Freedom Center Is Nixed

After the leader of the board of trustees asked that the Freedom Center be deleted from the MAPS 4 projects list, the City Council voted unanimously to do so.

Leonard Benton, the chairman of the effort to renovate the center and to build a museum to be named for civil rights leader Clara Shepard Luper, told officials $2 million from private donors caused him to propose that the Freedom Center be removed as a project.

That $2 million originally planned to be used to renovate the Freedom Center.

The center was used by Luper as something of a headquarters and makeshift museum for her civil rights work.

She died in 2011.

Mr. Benton told officials that his trustee board had led a successful fundraising effort that resulted in $2 million in private donations.

The building of the Clara Luper Civil Rights Center will get the funds.

With the council’s vote, the Luper Civil Rights Center’s budget was increased to $16 million.

In total, the two projects combined for $25 million of MAPS 4 funding, with $9 million for operating and maintenance expenses. 

“We went to the private sector of our community, and we have been very successful in terms of being able to receive the necessary private funding to renovate the historic freedom site,” said Leonard Benton, chairman of the Freedom Center of Oklahoma City.

It is unclear exactly how much the Freedom Center has raised in private funds, or if the expected completion of the project, which is planned to begin in the spring of 2022 and finish later that year, will be impacted.

But the completion date coming next year will be much sooner than the time frame laid out in the MAPS 4 implementation plan that had the Freedom Center project coming to a close in 2025.

The project will comprise five acres and be built adjacent to the historic site of the former Mobil gas station turned civil rights hub at NE 25th Street and Martin Luther King Avenue, Boulevard, originally transitioned by Clara Luper and the NAACP Youth Council in 1967.

Much like the Clara Luper Civil Rights Center that is planned to be Oklahoma City’s Civil Rights museum and community gathering place, the Freedom Center is intended to increase awareness of local civil rights history.

“I think this is the best step forward to have that removed from the mass implementation plan and for us to look at moving forward independently with what this Freedom Center is going to do and how we can continuously support their efforts,” said City Councilwoman Nikki Nice (Ward 7).

The move away from MAPS 4 requested by Freedom Center advocates was supported throughout the chain of committees and advisory groups, and was referred unanimously by the Citizen Advisory Board to the City Council.

The Clara Luper Civil Rights Center will stay connected with other MAPS 4 projects that range from addressing homelessness and mental health issues to downtown arena improvements and upgrades to sidewalks, streets and parks.

According to the implementation plan, the Civil Rights Center is anticipated to be completed at the beginning of 2026. 

It was not clear what role the additional funds will play in the project’s development.

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