SAND SPRINGS — Architect Ken Alexander put his faith behind a vision and purchased the historic Sand Springs Powerhouse in 2010.
“My fascination, whether it was a sickness from architecture or something else, was that I wanted to save the building,” he says.
So he went about doing just that.
Alexander sank years into framing a restaurant, brewery and event center concept to jazz up the sprawling 31,759-square-foot space built in 1911.
“We felt like everything was falling into place. In the end, it just wasn’t,” says Alexander, whose property recently was marketed for sale by CBRE. “It’s time for somebody else with more energy and deeper pockets to take it over.
“There was a great deal of regret that we couldn’t pull it off. But I’m hoping that a team will come in there and can do what we wanted to do with it and get the sales tax revenue and people coming to Sand Springs. It’s a perfect destination.”
Leaders in Sand Springs agree, and they have begun tapping into its economic development potential.
The Powerhouse plat, which is close to two acres, is among about a half-dozen projects the city is eyeing for future growth. Others, such as the River West Shopping District, the Sheffield Crossing development district and a U.S. Department of Transportation BUILD Grant application, already have begun.
“As you drive through Sand Springs, there are a lot of things in motion,” says Grant Gerondale, the city’s director of community development. “… There has been more positive change in terms of the outward appearance, the public investment and now the private investment in our town in the last five years than in probably the last 20 or 25. And we’re not done.”
Encompassing 30 acres, River West grew out of a $14.5 million Keystone Corridor Redevelopment funded by the Tulsa County Vision 2025 tax initiative. Lands there were first purchased for redevelopment in 2007.
“Other cities were building pools with their Vision money,” Gerondale said. “We knew we had the blighted areas of River West, and we took it from substandard housing with a buyout program. Imagine our city council back then taking it on the chin, saying ‘We’re not building a swimming pool. We’re going to do a buyout.’ And we did it. And it was huge.”
Only three lots remain in River West, which has produced commercial successes such as Warren Clinic, Aldi, Holiday Inn Express and Colton’s Steakhouse.
“We’re an industrial town, and we still have a lot of industry that we embrace,” Sand Springs City Manager Elizabeth Gray says. “But as time’s gone on, we’ve seen the shifts where industry has gone more overseas. Plus, some of the older industries have left over the years.
“After Vision 2025, the city made a very conscientious effort to invest in itself. I think we’re the only ones that utilized that funding to continue to improve the economic standing of our city. We took a blighted area and turned it into the River West Shopping District. That’s probably been the biggest catalyst of any.”
The city also is banking on the Sheffield Crossing development, an 18-acre site it wants to transform into retail development.
Located at the southwest corner of Morrow Road and Oklahoma 97, the land was paid for ($6 million) by a 2017 municipal proposition and occupies a portion of the former Gerdau-Ameristeel steel plant that operated for years until its closing in 2009. Several years later the site was secured by Sheffield Crossing 1 LLC, a managed affiliate of OmniTRAX Inc.
To prepare the site for development, the city investing $1.58 million in highway frontage improvements, including a new intersection, traffic control signals, road upgrades and stormwater and sanitary sewer improvements.
The city is targeting a a big box retailer for the site, preferably a home improvement store.
“The biggest key in all of this is simply that private business, historically, and developers have driven the conversation,” says city planner Brad Bates. “Whether it be Sand Springs or elsewhere, communities across the state are realizing that it’s vital for them to help control their on destiny.
“So we’re getting into more how can we acquire land, how can we remediate blight, how can we spur development and guide the conversation. If it’s going and buying 20 acres from an old railroad and steel mill, then we’re looking at doing stuff like that.”
To further enhance the area, the municipality is coordinating with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to improve Main Street past Morrow Road and connect the upgrade to Wilson Avenue (Oklahoma 97).
In addition, Sand Springs is working with INCOG, the Sand Springs Railway Company, OmniTRAX and ODOT on a Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant application of up to $25 million. The city’s application, which is due July 15, would focus on rail upgrades and relocation, street and utility improvements and land acquisition.