A piece of downtown Muskogee’s history is on the auction block, raising hopes among some that a sale will occur and help spur revitalization in the heart of the city.
The Charles Haskell Building at Second and Court streets has stood vacant since December 2011, when Connors State College moved out of the downtown area. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Railway Exchange Building, the property is owned by the state.
“I think every vacant building in the downtown area is an issue and certainly one as big and potentially energizing for the community as that building might be,” said Lisa Susanne, executive director of Downtown Muskogee Inc. “I would love to see it get bought and utilized in a way that will re-energize downtown Muskogee — I am keeping my fingers crossed.”
Because state law bars the sale of property at a price less than 90 percent of its appraised value, the minimum bid that will be considered is $346,500. Appraisers set the value of the 1910-era building, which has 61,172 square feet of finished space, at $385,000. The building, appraisers found, is in fair to average condition.
Shawn Raper, a real estate professional and the chairman of the Muskogee Planning Commission, expressed skepticism about a sale even at $6.30 a square foot. He said the auction likely would attract only speculators who likely would be hesitant about paying that much.
“My guess is they won’t get a bid,” Raper said. “Without an end user as a buyer, that only leaves speculators who would have to reconfigure and redevelop — I would be surprised if they get a bid that high.”
Raper’s prediction echoed the words of a local businessman who considered investing in the pre-Depression skyscraper, one of five in Muskogee. Rob Raasch said he hopes somebody locally “gets it and does something amazing,” but the timing wasn’t right for him.
“We seriously considered it, but after we ran some numbers, we decided to pass,” Raasch said. “It was too big of a financial risk for us, as we figured it would take substantial rehab and would not (generate) cash flow for a significant period.”
Kimbra Scott, a spokeswoman for the Muskogee City-County Port Authority, said there were discussions about using the building to house a proposed business incubator. Those talks ended after officials determined “this would not be a feasible option.”
Raper said he understands state officials must play by the rules, but he believes a better option exists. The city of Muskogee, according to articles in the Phoenix archives, acquired the building after World War II to accommodate a projected influx of soldiers.
The Railway Exchange Building reportedly housed the Veterans Affairs Regional Office until it moved out in April 1976. Connors State College subsequently began using the building as a satellite campus in Muskogee.
“It’s my recollection the city gave it to Connors — I don’t think they paid anything for it,” Raper said. “In my opinion, there ought to be a way to return that to the city, which could redevelop it without the same restrictions.”
The capital assets management division of the Oklahoma Office of Management is accepting sealed bids through May 2, and bids will be opened at 3:30 p.m. May 5. Interested bidders may inspect the property from 10 a.m. to noon April 28.
State officials did not respond Thursday to inquiries about the building or the auction.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or email@example.com.