Paseo district gets boost from redevelopment group

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

by Dyrinda Tyson

The Oklahoman

Mat Miller knew he wanted to live in the Paseo Arts District when he and girlfriend Lyndsay Pettis moved from Stillwater to Oklahoma City last year.

"I really like the area and knew it was an artist kind of colony, so I knew I kind of wanted to be in this area," Miller said.

He didn't know he wanted to buy a house, though, until work began on a pair of homes near the rental house he and Pettis shared on NW 25. Drawn by the Positively Paseo signs staked in the front yards, they decided to check into buying a home of their own.

In August, they moved into a house built from scratch on a lot around the corner on Francis Avenue, a tidy wood-trimmed bungalow that blends in with the others lining the streets around it.

It's a pattern that has become familiar to Neila Crank-Clements, Positively Paseo's executive director.

"Our last four buyers have lived in the Paseo, usually across the street from a house we're building," she said. "So they know what we're doing, and they're on it. They see our sign go up and they call me."

Positively Paseo, a nonprofit community redevelopment corporation, targets low- to moderate-income families, helping turn what was once a rundown neighborhood into a vibrant mix of owner-occupied and rental homes.

The Francis Street house is the 24th Positively Paseo has built or rehabilitated and sold, and work has already begun on the 25th, a looming two-story at the corner of NW 26 and Shartel. Built in 1922, the home's clean, boxy American Foursquare lines became obscured under a series of additions over the decades. Workers have gutted it and are dismantling those additions, slowly taking the structure back to its original footprint.

And it's already been sold.

Targeted revitalization, concentrating resources and funds in one area and sometimes even on a single block, can work, and the proof is in the Paseo. A survey in 1991 found 135 boarded-up homes in the neighborhood with real estate going for $4 per square foot. This year, the Paseo is down to three boarded-up homes, and real estate prices there have risen to about $100 per square foot.

It's also getting harder to a place to build on.

"We're almost out of vacant lots -- we're close," Crank-Clements said.

Positively Paseo's work isn't going unnoticed. It was among the organizations that won an Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency APEX award this year for its efforts to create affordable housing, and the American Planning Association ranked the Paseo among its Top 10 Great Neighborhoods in America in 2010. The Oklahoma State Historical Society has also taken notice, awarding the group a citation of merit this year.

City officials hope to replicate that success in part of Classen Ten Penn, a square of a neighborhood north of NW 10 between Pennsylvania and Western avenues. It sprung up along streetcar lines in the 1920s and was a bustling working-class neighborhood for decades, but repeated economic punches and suburban flight have left their marks.

Classen Ten Penn is among the neighborhoods the city is targeting through its Strong Neighborhoods Initiative, though, and Oklahoma City Housing Services Redevelopment Corp. -- Positively Paseo's legal name -- to lead the way.

"We're really excited. We just bought our first property there," Crank-Clements said. "So we're going to use all the expertise we've gained in this neighborhood and do the same thing over there."

The group is already working with Ten Penn's neighborhood association, which proved a critical component in the Paseo's success.

"That's our bread and butter," Crank-Clements said.

Though the funds won't stretch far enough to target all of Ten-Penn, the neighborhood may benefit from the ripple effect Crank-Clements said she has seen in the Paseo. Once Positively Paseo has finished a house, homes around it often get a new coat of paint or fresh landscaping.