Big Five, OHFA partnering to renovate historic Durant building
by By Zach Maxwell Staff Reporter
More than a century ago, the Bryan Hotel was a glistening brick edifice in the bustling core of downtown Durant, the tallest structure on the horizon of a new town brimming with opportunity.
Big Five Community Services and Oklahoma Housing Finance Agency are joining forces to return the 107-year old building to its former glory. Last year, residents of the building, now called the Dennis Huggins Memorial Apartments, were relocated so the structure could undergo a multi-million dollar renovation.
On Thursday, officials from both agencies joined Durant Mayor Jerry Tomlinson for a tour of the ground floor - a once-sprawling lobby which renovators hope to restore to its pre-World War II splendor.
“We’re really excited to be kicking off the Dennis Huggins project,” said Kent Watson, executive director at Big Five. “It’s going to be a win for the city and a win for OHFA. It’s a continuation of our mission at Big Five of furthering service to this community.”
Low-income housing is a staple of the services provided by OHFA and Big Five. Once complete in 2015, the multi-story structure will house 24 renovated and modernized units and potential retail space on the ground floor, which has been largely abandoned even as life bustles above.
“I love historic renovations,” said Dr. Dennis Shockley, OHFA Executive Director. “They help revitalize downtowns and instill pride in the community.
The tour was just part of an OHFA annual management retreat in the Durant area, which included meetings at REI Oklahoma and an impromptu visit to a certain famous monument on the City Hall lawn.
“A picture of me with that giant peanut was my Facebook photo for two years,” Shockley said.
But before the peanut, there was the Bryan Hotel. Now, funding from OHFA in the form of tax credits - as well as $750,000 in federal HUD “Home” funds - will get the ball rolling on a full revitalization at the corner of First and Lost.
John Marshall, an OHFA team leader on the project, said the “highly competitive” process swung toward the Durant project on a number of factors. Similar aging hotel-to-apartment renovations have met recent success in Shawnee, Chickasha and Idabel.
“We were able to get Historic Preservation tax credits,” he said. “It’s a good mesh between the low income housing and use of these tax credits. We try to keep our tax credits invested in benefiting the communities.”
Big Five Housing Director Kevin Jackson said he hopes the new Dennis Huggins Memorial Apartments, with work to begin around December, will kick start the next phase of downtown Durant restoration to the east and south.
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