Osage Nation to consider rehabilitating property in Fairfax

Robert Smith rsmith@pawhuskajournalcapital.com

The principal chief of the Osage Nation agreed Monday to seek an expedited congressional committee meeting to see whether the Osage Nation Congress might be interested in appropriating funds for an economic development project in Fairfax that would involve rehabilitating dilapidated downtown property.

A meeting was reportedly scheduled for 10 a.m. today (Wednesday, Jan. 29).

Principal Chief Geoffrey Standing Bear’s decision to seek Osage legislative branch consideration of a potential economic development project in Fairfax came in context of the Osage County commissioners on Monday addressing an item on their agenda regarding the possibility of advertising for bids to demolish what is left of the old furniture store property and the old Big Hill Store property in downtown Fairfax.

The commissioners voted to table the question of whether to seek demolition bids, until they hear more from Standing Bear.

The county board heard comments from Standing Bear about a possible economic development project involving the rehabilitation of the old furniture store property and the old Big Hill Store property. There was talk of a possible memorial to Osage people who were murder victims during the Osage Reign of Terror being an element of the project, and of the possible involvement of a community foundation along with the Osage Nation. In addition to Standing Bear, county officials heard from Joe Conner and Jerry Butterbaugh.

Conner, who told the Journal-Capital that he addressed the county board as a Fairfax community resident rather than as a representative of the community foundation, spoke of being encouraged that the Osage Nation had taken an interest in the future development of Fairfax. He said it would likely take more than half a million dollars to get the property in good shape.

“We have a lot of people coming in who know a lot about us,” Conner said, referring to tourist visits, and potential tourist visits, from people who are familiar with the history of Osage County.

Butterbaugh, who is a Fairfax property owner and the presiding officer of the board of directors for the Osage County Historical Society, emphatically welcomed the potential involvement of the Osage Nation while indicating he was less optimistic about how effective the community foundation might be in addressing the situation.

Standing Bear clarified that he could not speak directly for the Osage Nation Congress or its committees. He also cautioned that the current political tension between Gov. Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma’s Native American nations could limit the Osage Nation’s ability to respond now with a generous donation for an economic development project.

District 1 Commissioner Randall Jones clarified for everyone that whatever money the county might have to spend to demolish the dilapidated downtown Fairfax properties could not be repurposed to support an economic development proposal.

The county board did agree Monday, by a vote of 2-1, to declare as surplus the dilapidated downtown Fairfax properties, so that something can be done with them. District 2 Commissioner Kevin Paslay, who was absent, cast the lone “no” vote through a representative sitting in for him.