
They also bought surrounding land, expanding their holding on the corner to 22 acres with the future possibility of adding housing to the development.
The city created increment financing district to assist on the $30 million King’s Crossing development, bringing the total potential public participation to at least $8.5 million.
The Binkowskis, however, came back saying the city’s offer was about 10 million short of their final request. The couple then downgraded the brand from Buy for Less to Smart Saver, infuriating then-Councilman Pettis.
They then closed the store in 2019, tore it down before selling the chain in 21020.
“There is a lot of concrete and parking lots left,” said Urban Renewal Director Cathy O’Connor. “And on the green space, there was a lot of debris dumped there.”
The city is preparing to invest millions at the intersection, including a statue of legendary author Ralph Ellison in front of his namesake library, creation of a Clara Luper center and renovation of the historic NAACP youth center.
Russell M. Perry, publisher of The Black Chronicle, a major property owner on NE 23rd and an Urban Renewal board member, cautioned eminent domain is an unhappy memory for those who saw northeast side neighborhoods uprooted in the 1970’s.
“Our first effort is always to try to negotiate a purchase for property we don’t own,” Mrs. O’Connor said, noting the authority hasn’t used eminent domain in more than 20 years.
MAPS 4 includes funding for acquisition on the corner as parts of efforts to beautify and revive the busiest commercial corridor in the city’s predominantly Black northeast quadrant.