“Dinner in the Deuce” tonight and tomorrow is just one of several downtown events listed at OPUBCO Communications’ new web site, www.wimgo.com. To learn more about WIMGO, read today’s story by David Zizzo.
At www.okctalk.com there’s an interesting conversation underway about Metore’s Vodka, which is produced at the old Fred Jones plant on west Main Street. Here’s a couple of stories I wrote in November, 2007 and December, 2005:
Brewing hobby taking on new role
By Steve Lackmeyer Business Writer
Marc Spain’s hobby is quickly turning into a full-time job these days — but he can take comfort in knowing that his latest creation is bringing smiles to OU and OSU fans across the state.
Spain is hoping that no Bedlam party Saturday will be without the newest brands of vodka from his Oklahoma City-based distillery — Metore’s OSU Orange and OU Cherry Red.
“We understand the special regard Oklahoma fans have for their teams,” said Spain, founder and chief distiller at Old Russia Distillery and Spirits. “We hope they’ll become a whole new tradition at tailgating and game day parties.”
Spain said the creation of the two new flavors was inspired by the Oklahoma Centennial and desire to introduce “distinctly Oklahoma” products.
“It’s been out since August, and it’s our No. 1 seller,” Spain said.
Spain said sales indicate the dividing line between OU and OSU territory might just be in Moore.
“You can tell which part of the state you are in by how which one is selling,” Spain said. “You go down to Norman and it is 80 percent red and 20 percent orange. ”
Stillwater residents, Spain said, favor the OSU Orange by about 80 percent to the 20 percent buying OU Cherry Red. In Moore, however, the sales split about 50/50.
Spain estimates his vodka is sold in about 50 stores across the state. The venture started six years ago after he saw an article about a distillery in California and then got a taste of real Russian vodka during a visit with his wife’s family in the former Soviet state of Riga Latvia.
Before switching to a career in computer science, Spain’s initial college studies were in botany and chemistry. So when he and his wife Elena took a trip back to her family’s home, he was intrigued by her father’s discussion of how they “improved” the stateowned vodka during the Soviet era. Spain was taken to a back room and treated to the family recipe. He began to draw up a business plan when he saw an article about a Californian who started a distillery.
After setting up shop in a business incubator at downtown’s old Fred Jones plant, Spain and his partners got their first shot at a retail sales outlet with Oklaho- ma City’s largest liquor store — Byron’s Liquor.
Vedia Ming, general manager at Byron’s, said Metore’s is a pleasant surprise when one considers most of Oklahoma winery products are struggling.
“It’s done very good because it’s a very good product,” Ming said. “It ranks right up there with the national product.”
Ready to expand
Ming said her store had no problem adding it to their stock — and she readily recommends it to customers. She also thinks Metore’s is ready to expand beyond Oklahoma.
“I definitely think they’re doing the right thing marketing, and I suspect eventually it will be a good national brand if that’s the direction they want to go.”
And that’s exactly what Spain and his partners want to hear.
They do well with taste tests — Spain reports that he sold three cases one night after offering samples at Joe’s Liquor in Norman.
Spain and partners Gary Robinson and Bret Stacy are still holding down full-time jobs while working 40-hour weeks at the distillery in the old Fred Jones plant downtown.
“We’ve doubled our sales, but it’s been a long slog,” Spain said. “We think we’re to the point we’re ready to find some outside investors, go regional and eventually national.”
The introduction of new flavors like the OSU Orange and OU Cherry Red is a part of that strategy. The company hired a marketing firm that helped style a new bottle, bottle cap and label. They now sell 10 flavors that have led to increased sales statewide.
“We’ve reached the point in Oklahoma that we’re growing, but we need to start growing faster,” Spain said.
Here’s the one from 2005:
Family recipe builds spirits
By Steve Lackmeyer Business Writer
Marc Spain drinks on the job. His wife drinks on the job. So do his friends and business partners.
Their chosen drink: “Old Russia,” 100-proof grain vodka. And they all have a drinking problem — getting Oklahomans to sample spirits from the state’s first and only distillery.
“It’s Russia invented, Oklahoma perfected,” Spain boasts.
Spain admits sales could be better. But three years after starting production in the Fred Jones Business Development Center, Spain no longer is struggling to convince wholesalers to pick up the “Old Russia” brand. And bottles can be found at stores across the state.
Spain is looking to expand beyond Oklahoma — and is replacing his stainless steel still with a copper model recently brought in from Arkansas. If all goes well, he hopes to expand production from vodka to gin and brandy within the next couple months.
And in doing so, Spain is thinking up his next move: sales in Texas and Missouri, and the addition of three more stills.
Call him crazy. That’s what friends and acquaintances did when Spain first pitched his plans a few years ago. He was inspired by two events: an article about a distillery in California and a visit with his wife’s family in the former Soviet state of Riga Latvia.
Before switching to computer sciences, Spain’s initial college studies were in botany and chemistry. So when he and his wife Elena took a trip back to her family’s home, he was intrigued by her father’s discussion of how they “improved” the state-owned vodka during the Soviet era.
Spain was taken to a back room and treated to the family recipe. He began to draw up a business plan when he saw an article about a Californian who started a distillery.
“I thought, ‘Why not do it here?’ ” Spain said. “I talked to different people and, basically, everybody looked at me as if I was crazy.”
Luck changed for Spain when he shared his idea with Gary Robinson, a former co-worker at Fred Jones Industries. Together, they approached Scott Weaver, who was overseeing conversion of the old Fred Jones plant downtown into a business incubator.
Approval of Old Russia as one of the business incubator’s first tenants was key to making the label a reality, Spain said.
Over several months, Spain, Robinson and a third partner, Bret Stacy, worked with federal authorities to get permits for production and navigated their way through the Legislature to win changes in state laws to allow the distillery to open.
They bought rolling-counters from the closed Lucent plant, tanks once used at dairy farms, and searched the Internet for the right still.
They found it for sale from a man who refers to himself as “Col. Morrison” and lives atop a mountain in Arkansas.
“He’s an interesting character,” Spain said. “You might get the impression at first he’s a hillbilly, but he’s a very sophisticated man. He’s got a very nice place.
“But there’s something about driving 25 miles past the border, turning right and going five miles down a state highway, then going 10 miles on a dirt road and being told ‘drive through the front lawn to the back, and you’ll find my place in the back of my father’s house.’ ”
Spain spends his work days at the Oklahoma Real Estate Commission as a computer technician, then works most afternoons at the distillery. On weekends, he’s joined by his wife and their business partners. They use a multiple-filtering system Spain boasts is unique for vodka production, and they each sample the product to “ensure quality.”
“We do it in moderation,” Spain quickly adds.
The company produces about 30 cases a month — a figure Spain hopes will rise considerably once they add gin and brandy. He’s proud that “Old Russia” can be found at the city’s largest liquor retailer — Byron’s — and at stores in Tulsa and across the state.
“I always tell everyone if they don’t see us, they should demand us.”
BY MICHAEL DOWNES, THE OKLAHOMAN Marc Spain, president of Old Russia Vodka, stands near the company’s new still Monday at the downtown Oklahoma City distillery.
Here’s one advantage of having a blog – the ability to provide to you more information on a story that just couldn’t fit into the newspaper (I’ve been told that because there are other writers at the paper, I can’t simply have two pages just for my stories each day).
Today’s paper had a story about a proposed Holiday Inn Express for Bricktown. Here is a more in-depth discussion of the proposed design:
Demolition of the building, however, is not a certainty. Committee members unanimously criticized the proposed design by Quinn & Associates, which included a facade of 61 percent brick and 49 percent synthetic stucco.
Kip Bettencourt, an architect with Quinn & Associates, defended the design and argued the use of synthetic stucco, commonly known as EIFS, was not a matter of cost. Instead, he said, the material was included as a matter of good design.
“I selected the amount of brick myself with architectural license,” Bettencourt said. “I felt that just slapping brick on this building for the sake of putting brick on it was inappropriate. These buildings were built at different times … and that’s how these things evolved and that’s what I was trying to be true to.”
The use of synthetic stucco – also known as Exterior Insulation Finish Systems (EIFS) – has been frowned on before by the Bricktown Urban Design Committee. A glass elevator tower was dropped from the Hampton Inn at Sheridan Avenue and Vince Gill Avenue when developers were forced by the committee to increase the amount of brick on the hotel and eliminate much of the proposed EIFS from the facade.
Bettencourt countered his project’s use of EIFS would be different.
“The synthetic plaster is a Dryvit product – we don’t like to call it EIFS because that has a negative connotation,” Bettencourt said. “This actually does have stone and mica in it … it has the appearance of granite. It certainly doesn’t look like the typical EIFS you would see.”
Bettencourt also agreed with committee comments that the building was “a little bit busy.” But he said he was trying to provide something “attractive to address the corner of Oklahoma and Main Street.”Committee members, however, were unswayed by Bettencourt and ruled no demolition can take place before a new design is submitted that “flattens” the facade and eliminates much of the synthetic stucco.
Wilson also suggested the developers try to incorporate an antique boiler inside the building and the oldest part of the structure – the north facade facing the BPI parking lot.
John Sweeney, vice president of operations for Kusum Hospitality, said after the meeting his group is prepared to follow the committee’s recommendations – including possible preservation of the dairy’s north facade.
“We definitely are doing more brick,” Sweeney said. “The thinking was, let’s get out concept together, and make sure the building fits on the site. And then let’s go to the committee and get their feedback and make sure we’re doing in the right direction. If they want 90 percent brick, whatever they want to do with that, we’ll be happy to along with them. We see the committee as a resource, as a valuable tool, in coming up with what’s right for Bricktown.”
Sweeney said he also had read criticisms voiced on local online chat boards and forums.
“We’re not going to build an eyesore,” Sweeney said. “We’re relying on the local population, and we need the local population to like what we do. The Holiday Inn Express we’re going to build will be built to last.”
Sweeney noted his group is spending $2.2 million to renovate a two-year old Amerisuites at Belle Isle Station to convert it into a Hyatt Place – proof, he said, of their commitment to quality.But urban design committee members remained concerned Wednesday that franchise architecture, and not design intended for Bricktown, governed plans for the proposed Holiday Inn Express.
“It concerns me to destroy this building … and replace it with a busy footprint with 51 percent brick and all these ins and outs, and adapting a Holiday Inn franchisor’s requirements,” committee member Bob Bright said.
Sweeney promised he and his partners are balancing the desires of the community and Holiday Inn.
“Holiday Inn wants to brand their building so that a customer driving down the road might not see the sign, but they see the building and know it’s a Holiday Inn Express just as when you see a Chilli’s or any other national chain,” Sweeney said. “They have guidelines they want us to follow. But they’ll conform to the local codes as well.”
Bricktown on a nice summer evening, 2007 – and not a cold, cold day like February 12, 2008. Oklahoman Archives
More thoughts about Bricktown versus West End coming your way from local architect Dennis Wells:
“As a young architect my firm was literally the first tenant of the West End (excepting Spaghetti Warehouse) and we were the architects that Blackland Properties used to spearhead development of the district. We witnessed the transformation from bumland to wonderland, often questioning the sanity of our client’s program. Even though architects are supposed to be visionaries, the degree of success surprised us. I wasn’t in Dallas during the decline and fall of the district, so the demise also surprised me.
In OKC I witnessed the rise of Bricktown from a different vantage point, and even with my first-hand experience in the blossoming of the West End I was somewhat skeptical that a similar blossoming would happen here. I thought the canal idea was too counterfeit and would be an embarrassing flop. I didn’t think OKC had the critical mass for success. Obviously I was wrong.
I’m not writing this to sell my ability to predict future success or demise, rather as credential for the comparison I’m about to make.
My view was that The West End was a developer’s money-grab… The City of Dallas seemed to just jump on the bandwagon. The District was a relatively isolated island of entertainment without significant links to other sustaining city elements. It was a true flash-in-the-pan. (I think the “Historical” status of the West End was also a contributing factor. At that time it was vogue to be “historical” and there was much ado about it from a regulatory perspective… Many good designs were killed by overly cautious design guidelines. The historical aspect has been less emphasized in Bricktown’s story. This is good.)
I think that the City of OKC was more involved with the conception and birth of Bricktown, and now clearly holds the control strings. This won’t necessarily ensure its longevity, but I think its location will. Bricktown’s adjacency to the Arena-Convention-Hotel elements as well as the budding River District and Core-to-Shore development puts it in a place of more future significance rather than less. And don’t forget housing! Although several housing projects were attempted in the West End, none ever got off the ground.
Another factor in the West End’s demise is the shear size and variety offered in Dallas. Its a much more fertile environment for competing zones to quickly grow and die. OKC’s smaller size and limited urban diversity might actually be a good thing… Bricktown is more important to us than the West End was to Dallas.”
Forbes is out with its latest rankings story - this time the bragging rights are for “most miserable city.” No, Oklahoma City did not make the top 10. But you might be surprised at the ranking for Charlotte, N.C., which is supposed to be one of the country’s urban hot spots.
3 E Main, as it looks today (photo from Oklahoma County Assessor’s web site), and 1947, as shown in this photo included in Wednesday’s Bricktown Urban Design Committee packet (photo from the Oklahoma Historical Society).
To be fair, the damage done to 3 E Main was a deed done years ago. And while debate rages of a proposal to tear down the old Steffen’s Ice Cream building at 101 E Main and replace it with a Holiday Inn Express – with a facade that has a significant amount of synthetic stucco – the Bricktown Urban Design Design Committee on Wednesday will also hear a proposal to cover 3 E Main with synthetic stucco as well.
The building still has a brick facade under all that concrete, and a report by city planner John Calhoun indicates some of the brick is exposed in areas where the concrete has fallen away. But owners have told the city removal of the concrete is prohibitive, and they are asking to cover the concrete with a synthetic stucco, mixed with rock, similar to the material proposed for the Holiday Inn Express.
The Underground. Oklahoman Archives
From Kim Searls at Downtown Oklahoma City Inc.:
The new installation Four Letter Word L*O*V*E will feature an exhibition of Mail Art from around the world. Please join us for a lunch time opening reception
Thursday, February 14th at 12PM Invited Artist Gallery, in the Underground Downtown OKC.
The Invited Artist Gallery, located in the Downtown Oklahoma City Underground Tunnels, hosts quarterly exhibitions curated by art professionals in Oklahoma. Four Letter Word: L*O*V*E* is curated by Sarah Hearn.
This exhibition will showcase a type of artwork rarely seen in Oklahoma and encourages local participation in an international network. What is mail art? Mail art is simply any original work of art sent through the postal system. This movement gained momentum in the 1950’s and has a rich history dating back to the early 1800’s. Although many well-known artists have participated in the movement, critics and collectors often overlook mail art. This is probably because to be a recipient of mail art, one must also send it!
Regular Underground and Gallery hours are 6 am- 8 pm, Monday through Friday. The Gallery is located in the The Underground beneath Robinson Ave and Robert S. Kerr. Enter through Broadway-Kerr Parking Garage or Leadership Square. The exhibition remains on display through April 4 For more information call 235-3500.
Devon Energy and Downtown OKC, Inc. have joined in a unique partnership to feature many of the state’s finest artists through a series of rotating exhibits in a one-of-a-kind space in downtown.
Devon has contributed $50,000 to assist Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. with promotions of eight curated shows and art openings over a two-year period.
Thanks to everybody for your comments and participation in OKC Central. As I wrap up the week, here are some random thoughts…
OK, do we really need any evidence that I’ve still got a lot to learn? Old Downtown Guy corrects me on what the IIDA is – it’s the International Interior Design Association. The group recently met at the Red Pin Bowling Lounge in Lower Bricktown.
Here’s what Old Downtown Guy had to say: “The space was a difficult fit for the bowling alley/restaurant tenant but the design team did an excellent job of shoe-horning in all of the mechanical and sprinkler systems. The interior design, finish and materials selections were done by Cynthia Harrison and Bethany Jackson of Tandem Design. David Wanzer and Ken Fitzsimmons also worked on the architectural portion of the project. Monty Jacobs was the general contractor.”
Wanzer and Fitzsimmons are part of the influx of new talent making their mark downtown. Wanzer and his partners at J3 Architecture currently office in Deep Deuce in the Littlepage Building, but will soon be moving to Film Row on W Sheridan where they are participating in the area’s redevelopment. Fitzsimmons and his brother Bryan, meanwhile, are involved in some exciting and challenging innercity projects including the Tower Theater on NW 23.
Old Downtown Guy added he saw Jeff Bezdeck with a group at Red Pin as well. Bezdek designed the dancing fountains in Lower Bricktown, brought Centennial Clocks to just about every town in the state, designed the bell tower along the Oklahoma River and the clock tower for the MidTown Plaza at NW 5 and Walker. Bezdek also happens to office next door to Wanzer.
And here is Old Downtown Guy’s review: “Red Pin is a fun spot . . . nice bar and a decent restaurant. I don’t bowl, but I think their lanes get plenty of use . . . six or seven of the ten were going strong this evening. The pin setting equipment is very interesting and requires a full time mechanic to keep it working properly.”Second item: Harry Wilson rcorrectly reminds us that the old incarnation of the Urban Design Commission played a pivotal role in stopping demolition of the Gold Dome. The design commission, with more power to halt demolition of buildings deemed historic, created the delay needed for interested parties to attract a buyer like Dr. Irene Lam. Here’s what Wilson has to say:
How quickly we forget. Re the Gold Dome, the Urban Design Commission “saved the landmark from demolition”. If we had voted “yes” there wouldn’t have been a “landmark” for anyone to occupy.
The UDC has never received the credit it deserved for the behind the scenes leadership re Auto Alley, 23rd Street, The Plaza District, and more. For some reason the Bricktown UDC gets the headlines. I guess we were just too boring or maybe it was the professional approach of the UDC as opposed to the headline grabbing personalities of the Bricktown group.
BEFORE AND AFTER: McDonald’s changed designs for its proposed Bricktown restaurant after meeting resistance from the Bricktown Urban Design Committee.
“Urban designer? I’m not an urban designer, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”
-Brett, Oklahoma City, at www.newsok.com
Today’s story about the owner of the Quality Inn at 1800 E Reno and his plans for a Bricktown Holiday Inn Express isn’t sitting well with all readers, if online comments today at www.newsok.com ,www.okctalk.com, www.okmet.org/bb are any indicator. The Bricktown Urban Design Committee, tasked with approving such projects, will consider the project at its next meeting at 9 a.m. Wednesday in the second floor conference room at 116 E Sheridan Ave.
The criticism seems to focus on two different aspects of the application: the demolition of the old Steffen’s Ice Cream building, parts of which date back to 1917, and the construction of a new Holiday Inn Express that would have what appears to be about half of its facade consisting of a sythetic stucco.
Bob Blackburn advises to consider the first action very carefully – read his arguments here. It might be informative to look back at previous projects in the past couple of years that also clashed with standards set by the Bricktown urban design ordinance.
It was just last summer that McDonald’s pitched plans for a restaurant across from Bass Pro Shops. Officials claimed the restaurant was designed specifically for the entertainment district. But it didn’t take long to find the same design recently used on new McDonald’s in Mustang and other suburban areas. The design was even featured in a national advertisement. The McDonald’s folks tried to lecture the Bricktown Urban Design Committee on what they could and couldn’t require from the fast food giant. But with an hour-long special airing on cable that same month on how McDonald’s had constructed special restaurants to match historic districts, the company had a change of heart, hired a local architect, and came up with new designs that won unanimous praise throughout Bricktown.
When a Hampton Inn was proposed for Bricktown, it too was to include some synthetic stucco in its facade. The committee required the facade consist of brick, and the developers agreed without any argument.
Here are some questions not pondered: is the design of the proposed Holiday Inn Express, shown below, an example of franchise architecture or does it appear tailored to Bricktown?
I’m out chasing news for you folks today, so for now, I’m going to borrow a tactic from Coffee Talk’s Linda Richman. Here’s a question to ponder this morning, especially for those of you who work and/or live downtown:
If given the choice, would you rather have a small specialty grocery store (maybe a half-size local version of Whole Foods) or would you rather have a full size Walgreens and Braum’s with a fresh foods market?