County Commissioner Karen Keith sounded a bit exasperated late Monday afternoon.
She had just spent the day responding to critics of the county’s idea to build a juvenile justice center in north Tulsa — a project that could also include the relocation of OSU Extension to the site and multiple retail shops, a hotel, restaurant, commercial buildings and park space.
The 57-acre property is just east of the Osage Casino on 36th Street North at the end of the L.L. Tisdale Parkway.
“We just got the footprint. We didn’t even have the conceptual (plan) together,” Keith said. “We just rushed to get this together because we needed to reach out immediately.
“And last week I reached out to who I thought I needed to reach out to first, Jack Henderson, and he refused to meet with me. So what do I do with that?”
A group of north Tulsa lawmakers and residents gathered near the proposed site Monday morning to protest the possible move, saying in part that they had not been consulted about the project.
But Keith noted that last week she invited several people — including Henderson and a few of the people who showed up at the rally — to a private meeting that was to be held Monday. But by the time the meeting took place, the protestors had already gathered to oppose the project.
“It’s very discouraging,” she said.
Tulsa County Public Information Officer Michael Willis noted the county is still not certain the site would work. Several oil wells on the site would have to be capped and environmental studies completed before the project could move forward. The county has yet to close on the property, Willis said.
“People are acting like this is a done deal,” he said.
Henderson said he has spoken to Keith about the issue and even sent a letter to her and the other county commissioners objecting to the proposal.
“I basically told here in the letter that because of what I am doing with the 36th Street North Small Area Plan we don’t need that facility because it is going to take away from the development we are trying to do,” Henderson said.
He also questioned the proposed facility’s proximity to a senior living center and a pharmacy.
The small area plan calls for retail, commercial and residential development along the corridor, Henderson said.
Henderson accused Keith of coming into the community and purchasing property without consulting neighborhood residents.
“We’re tired of that crap,” he said. “This is not only Jack Henderson, it’s the whole community.
North Tulsa is already home to many social services agencies and does not need another one, Henderson said.
“The jail is not really in north Tulsa,” he said.
Henderson said he would be “the first to sign on the dotted line” if the county could find a site that is acceptable to north Tulsa residents, but he also questioned why Keith hadn’t learned from previous failed attempts to bring projects into north Tulsa without community support.
The new juvenile justice center would replace the aging and crowded Tulsa County Juvenile Bureau at 315 S. Gilcrease Museum Road.
Tulsa County voters in April 2014 approved a 15-year sales tax package that includes a 0.041 percent sales tax for construction of the juvenile justice center. The package also included 0.026 percent tax to pay for construction and operation of four jail pods.
Work on the pods has begun and is expected to be completed next year.
Construction of the juvenile justice center has been delayed because the county has been unable to find a suitable site.
County officials were interested in building the juvenile facility on the site of the Laura Dester Children’s Center, 7318 E. Pine St. The state is closing the facility.
They have also explored a site close to the Tulsa Jail, but that fell through also.
The new $45 million juvenile justice center would consolidate all Tulsa County Juvenile Court facilities into one facility. The structure would include courtrooms, meeting rooms, administrative offices and a 55-to-60-bed detention center. It would also serve as the new home for the Community Intervention Center.
The county’s conceptual plan for the site shows the 135,000 square-foot juvenile justice center being built on the interior of the property. It would be surrounded by multiple retail shops, a hotel, a restaurant, two commercial buildings and park space.
“What we are doing is bringing a beautiful facility and some density as far as professionals coming and going from that neighborhood,” Keith said.
Construction of the facility would provide work for 185 people and generate $8.9 million in earnings, according to figures provided by the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
Long term, the project would bring 250 jobs to north Tulsa and an additional 150 jobs in support services.
The private sector development piece of the project is estimated to bring in $480,000 in property taxes annually and $490,000 in sales taxes, according to the Chamber.
The site would also serve as the new home of OSU Extension, complete with a barn and greenhouse. OSU Extension has outgrown its current facility at Expo Square, Keith said.
The county commissioner said the site makes sense for several reasons, including its proximity to downtown, its easy access by bus and the natural setting.
Keith said the county is not giving up on the site.
“We feel like it is a great site,” she said. “You can see where we put the center, kind of away from everything. We want the kids to next to nature and all that. It’s just a lovely site.”
The juvenile justice sales tax took effect July 1, 2014. Thus far, it had raised $4.7 million.
The Juvenile Bureau was built in 1968 and renovated in 1995. It is made up of two structures totaling about 46,000 square feet, including a 55-bed detention center.
County and state officials have said for years that the facility is too small and unfit to serve the 6,000 young people who pass through each year.
The 57-acre property the county is considering purchasing is made up of several parcels, all owned by Reed, Lawrence A. and Jayne L. Co. Trustees, according to Tulsa County Assessor land records.