Oklahoma City visitors to the MidTown area will notice a wealth of restaurants, shops, art galleries, small food enterprises and offices, with mixed housing at affordable prices slated to come next.
It seems like an urban renewable miracle, after the time a mere seven years ago when MidTown was slum ridden with cheap hotels, defunct businesses and aging, poorly-kept homes. But the expansion of this miracle has been brought to a standstill by the Oklahoma City Red Cross Center, 323 NW 10, a wedge between upscale MidTown, downtown and the Oklahoma Health Center.
According to Oklahoma City Planning Department Director Robbie Kienzle, the asbestos-laden, aging and abandoned Red Cross building is an ‘eyesore’, but one soon to be removed thanks to the city’s April 2008 purchase of the property for $690,000, and a possible U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant for $200,000 to remove the asbestos so the building can be torn down.
It is perhaps the best way to get rid of an environmentally hazardous building like 323 NW 10, since developers and the private sector are largely unwilling to take on a project with environmental limitations, according to local developer Mickey Clagg.
This is not surprising. While the EPA’s NESHAP (National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants) regulations are available online, their interpretation is sometimes complicated by state and local environmental regulations for asbestos removal. In addition, it is easy to overlook the various parameters surrounding asbestos itself (whether friable or non-friable) and the reporting mechanisms essential to removing asbestos from buildings slated for the wrecking ball.
This isn’t surprising, given that NESHAP regulations cover 21 pages, or more than 8,000 words, making the whole asbestos-containing building demolition procedure too complicated for a layman to absorb. So most developers hire expensive asbestos remediation consultants, who must perform time-consuming remediation protocols to make the building safe for wrecking crews.
Oklahoma City, though, got its ducks in a row, and – with asbestos removal already taking place – plans to tear down the building in the near future, preserving those historic elements like bricks and fixtures that can be reused in future development.
Adjoining property owners are so impressed by the progress that they have agreed to sell part of their properties to allow the entire Red Cross block to be renovated, and the city anticipates adding to the size of the future project by closing an alley that currently divides the block.
When completed, city officials see the NW 10 area as a development corridor where medical firms can advantageously locate themselves between two of the city’s largest hospitals – St. Anthony and the OU Medical Center (a conglomeration that includes Children’s Hospital and the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine).
In fact, the Oklahoma City Red Cross renovation is a prime example of how cities across America can rid themselves of asbestos-laden buildings representing a significant danger to the health of citizens, and provide for a cleaner, less dangerous future for city occupants.
Sources: EPA website, NewsOK.com