On a vacant lot in downtown McAlester, Okla., adjacent to a large historic building and across the street from a bustling coffeehouse/brewery, an attractive new gathering place has sprung up, providing the family-oriented community with a central new green space and priming the area for additional growth and development. It’s the result of a collaboration between the Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®, the McAlester Main Street organization, a local property owner – and a whole lot of elbow grease.
‘The Lot on Choctaw’, as it has come to be known, had been unused for as long as anyone could remember, but its location made it a prime candidate for ‘placemaking,’ a concept promoted by the National Main Street Center. Through placemaking, communities create immediate, affordable, and focused improvement projects that help to activate outdoor spaces, bringing people together and demonstrating potential for future development investment. Local REALTOR® Shelly Howard, a member of the 175-member Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS®, led the project with a $4,000 Placemaking Grant.
Working closely with McAlester Main Street, a partner organization of the National Main Street Center, Howard helped to coordinate the gift of the vacant lot – actually a long-term $1-a-year lease – with the owner of the vacant landmark building next door, who hopes eventually to restore and develop the building; should the owner ever have to terminate the lease, $5,000 will be provided to the town to relocate the new public park.
McAlester Main Street designed the project: a lovely plaza of handsome brickwork and turf, three large shady pergolas, five picnic benches, and numerous large oak planters containing small trees, as well as low maintenance grasses, roses, and other flowers. REALTORS® provided much of the manpower needed to make the plan a reality. Says Howard, “For each of the five workdays we had, from March through the completion in September, about ten REALTORS® were there, cleaning, painting, building, planting. It was a great turnout, and an impressive volunteer project for a town with a population of about 19,000!” Much of the heavy lifting was contributed free of charge by a contractor who does a lot of work for McAlester Main Street; another company donated the planters. The town will be helping to maintain the Lot on Choctaw, but Howard finds herself stopping by to water and weed periodically. “I can’t help myself – it’s really my baby!” she laughs.
The park was designed to accommodate food trucks along one side for special events, which brings an even more robust and vibrant level of usage to the new space. “Our community is committed to creating more green gathering space – for families, young professionals, older folks – and to attract more business development to the historic downtown area. We’re so proud of what the REALTORS® have been able to contribute to that goal.”
She continues, “When I see Facebook posts by community members who are using the new space to gather for class reunions, it just warms my heart,” says Howard. “This is exactly what we built it for.”
To learn more about how the Southeastern Oklahoma Association of REALTORS® is using REALTOR® Party resources to enhance life in towns like McAlester, contact Shelly Howard, at 918-424-1735.