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City of Tulsa Commemorates 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre; Substantial Investments Made in Economic and Community Development

This article was archived on 6/13/2021

As the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial approaches, the City of Tulsa stands in remembrance for the lives that were lost and the families of those affected by the racial violence that unfolded in Tulsa 100 years ago.

A century after these horrific events, the City of Tulsa, under Mayor G.T. Bynum’s leadership, is addressing the legacy of the Massacre and making unprecedented investments in community-led redevelopment, including the reexamination of the 1921 Graves Investigation.

Based on the 2001 State-commissioned report, three sites were identified to proceed with ground penetration radar for the City’s 1921 Graves Investigation. Based on radar detection at Oaklawn Cemetery, two test excavations were conducted in 2020 in search of victims. On June 1, 2021, the City of Tulsa will begin a full excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery to exhume remains found after a test excavation at Oaklawn Cemetery revealed at least 12 potential victims from the Massacre.

“But here, in this aging cemetery in the heart of the country, was the first time that an American government - federal, state, or local - had ever actively set out to locate the remains of victims of American racism," wrote Scott Ellsworth, historian and author of “The Ground Breaking, An American City and Its Search for Justice."

“We have a moral imperative to bring light to what happened to our neighbors 100 years ago and the inequalities that followed so we can move forward together as Tulsans. I have dedicated my Administration to addressing the disparities that exist in our city today. Through our graves investigation, resilience work, and focused economic development strategies, we are working to decrease the 11-year life expectancy gap that exists between children that live in North Tulsa and children that live in other parts of our city,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “We have announced over a billion dollars in private investment in North Tulsa during the last five years, with the addition of transit and mobility infrastructure and targeted economic development endeavors to bridge a part of our city that has been neglected for far too long.”

Economic & Community Development

The City of Tulsa continues to build and restore facilities that educate, honor and memorialize Tulsans affected by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Below is a sampling of the ongoing collaborative efforts as they relate to economic and community development between the City and its community partners.

City-Led Economic & Community Development Efforts 

Greenwood Cultural Center Capital Improvements 

Tulsa voters approved $5.3 million in 2019's Improve Our Tulsa sales tax renewal package for various improvements at the Greenwood Cultural Center. The project includes a complete remodel of the existing facility, including the Main Atrium, the Goodwin Chapelle Galley, the Opal Dargan Auditorium, various classrooms, office spaces, restrooms, and kitchen improvements. Crews will do general maintenance, paint, and replace fixtures inside the Mabel B. Little House. 

Greenwood Art Project  

In 2019, the City of Tulsa was named a Bloomberg Philanthropies 2018 Public Art Challenge winner. The City received $1 million for "The Greenwood Art Project," a group of temporary public artworks which celebrate and commemorate a vibrant community in the Historic Greenwood District known as "Black Wall Street." George Kaiser Family Foundation has also donated $200,000 to the effort. 

A Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission initiative, The Greenwood Art Project is led by artists Rick Lowe and William Cordova with Jerica Wortham, Marlon Hall, Jeff Van Hanken and Kode Ransom. The Greenwood Art Project celebrates the resilience, healing and recovery of the community, with new resonance in today’s challenging times. Greenwood Art Project artists were chosen in 2020, and presentations by the commissioned artists have begun. 

Tulsa Authority for Economic Opportunity 

In 2021, the City announced the merging of multiple entities responsible for economic development in Tulsa and created the Tulsa Authority for Economic Opportunity (TAEO). The new authority will streamline and strengthen the City’s economic development efforts through an independent, professionally staffed development team with additional accountability and larger goals of shared prosperity and racial equity. TAEO will launch with an initial annual operating budget of $8.5 million, dramatically increasing the resources Tulsa has to invest in equitable economic and community development efforts. 

BMX Headquarters 

A catalyst for community and economic development in North Tulsa, the City broke ground on the $24 million USA BMX Headquarters project in 2018. USA BMX Headquarters is now under construction in the Greenwood District on the Evans-Fintube site and includes a build-out for USA BMX's National Headquarters, a National Track Stadium and a Hall of Fame Museum. 

Evans Fintube Redevelopment 

In April 2021, the City of Tulsa and TAEO opened a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from developers to design and construct a destination, mixed-use development project for the City-owned Evans-Fintube site, which currently houses the historical Oklahoma Ironworks Building. 

The project goal is to ensure ownership and wealth creation for the Greenwood community through targeted small business, entrepreneurship, and homeownership opportunities. Additionally, the City wants to deliver a final project that invests in and honors the history of the site and Greenwood while developing building uses that create a destination, such as entertainment, retail, and tourism activities while respecting the North Tulsa community. The project will provide economic opportunities and entrepreneurial development for North Tulsa residents. Site development will be supported by an existing Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District, which will provide up to $40,000,000 in public incentive support over the life of the TIF.

Kirkpatrick Heights Master Plan 

Set to be formally launched in the coming months, the Kirkpatrick Heights Master Plan area encompasses 56 acres of Tulsa Development Authority-owned land. The master plan will provide strategies for an incremental, mixed-use development that reflects the history and legacy of Greenwood. The project will further set the foundation for identifying innovative models for how development and redevelopment of the land will be governed long-term, with a focus on community-led structures that will support wealth-building and anti-displacement goals. The City recently launched a housing feasibility study for near-downtown neighborhoods to prepare for economic development in this area.  

Peoria-Mohawk Business Park  

In 2020, the Tulsa City Council approved a $42.6 million for a Tax Increment Finance (TIF) District encompassing the Peoria-Mohawk Business Park, which is expected to increase economic opportunity in North Tulsa. Through this park and the TIF allocation, the City hopes to strengthen homeownership and neighborhood rehabilitation efforts around the 120-acre business park, which is expected to be a key driver for economic development, health, and educational achievement in this large area of North Tulsa. In July 2020, Muncie Power Products Inc. became the first business to build on the 120-acre industrial site at 36th St. N. and Peoria Ave. The company's 250,000-square-foot facility occupies about 40 acres. Site development of the Peoria-Mohawk Business Park was backed by a $10 million incentive via Vision Tulsa, a portion of which is supporting the Muncie site.  

Alfresco TIF District
Work is underway with TAEO to establish a TIF District at 36th St. N. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. The TIF will support a large, mixed-use development that will serve the North Tulsa community. More information on the project will be released this summer.

Envision Comanche Master Plan 

Neighboring the Peoria-Mohawk Business Park, Envision Comanche is a $100 million master plan for the redevelopment of Comanche Park into a vibrant, mixed-use, and mixed-income community that further enhances economic growth along the 36th St. N. corridor. In total, up to 560 units will be constructed. Amenities include a park, a trail network, and an urban farm. Officials plan to break ground on the first phase of the project at the southwest corner of 36th St. N. and Peoria Ave. in late 2021.  

Oasis Fresh Market Grocery Store  

Opened in May 2021, the $3.9 million Oasis Fresh Market grocery store is now providing fresh food and groceries in an area long known as being a part of a food desert in North Tulsa. The grocery store is located at the Shoppes at Peoria, 1717 N. Peoria Ave. With a dollar store moratorium supported by Mayor Bynum and the Tulsa City Council, this project was brought to fruition through a public-private collaboration, consisting of partners like TEDC Creative Capital, and has ended the 10-year drought of not having access to fresh food and groceries in the area. The City provided $1.5 million in funding for the store through the HUD CDBG program.

Aero Rapid Transit Bus Route

Tulsa Transit's AERO Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route runs along the Peoria corridor, from 54th St. N. in North Tulsa  to 81st St. S. The project was funded by Improve Our Tulsa and Vision Tulsa funding package and launched in late 2019. Aero BRT features modern buses and comfortable stations with enhanced amenities, such as sheltered seating, bicycle racks, level boarding, onboard WIFI and charging stations, and real-time arrival signs. Because of improved frequencies, travel time, and reliability, most riders will wait time between five to 15 minutes along the Aero route.

This high-capacity transit line connects more Tulsans to jobs and many significant destinations, including Downtown Tulsa, Cherry Street, Brookside, the Pearl District, BOK Center, Tulsa Tech Peoria Campus, Shoppes on Peoria, Oral Roberts University, CityPlex Towers, Centennial Park, and the Denver Avenue Station. One-in-seven of the City's residents, and 20 percent of jobs, are within a 10-minute walk of the corridor.

Workforce Express Network

This targeted transit network was developed as a partnership between Tulsa Transit, the City of Tulsa, and major employers in one of Tulsa’s fastest growing employment corridors along US Highway 169 in North Tulsa. The WEN route seeks to connect residents in Districts 1 and 3 with quality employment opportunities through targeted geographic routes that align with shift schedules of major employers.

The WEN route was developed by identifying neighborhoods with the highest rates of unemployment and low access to personal vehicles, with the goal of increasing economic opportunity for residents by removing transportation as a barrier to employment. Currently, Tulsa Transit is focusing on community outreach and engagement efforts to build awareness of the service in neighborhoods adjacent to the new route, increase ridership, and help residents connect with career opportunities.

WPX Headquarters Building 

The WPX Headquarters building will be located on the square block bounded by Detroit Ave. and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. to the east and west, and Cameron St. and Reconciliation Way to the north and south. The 11-story, 260,000-square-foot tower, features plans for a public plaza to the west and a shared pathway through the middle of the campus connecting Guthrie Green in the Arts District and John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. The campus and its front door will face east toward Reconciliation Park as a symbolic tribute to the importance of Tulsa remembering its past. A TIF will support the development itself, as well as public improvements in the Greenwood District.

Resilient Tulsa Strategy and Equality Indicators 

In 2018, Mayor Bynum launched the City of Tulsa’s Resilient Tulsa Strategy, which serves as a roadmap to address Tulsa’s most pressing challenges and seeks to build capacity among residents, City systems and community partners to build a more resilient city. The Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Equity (MORE) heads the Strategy’s implementation, and the office is led by Chief Resilience Officer Krystal Reyes. Forty-one key actions drive the City’s work, many of which are driven by the acknowledgment of existing disparities within Tulsa most heavily exacerbated by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. MORE continues to implement all of the Strategy’s actions. In addition to the Strategy, the Tulsa Equality Indicators, which was first released in 2017 by the City and Community Service Council serves as a tool to discuss, measure, track, and address disparities among subgroups of Tulsans over time.

Greater Tulsa African American Affairs Commission (GTAAAC)

Serving as one-of-five Title V commissions staffed and supported by MORE, the City created GTAAC to serve and advocate for African Americans in the city of Tulsa to create a strong, prosperous, and self-sustaining community while demanding systemic change. 

The commission is focused on working toward systemic changes in Housing & Transportation, Economic Development, Education, Culture and Awareness, Equal Justice & Accountable Policing, and Health & Wellness. GTAAAC works to make recommendations, draft policy, and/or influence ordinances that ultimately improve social determinants of health and overall outcomes for Tulsa’s Black residents. 

Partner-Led & City Supported Programs and Investments

Greenwood District Added to Oklahoma Main Street Program 

In June 2020, the Greenwood District was added as a program of the Oklahoma Main Street Center. The program focuses on supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs, educating the public on the area's historical significance and branding. The City’s new Commercial Revitalization Strategy provided $25,000 in funding to support the launch of the Greenwood District Main Street program, and also provides additional incentives, from access to revolving loans and funds for reimbursement of building permit fees, to businesses within a Main Street area.DCC Public Art Displays 

The Downtown Coordinating Council (DCC) continues to collaborate with the Greenwood Art Project and the Centennial Commission Marketing Committee on public art displays and other visual commemoration efforts throughout Downtown Tulsa.  

1921 Race Massacre Centennial Arts Commission Commemorative Grants  

This grant program awards up to $10,000 to community member-driven initiatives and events between that commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. 

Greenwood Rising History Center 

The interactive history center is under construction just north of the Frisco Railroad Tracks, a symbolic marker in the Greenwood District. This center will highlight the 1921 Race Massacre and the entrepreneurship that built Greenwood before the massacre and rebuilt it afterward.  

Langston University – Tulsa Allied Health Facility

Located at 700 N. Greenwood and funded through Vision Tulsa, this $16.25 million facility solidifies the presence of Langston University in Tulsa. The Langston University Medical professional training, and specifically its nursing program, boast top testing scores and achievements. The facility's placement in Tulsa will strengthen the university and surrounding community for decades to come. The facility will have the latest technological equipment and training tools. As part of this project, the City of Tulsa employed archivists and anthropologists to conduct grading and excavation operations. A collection of artifacts and finds were collected from the area and provided to Langston University. No human bones or fragments were found.  

Pathway to Hope  

The $5 million walkway, constructed between Elgin and Greenwood Avenues, is intended to directly connect John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park to the core of Greenwood while also giving residents and visitors a chance to remember history and realize present-day healing. The 10-foot-wide path runs between ONEOK Field and Interstate 244 and features landscaping, lighting, and a retaining wall on the north side.