If you didn’t catch the story yesterday in The Oklahoman, I wrote about a restaurant preparing to open in the Gold Dome. Dr. Irene Lam, who saved the landmark from almost certain destruction a few years ago, can soon boast more than 93 percent occupancy.
Not everyone thought she would succeed.
I still recall then councilman Guy Liebmann (now a state representative) expressing serious doubts about Lam’s chances and questioning whether the city should provide some grants and loans designed for restoring historic properties. I never sensed that Liebmann was opposed to Lam’s efforts – he just didn’t believe she would ever succeed at getting the odd shaped building (once the proud home of Citizens Bank) filled.
For those who don’t recall the events that led to this transformation, it began with an effort by BancOne (now Chase Bank) to move to smaller quarters across the street. Walgreens, meanwhile, was eager to buy the Gold Dome, raze it, and build a new store across the street from an existing CVS drug store.
The historic preservationists – to be blunt – went nuts. They organized, they held pickets at the corner of NW 23 and Classen, and they didn’t spare BancOne or Walgreens their wrath. They also sought out alternate buyers – one of whom ended up being Dr. Lam.
Walgreens and BancOne agreed to look at alternatives that allowed both companies to build new locations at the gateway to the Asian District and allow the Gold Dome to survive for future generations.
Dr. Lam, meanwhile, has stayed true to promises of making the Gold Dome a community center – and will be hosting the Lunar New Year festival on Saturday.
Preservationists since have had hits and misses. They succeeded in convincing the city to rebuild the Walnut Avenue bridge in Bricktown and also celebrated the renovation of once dilapidated Skirvin Hilton Hotel.
More old structures may face demolition in the near future. Developers of the Triangle have indicated they may seek to raze the Finley Building at NE 2 and Walnut. And Tom Ward indicated in an interview a few weeks ago that while he is keeping an open mind on the future of the former Braniff Building and former India Temple Building (one of downtown’s oldest – built in 1902) on the new SandRidge Energy campus, he also couldn’t rule out that they might be torn down.
Do these structures merrit pickets similar to those that surrounded the Gold Dome?
Rand Elliott, left, talks with longtime friends Meg and Chris Salyer at Java Dave’s, 10 NE 10 in this 2005 photo. Oklahoman Archives
An update on Steve Mason’s work along Automobile Alley can be found in today’s business section. For those of you not familiar with Mason, his companies include Cardinal Engineering and Earl’s Rib Palace. Mason is also part of a wave of corporate relocations prompted by the expansion of the Chesapeake Energy campus at NW 63 and Classen. Instead of finding new digs out on Memorial Road, he bought some of Broadway’s most challenging buildings and committed himself to renovations that overwelmed prior owners.
He’s also had a bit of a setback – you can read about here.
Mason is trying to do something different by promoting retail in the ground floors of his buildings (several Automobile Alley owners have used their first floors for much needed parking). To provide ample parking, he’s bought empty lots across the street. Will this gamble pay off? And will other property owners take notice and possibly follow his example?
Automobile Alley doesn’t attract the same attention as Bricktown, but this district has an enviable mix that includes offices, a ballet conservatory, an art gallery, restaurants, an office supply store, two bike shops, banks and loft housing. Mason’s plans are targeted at giving retail more visibility on the strip.
Devery Youngblood, director of a then newly formed Automobile Alley, in 1996 when Broadway wasn’t looking too good. Oklahoman Archives
I still recall an Automobile Alley where weeds the size of pre-schoolers grew from cracks in the sidewalks. More buildings were empty, boarded up or dillapidated than not. Private and public investment that followed the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. Developers still invested in Automobile Alley – Nicholas Preftakes, Chris and Meg Salyer, Rand Elliott – dedicated themselves to bringing the strip back to life. I’ve even seen Meg Salyer, a respected civic leader and business executive, take the time to remove weeds from the sidewalk. Now this group can add Steve Mason to their ranks.
West End in Dallas - When Godzilla welcomed visitors to Planet Hollywood and a day full of divisions could be found inside the West End Marketplace. But it was a ghost town when I visited in 2006. Oklahoman archives.
Today’s Main Street column has me thinking back to the West End – back when it was in its glory days.
Some would say it peaked with the opening of a Planet Hollywood, but I’m not too sure of that. I may be biased toward the early 1990s. I had just graduated from college and I always had a place to crash in Dallas thank to an old college buddy who had done well enough in advertising to afford a condo with a guest bedroom.
On any given weekend spring through early fall, it seemed as if a group of us could drive down from Oklahoma City and enjoy a free outdoor concert in front of the West End Marketplace.
As Chuck Davis noted in 1989 (read today’s column), West End had plenty of restaurants and clubs. I always liked the way the neon Dallas Alley hung between the giant brick warehouses, marking the entry into the club section.
But I also loved the geeky diversions – the 3D art gallery, the fudge shop where production of the treats doubled as entertainment, and of course, the miniature golf course and arcade.
The Marketplace closed two years ago. The West End Association had to lay off all of its staff a year ago – another sign of the district’s continued decline.
It’s difficult not to look at West End when discussing the long term prospects for Bricktown. Afterall, the Dallas entertainment district in many ways has the same feel – the same look – as Bricktown. And the district was an inspiration to early Bricktown developers.
West End – both its past glory and current decline – is mentioned a lot by Bricktown merchants who worry about escalating property values and continued disagreements over pricing of the district’s parking. City leaders have reacted by hiring consultants to look at everything from parking to long range planning.
But let’s go beyond these comparisons …
Bricktown is thriving, and it does boast a lot of attractions that easily top anything that anchored West End in its glory days. Sure, West End had a Planet Hollywood. But Bricktown has the canal and ballpark.
I’m still struck by the sights and sounds of almost 20 years ago. So I’m wondering – is the Bricktown we know today better than the West End I remember? What do you think?
The web site www.okctalk.com is one of the most popular local chat boards on the Internet. And while the site registers new members on a daily basis, it’s interesting to note that one of its newest members is Cynthia Reid – a spokeswoman for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
In the past month, Reid has talked about the upcoming vote for the penny sales tax to improve Ford Center, the bond issue passed in December, and has solicited ideas for an upcoming marketing piece promoting Oklahoma City.
It’s an interesting turn of events for the site, which in past years has seen participation by Mayor Mick Cornett.
Like other chat boards, it resembles the community as a whole. Some folks are conservative, some are liberal, some are religious, some are secular, some are deep thinkers, some are idealists, some are conspiracy theorists.
All of this comes to mind as I begin my latest endeavor in my 18 years at The Oklahoman – www.okccentral. Once upon a time, there were very rigid rules on how information was deceminated. When I graduated from college, the news flowed from the daily newspaper, a weekly alternative newspaper, a daily business newspaper, four television news shows, and one radio station.
Add a couple more television news shows and one more radio station, and that mix hasn’t changed much. But the Internet has changed everything – if the old media delays in getting a story out, it could just as easily make it on www.okctalk.com or several other great local websites.
The advent of new media also brought down traditional walls between information providers and consumers. Now it’s a two-way street, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge I’ve chased after story ideas and tips published on web sites.
A news item from Minneapolis posted on www.dustbury.com by Charles Hill inspired me to make a few phone calls of my own and write a story about Sonic building a drive-in in a town slightly colder than Oklahoma City. ”Metro” and ”Patrick,” posters at www.okctalk.com, have been consistent sources of story ideas and frequent reminders that I’m far from running out of stories to write about on this beat.
The first poster on this blog – “Shane” – is wonderful reminder that the under-40 crowd hasn’t lost interest in local news. “Shane” is one of the hosts at www.okmet.org – a great local web site and forum devoted to discussion of urban development across the state. Shane is one of the few folks I’ve met in person, and his enthusiasm for the city is contagious.
And that brings me to one more blogger – Doug Loudenback, whose shared interest in city history has resulted in us becoming good friends. Sitting in my son’s kindergarten class in October, I was amused to see the teacher play a video Doug created to go along with the Centennial song “Oklahoma Rising” (still available at Doug’s blog, www.dougdawg.blogspot.com). Like Shane, Doug’s enthusiasm is inspiring – and evidence that this new media offers more good than bad in this new media age.
Hopefully www.okccentral.com will add to this mix as well, providing additional angles on what’s happening downtown and stories you might have missed.
- Steve Lackmeyer
Starting Monday, find out more about downtown and get the inside edge on what’s going to happen next at OKC Central.
OKC Central will also welcome commentary readers, and will showcase photos and videos by visitors. OKC Central will be your site for what’s happening in downtown Oklahoma City.