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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – The COVID-19 crisis has become an element in a heated dispute between the University of Oklahoma and the nonprofit that owns luxury student housing development, Cross Village.

The CEO of the nonprofit suggested the housing could be used for freshmen because it would provide a safer option to avoid the virus, OU responded with a statement that left him speechless.

“Totally ignored the facts of this situation and then to turn it into such a nasty personal response,” said Steve Hicks.

Hicks is the CEO and chairman of Provident Resources Group, the sole member of the nonprofit, Provident Oklahoma Education Resources, Inc.

The nonprofit is the group that built, owns, and manages the Cross Village student housing development.

Cross Village is at the center of a growing legal dispute between POER and the university.

In December, Provident Resources Group sued OU. Hicks said the university turned its back on the development.

The 1,200-bed housing was meant to fill a perceived need for upperclassmen.

Now at the end of its second school year open, Hick said only about 30% of Cross Village is occupied.

Last week, Hicks sent a letter to the OU Interim President Joseph Harroz suggesting the housing could be used by freshman. He said it would be safer for students trying to avoid COVID-19 because there are more rooms with private or semi-private bathrooms.

It’s the second time Hicks has made the suggestion. The first time was after complaints of mold issues surfaced in the current freshman housing towers.

“They have an opportunity with a brand new property that the university sought to have on their campus, where the students could live, not have any mold, not have any plumbing problems, and be in a much more conducive environment for social distancing compared to what they would be living in in the towers,” Hicks said in an interview Tuesday.

He said he hasn’t received a response from OU. 

However, a spokesperson did issue a statement to the media saying:

“The University is aware of the concerns students and their families have raised related to University Housing and continues to address those concerns, all the while working to ensure the safety of its students. As for Mr. Hicks, his letter and actions are deplorable. He is attempting to use the crisis that faces us all as a litigation tool to line his own pockets – to relieve him of the debt he incurred while making millions for himself and his family members. At a time when we should be focused on helping each other, he is trying to weaponize the pandemic to advance the lawsuit he filed last year against OU. This is consistent with his earlier tactic of hiring lobbyists to try to apply pressure to cause the University to pay money for his failed enterprise.”

Hicks said the personal attacks on him and his family in the response left him speechless, and he denies the allegations.

“They know that that entity is a nonprofit organization. I am salaried employee, I have no economic interest in provident resources, no economic interest in provident Oklahoma education resources. I work for provident resources group as an employee,” he said. 

Hicks argued the university is more concerned about maintaining revenues from the current freshman dorms. 

“If their concern was over the safety and welfare of their students, then it would be an easy decision,” Hicks said.