Edmond sculpture park, Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park
Edmond resident and developer Hal French had proposed a 62-acre interactive art park called the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park. (Provided)

Edmond resident and developer Hal French sent a letter Friday morning notifying city officials that he and his foundation are ending their multi-million-dollar effort to build and donate a 62-acre sculpture park proposed for the northwest corner of East Second Street and North Coltrane Road.

Dubbed the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park, French’s proposal would have been the largest donation to the city in its history. The interactive art park had already been approved by the Edmond Planning Commission and the Edmond City Council, but stern email exchanges and a tense council meeting complicated the past month of project negotiations.

Attorney Randel Shadid, a former Edmond mayor who represented French throughout the city planning process, told NonDoc that he and French believed city staff were unsupportive of the project.

“Hal and I were just trying to do something that we thought was a cool project and good for the city, and we’re both not getting any younger. So we’ve got other things to do than be somewhat abused at meetings and have a city management staff that doesn’t really put any priority on what we were doing,” Shadid said. “So we just decided life’s too short, basically. We were tired of being stressed out.”

French’s letter to the city reads:

Dear Edmond community,

It is with a heavy heart that I am announcing the end of our efforts to build and donate a unique 62-acre park in east Edmond. For more than 2 1/2 years, we have attempted to work with City leaders and staff to bring this vision to life. Unfortunately, we have encountered numerous delays, hurdles and obstacles that have drained our energy, vanished our enthusiasm and ended our dream.

We had hoped to create a park similar to “The Gathering Place,” which stands as a model for successful public-private partnerships. While we made many concessions with the city in hopes for foraging (sic) a genuine partnership, we were often met with a skeptical, disingenuous and arrogant attitude. As a person who grew up in Edmond and was attempting to give back this was most disheartening.

I want to express my sincere apologies to the Edmond community for being unable to make this gift happen. It is a shame that the land, which is currently zoned for commercial and high-density apartments, will not become a unique sculpture park, with many amenities, that would have set Edmond apart from other communities across our country.

I would like to thank the many citizens and friends who encouraged us along the way, as well as a few city leaders who responded with words of encouragement and support. I also appreciate how the Edmond Planning Commission passed our variance requests in about 30 minutes. I would like to give special thanks to former mayor Randel Shadid who shared my passion and love for this project.

I hold deep disappointment. It’s time to move on.

Hal French

Edmond Mayor Darrell Davis said he hopes city officials and staff can meet with French soon to find a pathway forward for the park.

“I am sorry to hear of Mr. French’s decision to not move forward with the Uncommon Ground project.  I know both the city and Mr. French’s team were earnestly engaged in working through the details of this exciting project,” Davis said. “After last council meeting’s approval of Uncommon Ground’s site plan, I thought we were positively moving in the right direction. I would hope in the coming days we may have the opportunity to visit with Mr. French and his team to discuss how the project could move forward.”

Asked if they would be willing to come back to the negotiating table, Shadid said he and French have made up their minds.

“No. Absolutely not,” Shadid said. “We’re not going to waffle back and forth. We’re not trying to bait them into negotiating with us or anything else. So no, we’re done. We’re not changing our mind.”

‘I had a vision and he had a grand vision’

Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park
Renderings of the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park were presented to the Edmond Planning Commission on Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park)

After more than three hours of discussion May 22, the Edmond City Council unanimously approved the site plan, preliminary plat and final plat for French’s proposed Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park.

Shadid called the meeting a “long and tortured” process.

“It simply made us further aware that no matter what happened, we were not going to get staff support — particularly for this project, and we’d probably be met with this continual obstacles and slowdowns,” Shadid said.

Shadid said meetings behind closed doors with city staff went smoothly, but he claimed city staff members took a different attitude at the Edmond City Council.

“The problem was we’d have meetings, and we would get one message from some staff in departments,” he said. “Then when it came time for them to take a public view, they’d be non-supportive of what they already told us they had no heartburn with.”

Shadid said he did not think Edmond city manager Scot Rigby had “any use” for the city’s public art program.

“It’s very disappointing because I had a vision and [Hal] had a grand vision. Hal has never failed to produce a quality product on anything he’s ever done in town. But the city manager seemed to think we were newbies coming to town trying to you know — we’re gonna sell them some snake oil, make some money and leave,” Shadid said. “This is a money-loser for Hal and, time-wise, it’s a money-loser for me. We weren’t doing any of this to make any money. We were trying to give the citizens something that was nice, really grandiose, different than anything else in this region. No one that mattered, apparently, shared that vision.”

Rigby sent NonDoc a statement in response to Shadid’s remarks.

“I am sorry Mr. French and Mr. Shadid feel this way,” Rigby said. “I support public art and the Uncommon Ground proposed park. It is my responsibility and staff’s to assess and to present to City Council any initial and long term financial costs attributed to any project so they can take that into consideration as they consider a project.”

Road widening, water detention at center of council convo

Much of the long May 22 council meeting was spent negotiating whether the city or the applicant would foot the bill for infrastructural issues near or on the site. After discussing the project’s multiple zoning code variances, the Edmond City Council unanimously approved eight variances on the project.

By way of approving those variances, city officials and Shadid came to agreements on the project’s two most pressing issues: water detention on the site and widening Coltrane Road.

Edmond City Council members agreed to expand the capacity of a detention pond within the Huntwick community that lies north of the park’s property. However, both parties agreed that if the city and Huntwick were unable to come to an agreement — or if the expansion did not fix how water flowed on and from the property — the applicant would take on the cost of providing detention on site.

Additionally, the city committed to widening Coltrane Road to four lanes on its own dime at a later date. However, no time commitment for that upgrade was established. French and his team committed to giving the city the necessary land right of way to expand the road to four lanes. But with a number of slated transportation infrastructure projects on the horizon, city officials said they lack available funding to widen the road at this point.

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May 8 continuance caused controversy

Former Edmond Mayor Randel Shadid represents Hal French (sitting behind Shadid), during an Edmond Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, April 18, 2023. (Screenshot)

After receiving approval for the project from the Edmond Planning Commission on April 18, Shadid and French were originally scheduled to present the proposed park to the Edmond City Council on May 8. However, when the item was continued to May 22, Shadid and French voiced frustration with the Edmond City Council and city staff members.

In an email sent May 4 to Edmond City Council members and city staff, Shadid called the continuance “unacceptable” and suggested French might pull his proposal entirely:

Mayor and Council, I just saw the agenda and our site plan is shown as continued. As I stated, it is unacceptable to Hal and me. And as I am very angry I probably should not be writing at this time, but I shall. This is ridiculous. There is still time to amend the agenda to keep this on track.  Two weeks will make no difference other than Hal may say to hell with the whole park gift. Any other city would go out of their way to get a destination location established and would help as others who have done these major parks have. It is becoming abundantly clear that the staff has no desire to have this park(…)

The next day, Shadid forwarded an email from French to city staff and council members. In the email, French said he was considering selling the property:

So far $8.165M total has been spent on the park and we have another $5M in cash at Community Foundation Oklahoma with commitments for more. It’s very obvious to me the city could care less if it’s ever built and will not get their staff under control. The citizens are all very excited but I’ve been trying to get it built for over 2 1/2 years and made very little headway because of the city.

Now that they are continuing us again even though the PC approved it, I’m going to think hard this weekend and decide on whether I just sell the property. We will have to figure out what to do with the art we’ve purchased. I’m sorry but I’ve never had such a hard time giving $ away and I’m tired of this, there are plenty of other worthy causes and all I have to do is write a check.

That evening, Davis responded to French and Shadid by email, stating that some of their requests involved unknown costs to the city.

Randel, thanks for sharing. I know you understand the position we are in. Some of your request have a associated cost with it. Which we do not know what it is.  Theses cost (sic) are not in our budget at this time.  We have to work some of these details.  I know you understand that!

The Edmond City Council is scheduled to meet 5:30 p.m. Monday, June 12.