What the BUILD Act could build: The Mayo Hotel in Tulsa, OK

The Mayo Hotel. Via.

Once the jewel of the City of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Mayo Hotel fell into neglect and disrepair in the late 20th century. With the help of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfield program, the Mayo Hotel has now reclaimed its title as the “Grand Lady of Tulsa.”

In 1925, John and Cass Mayo completed construction of what would become a destination for many notable guests throughout the hotel’s first life, including President John F. Kennedy, Babe Ruth and Elvis Presley. The 18-story, 600 room hotel exemplified modern luxury during Oklahoma’s oil renaissance; ceiling fans were outfitted in every room and the hotel boasted Tulsa’s first running ice water.

A failed renovation attempt in 1981, however, left the Mayo empty and blighted for two decades. During that time, the Mayo had many developers attempt to remediate the space. Several plans were put forward, but the high costs of renovation and uncertainty of the site’s contamination hindered development. Finally, in 2001, the Snyder family purchased the vacant property for $250,000. The Snyders hoped to revive the once grand hotel into a modern, first-class commercial and residential space.

In order to move forward with development, the site’s contamination from an underground storage tank needed to be addressed. The Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) and the Snyder family partnered to clean up the site. With funding from the EPA Brownfields program, the OCC invested a grand total of $650, which paid for two sample tests to assess pollution levels of the closed underground tank. With that testing completed, the Snyder family made an initial investment of $25,000 to remediate the site. In May 2009, the Mayo Hotel was issued a Certificate of No Action Necessary, confirming that all on-site contamination had been remediated.

Today the Mayo Hotel is a fully operational mixed-use space serving Downtown Tulsa. The hotel includes 76 loft apartments, 102 hotel rooms, 9 meeting rooms including a ballroom, a new restaurant, retail and parking space. The Mayo has also become a popular venue for weddings, with its marble floors and grand ceilings.

All told the project has leveraged over $40 million in total investment. To put that in terms of public return on investment, every $1 invested by OCC’s Brownfields program leveraged over $61,500 – a pretty incredible return. Even considering the Snyder family’s significant investment, the project has still leveraged over $1,550 for every dollar spent on remediation.

A new bill in Congress could help more communities achieve successes like the Mayo Hotel. The Brownfields Utilization, Investment, and Local Development (BUILD) Act, introduced in early March, will make more projects like this possible. The BUILD Act would help communities to redevelop blighted, contaminated and abandoned sites that inhibit economic development and pose risks to public health. Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe spoke of the value of the Brownfields Program and BUILD Act:

The program has helped communities throughout Oklahoma clean up buildings contaminated by lead paint, asbestos, and mold so that they can be successfully redeveloped. This reauthorization, among other things, will amend the program to allow small communities access to technical assistance and to streamline projects so that they can be completed more efficiently.

The Mayo Hotel shows how federal support can help breathe new life into cherished yet blighted sites. Smart Growth America would like to thank Senator Inhofe for sponsoring the BUILD Act. In doing so, the Senator is helping to make lasting, positive change in communities in Oklahoma and across the country. The Mayo Hotel is once again a destination for the City of Tulsa, and a source of pride for many Oklahomans. The project is a stellar template for the potential of brownfields redevelopment across Oklahoma and the country.