Uncommon Ground approved
Edmond City Council members approved the city's Fiscal Year 2025 budget Monday night, June 10, 2024. (Faithanna Olsson)

Edmond City Council members approved an operations, maintenance and programming agreement Monday night that will allocate nearly $900,000 a year to help make the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park, feared dead a year ago, a reality.

The approval came after the City Council authorized a primarily flat Fiscal Year 2025 budget, with city manager Scot Rigby saying Edmond leaders are approaching the coming year “with caution” because of little to no financial growth.

“The economic outlook is cautious due to escalating inflation rates, supply chain issues and the possibility of recession in the near future,” Rigby wrote in his budget message to council members. “Even in the event that the city does meet their projected revenue growth in the coming years, it is still likely that budget challenges will occur. However, city staff remains dedicated to providing high quality services to the city while carefully considering economic sustainability.”

Meanwhile, Ward 1 Councilman Tom Robins called the approval of the fourth and final park document an investment in Edmond for years to come.

“I look forward to this being a huge unifier, an identifier, a source of pride,” he said. “People move here because of quality of life. And so, as we come together as a community and intentionally invest in this asset, we’re really investing in ourselves and future generations.”

With Mayor Darrell Davis again abstaining as he did last month when three earlier agreements were passed, the council voted 4-0 in favor of the final document to approve the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park. He said before last month’s votes that he was concerned the project lacked a fiscal evaluation or a risk assessment on the future costs to maintain the sculpture park.

“I still have the same concerns I had last time, so there’s no confusion on that,” Davis said. “That’s the only comment I have.”

The approval means construction to develop the sculpture park at the northwest corner of East Second Street and North Coltrane Road should begin within 120 days after all necessary permits are issued. The Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park is to be completed within two years after construction starts.

“If we’re successful tonight, that within 120 days after permits are issued, construction will commence, and it must be completed within 24 months of that time period,” Todd McKinnis, the attorney who represents park donor Hal French and the Edmond Fine Arts Institute, told council members. “I was with Hal French this afternoon, and I think it’s safe to say that I suspect the property will be transferred well before that date based on his ambition and plans.”

French: ‘I’m very pleased and ready to get on with it’

With his chin resting on his hand, Hal French, Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park lead donor, listens to Edmond City Council members discuss the project Monday, June 10, 2024. (Faithanna Olsson)

Once the park’s construction is complete, French either is to begin repayment of a $10 million loan provided by the city or he will donate the sculpture park to the Park Conservancy Trust. Once the sculpture park is turned over to the PCT, the loan will be forgiven, and management of the park endowment will be assigned to the PCT. If the sculpture park is not conveyed to the PCT, French would start repaying the loan, according to the agreement.

“It’s his full intention that the property will be transferred to the PCT,” McKinnis said.

According to the operations, maintenance and programming agreement, the City of Edmond will pay $899,360 a year for annual maintenance of the sculpture park.

“It’s renewed every year,” McKinnis said after the meeting. “That’s their maximum, unless they agree to raise the number. But the way the agreement’s drafted now, if in year two $899,000 is only 50 percent, then the endowment will pay the difference to meet the budget. So, what happens is, the manager and the PCT get together every year and set the budget for the coming year for that facility, for that park. And the city’s in for 70 percent, up to $899,000.”

The city also agrees to provide water, sanitary sewer, sanitation and electric service to the sculpture park at no cost. The estimated annual utilities cost is $400,000 to $500,000.

French, through the sculpture park endowment, shall provide funds equal to 30 percent of the approved budget for the park, according to the agreement.

“It’s an indefinite agreement,” McKinnis said. “Technically, it could be terminated at any time on 90 days’ notice.”

After the meeting, French said he stands ready to get to work on developing the sculpture park.

“I’m very pleased and ready to get on with it,” he said. “We started working on this 3 1/2 years ago.”

Asked if the park could be constructed by the two-year deadline called for in the agreement, French said it can.

“I don’t think it will be a problem. I was ready to start building a year ago,” he said. “So, yeah, I think it’ll happen pretty easily.”

French said he is confident the Uncommon Sculpture Park will be an asset for the City of Edmond.

“I think everybody — I think the state will be proud of it,” he said. “I mean, people come from 300 miles to go to the Gathering Place (in Tulsa). We’re right next to I-35. I think a lot of people will enjoy this, not just City of Edmond citizens.”

Randel Shadid, chairman of the Park Conservancy Trust who came out of retirement last year to represent French and his efforts to develop the sculpture park, praised Monday night’s action by the council.

“We’ve got 40 pieces that are in storage,” he said after the meeting. “And probably by the time it opens, we’ll have another 20 purchased or donated by supporters. It’s exciting.”

Last month, the Edmond City Council voted 4-0, with Davis abstaining, on several documents that created the foundation for Monday night’s final agreement:

  • A funding and development agreement;
  • A municipal sales tax rebate agreement;
  • A loan and security agreement; and
  • The supplemental appropriation of $10 million from various reserve funds to be loaned to French for park infrastructure.

McKinnis: French’s commitment at least $20 million

Attorney Todd McKinnis, who represents Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park donor Hal French, addresses the Edmond City Council during its meeting Monday night, June 10, 2024. (Faithanna Olsson)

McKinnis said The Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park, Inc. is responsible for constructing infrastructure improvements and building additions for the park. French’s commitment to the project “shall not be less than $20 million” and includes assets, according to the agreements.

The City of Edmond has agreed to loan $10 million to French’s nonprofit to fund infrastructure improvements, but those funds will not be counted toward road improvements at the East Second Street and North Coltrane Road intersection nor toward a water detention expansion component. The city is obligated to those projects separately, and all loan repayment obligations by French would be forgiven upon his donation of the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park tract to the Park Conservancy Trust, McKinnis said.

French is also planning to fund an endowment for ongoing maintenance that would collect proceeds from restaurant and retail sites developed on the west side of the park tract, McKinnis said. The city is also providing a sales tax rebate incentive for construction of the project.

The Edmond Fine Arts Institute is planning to raise funds to build a $10 million to $15 million art and event center on a portion of the property, but that building is not subject to the 24-month construction timeline.

“It’s going to be great for the city,” Shannon Price, executive director of the Edmond Fine Arts Institute, said after the meeting. “It’s exciting for us to get to see this move forward and do some really exciting things with this project. I think the community is going to love it.”

Price said the sculpture park will also feature playgrounds, dog parks, outdoor stages, picnic groves, lawn pavilions, hiking trails, ponds and restaurants.

The Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park will entail about 64.5 acres. About 53 acres are dedicated for the sculpture park, a half-acre is set for the arts and event center, and the remaining acreage is dedicated to restaurant and retail use, with some portion of the proceeds funding ongoing operation and maintenance of the sculpture park.

Once it’s fully developed, investments in the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park will total about $70 million, Shadid said.

“I think there’s community-wide support for it,” he said. “We can now get about the real heavy lifting. And that’s getting it built and getting it funded. Even though the city’s put $10 million in and the Fine Arts Institute is probably $10 to $15 million in, Hal’s putting $20 million in, we’re going to have to raise another $30 million at least, maybe another $40 (million). So, we’ve got some work to do, but I’m sure we’ll get it done.”

Budget for upcoming fiscal year approved

Edmond director of finance Kathy Panas presents the City of Edmond’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget proposal to the Edmond City Council on Monday, June 10, 2024. (Faithanna Olsson)

Before taking up the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park agreement, council members voted 5-0 to approve the city’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget, which takes effect July 1.

Kathy Panas, Edmond’s director of finance, told council members that the city’s direct cost budget was increased slightly since the proposal was discussed during a budget workshop on May 28. The original budget figure of $444.9 million increased by $8.6 million to $453.5 million, she said.

The largest increase of $2 million was allocated to the Danforth and Kelly roads project, bringing the city’s total cost to $5 million, which along with a $7.4 million grant put the road improvement project cost at $12.4 million. An additional $2 million was also allocated for repairs to the leaking Pelican Bay Aquatic Center, putting the total at $7 million.

The new budget total also reflects the City Council’s wishes to approve full funding requests fulfilled by the Community Agency Review Commission. An additional $45,000 will be allocated to the Edmond Historical Society Museum, $30,000 to Turning Point Ministries, $10,000 to Fostering Sweet Dreams, $10,000 to U R Special and $5,000 to the Edmond Historic Preservation Trust. These additional funds supplement the monies CARC doled out earlier this year.

Panas told council members sales tax and use tax collections for the current fiscal year are coming in below projections, a message that Rigby, Edmond’s city manager, stressed in a budget message distributed earlier to council members.

“The city approaches the coming year with caution while remaining aware of and adaptable to economic challenges that may arise due to current economic forecasts,” Rigby wrote in his budget message. “The city is funded primarily through sales and use tax. As of May 2024, sales tax collections have decreased (0.44 percent) compared to the prior fiscal year, while a 2 percent increase in revenue was projected. Use tax collections increased 3.83 percent over the prior fiscal year, compared to a projected increase of 5 percent. Combined sales and use tax collections increased 0.25 percent over the prior fiscal year. A projected combined sales and use tax collections for the fiscal 2024-2025 budget year are set at 0.5 percent growth rate.”

Rigby wrote to council members that Edmond’s budgeting process is affected by local economics and also by global economic conditions.

“Global economic conditions have presented several challenges to the budgeting
process for FY 2024- 2025,” Rigby wrote in the memo (embedded below). “Sales and use tax collections locally have slowed and remain flat for the year, inflation rates are between 3 and 3.5 percent nationally and the uncertainty surrounding a possible recession has fueled a very cautionary view of budgeted expenditures.”

Rigby’s bleak message caught the attention of resident Kim Stewart, who asked council members if this economic climate was the right time for the city to embark on investing into the Uncommon Ground Sculpture Park.

“It seems like the timing is not right for the addition and maintenance of another park,” she said. “The risk is that the city manager’s budget message is accurate and that we should be more cautious and not count on the historical tax growth of past decades but acknowledge that our economy has changed.”

She said the council is earmarking nearly $1.3 million a year for the park through its operations agreement and utility costs, money she said could be spent on maintaining streets and other maintenance needs.

“Don’t get me wrong, I love our parks,” Stewart said. “I’m happy to maintain the parks that we currently own. But I am worried that we’re becoming a little top heavy with parks at the top and streets and other maintenance needs at the bottom. And I wonder at what point do we become so out of balance that everything collapses.

“It’s important to me that we keep a proper balance between growth, quality of life, amenities and maintenance. Because without proper maintenance, spaces that were once beautiful and useful can become eyesores and of no value.”

Read City Manager Scot Rigby’s budget message

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