Greenwood Chamber of Commerce facing legal battles, code violations in historic buildings

TULSA, Okla. — The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce said they’re working hard to preserve historic buildings. Chamber President Dr. Freeman Culver said there’s been a lot of work done and still more to go.

Culver said the Chamber started renovations in 2019. The historic buildings were rebuilt in 1922, after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The last renovations, Culver adds, were done between 1979 through 1985.

In the last three years, Culver said Greenwood is on national historical preservation lists. He adds, the Chamber replaced roofs, done limestone work, brick work is happening in the near future. He’s also acknowledging upgrades are still needed to bathrooms, lighting and doorways.

The architect the Chamber hired, David Contreras, said there’s more internal work needed, too. “Mechanical, plumbing, and electrical are first on the list. Secondary are the elevators,” Contreras said.

However, even with the work the Chamber has done so far, a tenant on Greenwood said he’s out more than $400,000 in his new business. D.W Speakeasy owner, Devin Williams said he had to close within months of opening due to the conditions of the historic buildings. Resulting in him filing a lawsuit to collect in damages.

Williams said he closed the Speakeasy in June. Until then, he said it was a dream of his to open a business on historic Greenwood where there’s black excellence. Which he did earlier this year.

“I was never given a fair shot to throw the business I wanted to,” Williams said.

He adds, the whole time he fought to remain open.

“When you go to the Speakeasy today, it’s just hot and there’s no a/c and improper ventilation and construction that’s happening and blown an entire electrical panel that I’ve installed here,” he said.

Since he started construction, Williams said the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce violated agreements, he’s run into multiple issues with the building structure, and paid the Chamber’s lead architect for renovations and nothing was fixed.

“Two of three of my a/c units blew back in March, so I was on one a/c unit from March all the way through June,” he said.

Williams adds the building was never up to code.

“The bathrooms flooded with feces and maggots. this is a space my customers would have came into. We had over six fire code violations. I was only aware of three of them,” Williams said.

Culver said there were some code violations, but the Chamber is fixing them among their renovations. The Chamber’s lead architect, David Contreras, said he did the work for the Speakeasy and said all the plans were submitted to the city and approved when it came to electrical and mechanical work.

Contreras said it’s up to the tenant, if they want to open a restaurant to have all the proper ventilation and other needs as part of the business plan.

Williams said he’s suing the Chamber for more than $1 million worth of damages and fees.

In response of the lawsuit, Freeman said “There’s no lawsuit. Just a lot of comments this person put out there. All I want people to know is to do your research.”

Williams said his petition will be completed in the next week or two. FOX23 has an open records request for the code violations. We’re waiting to receive those.

FOX23 was given documents late Wednesday evening saying Williams is being sued by the construction company, Patriot Custom Construction LLC, $170,000 in unpaid fees. The documents given to FOX23 by a Chamber associate also shows more than $40,000 owed to York Plumbing and Mechanical. There’s also a document from Tulsa County saying there’s a lien on Speakeasy.

Williams said he’s aware of those fees. He said he stopped paying when the things he already paid for wasn’t being fixed.