Oklahoma County new jail site stockyards location
Owing to certain Oklahoma County planning jurisdiction, commissioners are considering a location near the Oklahoma City Stockyards as a potential location for a new jail. (Screenshot)

The saga seeking a site for Oklahoma County’s new jail may be nearing a conclusion as some locations were eliminated during today’s Board of County Commissioners meeting and a special session was set to enable further discussion Friday afternoon.

County commissioners initially tried to select a site offered by the Oklahoma City Airport Trust as home to the new jail in October. But almost immediately, questions about the 192-acre property cropped up. Ultimately, it was the Federal Aviation Administration that signaled it would not approve a jail site so close to Will Rogers World Airport in southwest OKC.

On Wednesday, District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert said the county recently received word from the City of OKC about its intent to withdraw the land offering, meaning the airport-adjacent site is officially off the table. 

Three more sites have also been eliminated by commissioners:

  • 63 acres of land at SE 29th Street west of the Kickapoo Turnpike and resubmitted for sale by Tsalagi Development LLC, Randy Goodman, managing member;
  • 42 acres at Reno Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard offered for sale by Sarah Strawn; and
  • 71 acres of land north of Trosper Park at 1901 E. Grand Blvd., which was resubmitted for sale by Willowbrook Investments LLC and Garrett & Company Resources LLC.

Flaws too big to overcome

Blumert said each of those three sites had flaws that were not easy to overcome when considering what would be needed to build a new jail and, where that jail might be located. 

“Southeast 29th and Kickapoo is very far away from downtown and it’s also far away from emergency services, so I think that was our reason for removing that,” Blumert told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting. “1901 East Grand, I removed it last week, and it came back because the landowner resubmitted at a lower price, and we all agreed that the reason for removing it last week did not have to do with price, so we went ahead and removed it again.”

Blumert said the location near Reno and MLK Boulevard appeared on the commissioners’ agenda for the first time.

“There was some opposition to it. For me, it’s very close to Douglass High School, and it’s very close to the First Americans Museum. It just didn’t feel like the right location. I have stated previously that I can’t support building the jail in northeast Oklahoma City in a predominantly Black community. It just sends the wrong message, so we voted unanimously to remove Reno and MLK.”

Other sites still under consideration include: 

  • 160 acres at the southwest corner of SW 74th and Rockwell offered for sale by Jason Thomas; and
  • Up to 80 acres near Interstate 40 and I-44 in unincorporated Oklahoma County.

The site in unincorporated Oklahoma County is close to Stockyards City. That proposed site has drawn opposition from those who work and own businesses in the area. Ben Hale, who has owned a business at Stockyards City for nearly three decades, told commissioners the area is an important heritage site and that putting a jail near it would be a bad idea for that reason. 

“I think it needs to stay where it’s at,” Hale said of the jail. “I’m at the Stockyards, and I’m opposing that. I’ve been a business owner there for about 29 years, and where we’re coming from is we’re bringing in millions of dollars a year to the city of OKC, and it’s one of the most historical sites in the world. There are people from Australia who will show up because it’s the last terminal market. You’ve got the best hidden secret in the world, and you all are attacking it, whether it’s the city on our use of water or trying to put a jail next to what we’re doing business as.”

Earlier in the meeting, District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan tried to remove the proposed Stockyards City site, but the motion died for lack of a second. 

“I want to say that trying to remove the Stockyards from consideration is based on the fact that I haven’t had a single property owner within that area tell me that they’re willing to sell,” Maughan told commissioners. “I’m not for eminent domain.

“In this case, I believe that there are willing property owners throughout the county, and in spite of the fact that it may be more inconvenient to go elsewhere, I believe it’s a pain worth taking in order to not have the government take away someone’s land against their will, even though there is a form of compensation that, of course, goes with that, it’s an inconvenience and displacement and interruptions to operations of other surrounding businesses that are there. If there is a willing seller, they can step forward, but I have certainly not heard of any.”

After the meeting, Blumert said the Stockyards City site remains on the list because the county controls its zoning.

“There is some opposition to the Stockyards site,” she said. “The thing that is appealing to us as commissioners is that site is in the control of the county planning commission. The Stockyards are technically unincorporated Oklahoma County, so we have full zoning control. For any other site, we have to go to the City of Oklahoma City and get them to approve our rezoning for a jail. So that is why you have seen the Stockyards stay on. I think we’re still looking into that site and trying to decide if it really is a good fit besides the fact that we have zoning control over it.”

Northeast OKC site criticized

Ward 7 OKC City Councilwoman Nikki Nice also spoke out against the proposed Reno and MLK site that was ultimately removed from consideration. 

“As I stated the last time I was here for a different location within northeast Oklahoma City, our community is tired. Our neighborhood is tired. Our residents are tired of continuously being vulnerable to the things nobody else wants,” Nice told commissioners. “It’s not fair that we have to say ‘No’ in this conversation but the people who do (support it) do not have conversations with people that live within this community about what they want and what they do not want.

Nice joined several other speakers during the public comment portion of the meeting in advocating for the current site of the Oklahoma County Jail to be used for the new facility. 

“Let’s please find a way to keep it where it is,” Nice told commissioners. 

But that site, with its small footprint, is problematic because there isn’t enough space to build a jail that would be limited to one or two stories. Building at the current site would likely mean another high-rise, a design choice that has been deeply problematic since the current jail opened in 1991. Blumert said the current site has far too many limitations. 

“So, the current jail if we stayed there, we would have to buy land around that facility and expand a little bit,” she said after the meeting. “Even if we did that, it would still not allow us to build a one- or two-story facility. We would have to go up to five stories. Right now, that’s not what the commissioners want. We’re pretty convinced that one to two stories is the model we need to go with. It’s the national model from DOJ (Department of Justice) that has been recommended to us. So, if we stayed on the current site, we would have to buy up quite a bit of land and it still wouldn’t be the design we want.”