News Column

The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City, Steve Lackmeyer column

June 17, 2014

By Steve Lackmeyer, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

June 17--The Dunbar School, closed last year after being a community hub for the city's black population since 1932, is set to be redeveloped as senior housing.

Donald Dillingham, whose company Oak Hills Private Equity LLC. bought the building from Oklahoma City Public Schools, is applying for a $525,000 loan from the Urban Renewal Authority's Community Development Block Grant fund.

The application, if approved, would require redevelopment of the school into 40 independent senior living apartments, 51 percent of which must be rented to low- to moderate-income senior households. The deal also requires project completion by June 2017.

The school, at 1432 NE 7, is in the middle of the John F. Kennedy neighborhood, which has seen a resurgence over the past dozen years. More than 200 new homes have been built in the neighborhood, and a separate redevelopment effort is being assembled for the neighborhood's other landmark school, Page-Woodson, which has been closed for 20 years.

Dillingham said Monday he intends to seek historic tax credits for the project and try to get the property listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The community, he added, appears to support the project.

"A lot of people went to school there," Dillingham said. "I've got a guy I've done business with for years, he grew up in the neighborhood, he never offered to put money in a project and he offered to on this one. It just shows this is a cornerstone property for the neighborhood."

Dillingham said he is amazed at the transformation of the neighborhood, which 20 years ago was filled with lots left vacant by a failed Urban Renewal attempt in the 1970s. In the late 1990s, the agency started working with multiple developers and selling individual lots to aspiring homeowners.

James Williams, with Central Urban Development, built 41 of the more than 250 residences that have risen up in the neighborhood over the past 15 years. He attended Dunbar in kindergarten and crossed the playground repeatedly as a youth going to church.

"This is a landmark redevelopment," Williams said. "Dunbar was a school that meant a lot to the community during its heyday. That's where a lot of our citizens started out. ... I hated to see it close, but this redevelopment will keep that spirit alive."

Williams also thinks Dillingham is on the right track with adding senior housing, adding further variety to an already diverse neighborhood.

"JFK has really become a model community," Williams said.

"It's where a lot of new urbanism and redevelopment strategies are being lived out. You have a good mix of housing that was there for 40 years, you have new housing, and you have different designs, lifestyles and properties that are still at an affordable price."


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Source: Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City)

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