Effort underway to restore historic hospital building in Okmulgee

OKMULGEE, Okla. - An effort is underway to restore a historic hospital building in Okmulgee.

The hospital was built for black residents in the early 1920s, when Okmulgee was a segregated community.

The hospital closed its doors in the 1950s and has been vacant for decades.

The Okmulgee County Multi-Cultural Heritage Association, which formed in 1998, has done a lot of work to preserve the building.

The group now wants to turn the building into a business and history center.

"What we're doing with this building today is changing a symbol of segregation into a symbol of community unity," said the group's chair, Rae Ann Wilson.

The group has put together a comprehensive business plan and estimates the center could provide the city, which owns the building, with millions of dollars in revenue every year.

Several people have signed letters of support for the restoration, including the president and executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, and local business owners.

Justin Giles, the assistant director of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Museum and Cultural Center, also lent his support to the project.

"Preservation and restoration of the [hospital] will only add to the visitor experience for the many travelers who pass through Okmulgee," Giles wrote in his letter of support.

Giles is also leading an effort to restore another historic building in Okmulgee, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Council House.

On Tuesday evening, the group presented its plan to the Okmulgee City Council.

The council offered to pay for up to 50 percent of the $1.1 million needed to restore the old hospital building.

But the multi-cultural heritage association feels the city should pay for the entire project.

The council tabled the issue after failing to come to an agreement with the association.

The association's leaders call the council's offer disappointing and they hope city officials will change their minds in the future.

The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

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