Norman, Oklahoma — Advisory Services Panel

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Date: April 26 – May 1, 2015

Location: Norman, Oklahoma

Sponsor: City of Norman and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services

Subject Area:  Downtown Revitalization

Panel Chair:
Glenda E. Hood, Founding Partner
triSect LLC, Orlando, Florida

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Background and Panel Assignment

The panel was asked to examine a study area in Ward 4 of the city of Norman, land owned and operated by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (ODMHSAS). Specifically, the study area includes a parcel north of East Main Street, approximately 160 acres, and a parcel south of East Main Street, approximately 80 acres. Originally developed when the property was at the eastern edge of the city of Norman, the land was first a school site, but changed to a private mental health hospital in 1894. At its peak, the self-sufficient campus encompassed over a thousand acres and included dozens of buildings, its own power plant, and a working farm with a dairy and cannery that provided food for both patients and staff. In many cases, patients undergoing long-term treatment at Griffin Memorial Hospital held jobs on the campus as part of their treatment. The hospital was a major Norman employer through the 1970s.

The study area was open and rural when mental health services were first provided, and even today remains sparsely developed. Abutting the study area to the north is a heavily used recreation area, Griffin Community Park, containing soccer and baseball fields. Starting in the 1960s, changing treatment practices and shifting political priorities began to shrink Griffin’s health care offerings and reduce staffing levels. Many campus buildings fell into disuse and were demolished.

The Griffin Memorial Hospital land, along with other land held by or for the benefit of ODMHSAS, was placed in a real property trust in 2005. The trust provided that the property within it “may never be sold.” However, in 2014 the state passed and the governor signed a bill that allows the sale of the tract of land on which the ODMHSAS property (the study site) sits so long as “the proceeds are used exclusively for tangible infrastructure improvements that benefit the persons serviced by the Department.” To make recommendations for the future of the Griffin Memorial Hospital site, the panel met with an array of local citizens as varied as real estate developers, commercial brokers, local architects, bankers, area residents and business owners, and government and university officials. In addition, the panel reviewed demographic studies, a detailed retail assessment, an in-process housing study, and previous plans put forth for the site. The panel also engaged in site and area tours to reach the recommendations and design strategies put forth in this report.

Another important consideration to the recommendations made by the panel, and detailed throughout this report, is ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, which emphasizes the links between human health and the natural and built environment, and particularly the role that the development industry can play in improving health outcomes. Foundational components of this effort are wrapped around built environment improvements to promote physical activity, provide access to healthy food and drinking water, and encourage healthy environments and social well-being. Insert information about specific questions panel was asked to address.

Summary of Recommendations

The panel recommendations include the following:

  • Relocate Griffin Memorial Hospital. The panel believes that relocation of the Griffin Memorial Hospital is an essential first step to revitalize this area of Norman and reinforce the connection to downtown. The panel’s proposed plan anticipates clearance of all existing deteriorated facilities and the relocation of Griffin Memorial Hospital to the site of the Veterans Hospital, located approximately one half mile The land use concept proposed by the panel comprises three principal elements: a mixed-use residential neighborhood, a mixed-use commercial district, and an expanded Francis Cate Park and other open space. The sale of the property on the existing study site is anticipated to generate enough revenue to reinvest in the new Griffin Memorial Hospital.
  • Unlock the value of this property to meet both economic and other public benefit objectives. In order to achieve this goal, the panel proposed to divide the large Griffin Memorial Hospital site into two distinct but complementary plans: a south recommendation plan referred to as a “Wellness Campus” and a north recommendation plan referred to as “Griffin Commons.” The panel seeks to leverage the many assets the property currently possesses, and as discussions focused on the creation of value for the land sales of portions of this site, the panel sees the site as a unique place to create civic, social, and cultural value for the entire city of Norman.
  • Create a campus for community services as an asset for Norman. The 160 acre Northern “Griffin Commons” plan includes a mixed-use residential neighborhood that is designed to provide a range of housing types, including townhouses, flats, apartments, and single-family homes with densities ranging from seven to 40 dwelling units per acre. Not only will new residential options help foster new communities, but also an urban park provides visibility into the neighborhood, and a town square will provide an area for public gathering and celebration.
  • Focus on health and well-being through new, related uses. The proposed Wellness Campus, located between Alameda and Main Streets, is comprised of 80 acres of land. The proposed land use concept is to create a campus environment for the existing and relocated health care providers. Existing programs include the Leland Wolf Elementary School, an alternative school; the Childrens Recovery Center of Oklahoma; the Office of Juvenile Services’ Phil Smalley Center; Cleveland County Health Department; and Central Oklahoma Community Mental Health Center. The distinguishing feature of the Wellness Campus is the creation of a new central park featuring a small lake. Existing facilities are expected to avail themselves of the health benefits of the new park. The proposed central park and lakes, which are part of the stormwater retention system, comprise about 25 acres of the property.
  • Create a new urban center that provides a renewed connection and access to downtown through Main Street to parks and recreation spaces and to nearby neighborhoods. The current vehicular circulation system is designed in a way that makes the interior of the property easily accessible, once redeveloped. The panel proposes a new parkway to traverse the interior through the central park from Alameda Street to Main Street and continue northward to Robinson Street. To increase connectivity with existing neighborhoods, two existing streets, Eufaula and Apache, are drawn into the site where they are received by the new parkway. Griffin Commons will enjoy high visibility from the 12th Avenue and Robinson Street corridors along the west and north sides of the property.

Additional details about these recommendations can be found in the presentation and a final report that will be posted once complete.

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