Finally, one of Bricktown’s biggest buildings, empty for several years, is undergoing a complete and total renovation. The Candy Building will be home to offices, retail and maybe a loft or two.
Last year the Oklahoma Film Commission hosted the cast of “Saving Grace” hoping to drum up funding to allow the show to do some actual filming in OKC. No such deal has been struck for the series’ second season, but I’m told some locals are wanting to see if the show will present a more modern view of the city instead of the more rural, outdated portrayal seen during the first season.
So my question is as follows …
Will Bricktown recover is the question. The incident started with a dangerous dude – serial killer apparently – spotted by an off-duty OCPD detective in the state’s premier urban entertainment district. Gunfire ensued, then a chase – and now the entire city is on edge because a police dog chased the suspect off the bridge; the bad guy died, but the dog is in critical condition.
The detective in question is being hailed as a hero, but some folks are claiming she’s got a drinking problem and might have been spending the day getting drunk at one of Bricktown’s bars when this fuss started.
Weird thing is, Bricktown Association Director Jim Cowan is actually pretty happy about how many times the district is getting mentioned with all this. Who knows how many got to hear about Bricktown as this was being shown on national television this week….
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention, the officer in question is named “Grace,” and she’s played by a still hot Holly Hunter on the fictional television show “Saving Grace” on TNT.
Bert Belanger kept to his word and bulldozed a series of flop houses on Broadway Drive that have been an annoyance to downtowners for the past 20 years. There is something seriously wrong with a property when the arrival of sex offenders is considered an improvement over the previous tenants. The sex offenders were forced to move out earlier this year after neighbors complained they were to close to the Oklahoma School and Science and Math. It was then that Bert bought the properties from Hand Up Ministries.
Bert is to appear at Downtown Design Review Committee this week on plans to tear down the neighboring former nursing home, which has been empty for several years and is also a less than flattering image for passersby driving into Automobile Alley.
It was an intriguing moment when I first heard from Blair Humphreys that he was pursuing a career in planning. His older brother Grant was already making his mark as a new urbanist developer. Their father, Kirk, was a typical suburban developer before he was elected mayor in 1998. And while he too had made a pretty dramatic transition to focusing on the needs of the innercity during his tenure in office, younger son Blair appeared to be going further than Kirk or Grant – with their support, he began his pursuit of planning at the feet of architect and professor Hans Butzer and future planning director Russell Claus.
Yep, Blair was diving in deep. Having gotten to know his family over the years, I couldn’t help but ask – “Are you prepared to hear criticism against the very sort of suburban development done by your family in previous years?”
Yep, he was. But so too, it appeared, was his father who joined him in launching a local chapter of the Urban Land Institute. And before leaving to study at MIT last year, Blair was coming up with some pretty interesting ideas about changing downtown street patterns.
It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since I last talked to Blair. But now he’s back – with a blog, www.imaginativeamerica.com, and it’s very interesting to see how far he’s advanced in his thinking about downtown development.
This all sets up the sort of potential family dynasty that could leave a mark on OKC for years to come: Kirk, the statesman and former city mayor continuing to influence the city’s direction, Grant, the ambitious urban developer, and Blair, the planner challenging the status quo of his beloved hometown.
At least that’s the take from a reporter who likes to come up with a good storyline. As evidenced by a neighborhood meeting gathered last week to debate Grant’s proposed development at NW 36 and Walker, not everyone thinks highly of the Humphreys. Some suspect the worst, assuming the Humphreys are a powerful clan out to enrich themselves.
Of course, such polarity in viewpoints only makes for an even better story. And ultimately, the Humphreys’ legacy will speak for itself. For now, I’m just enjoying being the fly on the wall, privledged to witness this transformation of a family that seems destined to help shape downtown Oklahoma City for years to come.
Berry Tramel is not the most popular guy today in the digital world. In a scuffle that began with a sports message board, he has concluded that anyone who participates in message boards is as guilty as someone who visits porn sites.
I’ve been asked at OKC Talk about this, and basically, my answer is this: I’ve done my best to embrace what many call “new media” and I’ve done so for several years. I recall all the way back in 1995 just as AOL hit 250,000 members, I was pressing to do a series of stories about the rise of the Internet. My editors were skeptical and questioned whether the World Wide Web wasn’t just another soon to be doomed fad akin to the news scroll channels that popped up on cable back in the early 1980s.
Quietly, without anyone at work knowing, I joined a police bulletin board (this is old school internet to be sure) to get ideas for when I was on the cop beat. Then, as I moved to covering City Hall and downtown development, I “lurked” message boards run by the city, then briefly by The Oklahoman. I came out, very carefully, and joined OKC Talk in 2004. Because of the uncertainty about such boards, I was very, very cautious on posting anything, though I did offer some harmless clarifications or answers about projects when such questions were posed to me.
Last year everything changed. Our online folks were beginning to have some luck explaining the importance of “new media.” And I was approached repeatedly about launching this blog. I was reluctant at first, not because I fear going online, but as to whether I could commit the time to creating an extra outlet for my writing and reporting. You can be the judge as to whether I’ve pulled it off.
I was also encouraged to increase my participation at OKC Talk and OKMet, though it was made clear to me that I’m out here, without a net (editors) representing The Oklahoman. Oh yeah, no pressure there.
And in this increased role, my work has been beaten up and flattered with praise. And that’s OK. And I’ve learned a lot more about what readers are interested in, and I’ve discovered new ways of reporting on stories – all because of these message boards.
So the question is, do I agree with Berry? I’ll let my continued involvement at OKC Talk answer that question.
The founders of Urban Neighbors, 2007: From left, Sharon Rodine, Jeff Bezdek, David Remy and Misty Kemp. - BY MATT STRASEN, THE OKLAHOMAN
A couple of weeks ago I was privledged to bring you the story of Jim Brewer. No, not the latest controversy over parking or whether development is going too slow, but rather, the story behind the man himself.
It’s provoked an interesting discussion on the story comment section, and one part of it is rather intriguing:
I built houses for 15 years in South Oklahoma City. I went in halves on the Haunted House with Jim and Patsy Brewer. We flew on his Jet to different football games together. Checked out other cities that had haunted houses and I even went to a concert in Dallas with Patsy and our kids Brent and my oldest son Cheyenne to see “The Boss”. I spent time with them in Las Vegas when Jim Brewer was judging a Hawaiian Tropic Beauty Pageant. He screwed alot of people!!! I still, have the corporation commission papers on the Haunted House… My ex-husband was listed as the President! Jim, I’m sure you remember!
Candace, Lakeland - Jul 6, 2008 7:39 AM
I never saw a dime from the “Haunted House”. That money would have come in handy cause my kids are all going to college… Jim could still help alot of people if he would make one of those old buildings a place for homeless people to find shelter and to get back on their feet! Life is not all about making money. Everyone is put here on earth for a purpose…
Candace, Lakeland - Jul 6, 2008 10:54 AM
I don’t know Candace. I’m not taking sides on whether she’s right or wrong. But there is some more history on Jim that I wasn’t able to include in the story, due to space limitations, that may be relevant here.The Haunted Warehouse, as I mention in the story, was Jim’s big break in Bricktown. It was when he realized Bricktown could be branded and turned into a destination.
What I wasn’t able to get into was that he wasn’t alone in that venture. The whole idea began when he and Craig Brown (who in some ways was to the revival of Deep Deuce what Jim was to Bricktown) toured the old Pittsburgh Plate Glass Building and saw all the antique furniture left behind by original Bricktown developer Neal Horton. They began talking about how the place reminded them of a haunted house, and it was then that Craig commented that he had a friend in Kansas City who operated a haunted house. Brewer, who liked to fly out to OU games, suggested he fly Craig and some others out to the OU game in Manhattan, Kansas, and then check out the haunted house nearby.
All of this story is retold in the book Jack Money and I wrote about the history of downtown, “OKC Second Time Around,” and it was interesting to hear Brown and Brewer tell almost identical accounts of this because their partnership ended badly.
To get things started, they teamed up with two other people - home builder Rick Garrett and real estate investor Bruce Thompson (Thompson would later run into trouble over controversial purchases of inner-city properties).
The partnership among the four ended up falling apart with lawsuits filed and quite a bit of unhappiness.
I don’t know Candace. I don’t know if she was related to one of these men. But the timeline of events she recalls seem to fit into the overall history of a very complex man.
During my last visit with Jim Brewer, I asked him about Craig Brown – does he harbor any bitterness against him? By all accounts, it’s doubtful the men have even spoken a word to each other in some 20 years. No, he said – he actually admires what Craig has accomplished in Deep Deuce and has no annomosity at all toward his former partner and friend.
Truth be told, Jim and Craig are not perfect human beings. They’re the first to admit so these days. Over the years I’ve been greeted with genuine praise from Jim Brewer for my writing and reporting on Bricktown. He’s also yelled and cursed at me to an extent pretty much unrivaled by anyone else that I’ve dealt with when my stories weren’t to his liking. It’s fair to say there’s a bit of craziness with these men – and it’s that very quality that led them to take risks and get things done. Did they offend some people while getting things done? Oh yeah. Would I have done everything they did? No.
But isn’t that how history is made?
“The last few months we talked about why it made sense to put the team in the suburbs or north and follow the Cleveland Cavaliers model. There is growing recognition of downtown’s energy and there is now some sense that perhaps a downtown location should at least be considered, and so you’re going start to see ideas like that pop around.”
-Mayor Mick Cornett interview at ESPN.COM.
But what does that mean?
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought the past few days. The challenges and opportunities ahead will prove to be a historic time for downtown and the city as a whole.
Let’s begin by looking back once more. Can anyone argue that the past decade is a once in a century transformation for downtown? Looking back, you would have to go back to 1910 to find a time when downtown went through such a growth spurt. It was a time that defined OKC as a major player in the west half of the United States. It’s a bit of irony that OKC lost that momentum just as First National and Ramsey (now City Place) towers were rising up into the sky. After all, the great skyscraper race simply couldn’t compete the powerful (and woefully inaccurate) portrayal of Oklahomans in “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Since the 1930s it seems that OKC has been stuck in a position of trying to get people to like it once again. We pitched one incentive after another, one plan after another, trying to lure in industry and the sort of attention city leaders hoped would get OKC noticed again.
In 1993, the gameplan changed – and with the passage of the Metropolitan Area Projects OKC decided to spend some time, money and attention on itself. For once we decided to make ourselves happy – and improve our own city – instead of chasing after the latest economic hot shot halfway across the country.
The self investment worked, and got us to where we are today – a Major League City.
It’s easy to find areas where the city is still lacking – public transit, poverty, crime – but clearly things are moving forward.
We’ve retained our humility and friendliness, and that’s good. But maybe it’s time to do some showing off as well. I’m not suggesting a “fake it ’till you make it” approach as what can be found in cities like Dallas (yes, they really are faking it in so many ways). But let’s get a little cocky. Here are some suggestions made over the years that have yet to really get off the ground:
1. Get a great big flashy sign in front of Ford Center that can let everybody who passes know of the caliber events going on inside – including the upcoming NBA season.
2. The All Sports Association did a great job of transforming the dull blank south walls of the Cox Convention Center into a giant tournament rankings scorecards during the 2007 Big 12 Basketball Tournament. Let’s put those walls to use more often …
3. Trigen Energy has been quietly providing cooling and heating to downtown properties from its plant at Sheridan and E.K. Gaylord for some 30 years. During a master planning study several years ago, a consultant suggested placing a flashy LED sign on windowless plant that would promote various OKC events.
4. Other consultants have suggested using light pole banners to promote downtown all year long. What are we waiting for?
5. Snazz up the Oklahoma Spirit Trolleys. In San Antonio, similar trolleys have signs outside the entry doors promoting attractions on the routes. This has the advantage of not just making the trolleys easier to use for visitors, but also promote what downtown has to offer these visitors (and let’s not forget addressing complaints of unreliable service I detailed in this week’s Main Street column).
6. Visitors often comment how clean and modern downtown is. They like Bricktown, but then they wonder why so many buildings still have boarded up or broken windows and why so much space is still empty. If we’re a major league city, surely these relatively inexpensive flaws can be fixed pronto – as one might expect from a major league city.
7. I’ve often wondered why so many downtowns are free of 19th century technology – yes, overhead electric lines – and yet they muck up much of the streetscape in Bricktown.
8. Let’s brag more about our history. We’re building a great attraction with the Land Run Monument along the Bricktown Canal, yet we have nothing to my knowledge that explains to visitors what they are seeing or the unique founding of the city.
9. We have great historic characters – people like W.B. Skirvin, Charles Colcord, Perle Mesta, Jimmy Rushing, Charlie Christian, Roscoe Dunjee and so on … Yet these figures really aren’t celebrated. Some small town main streets in this state pull off great festivals where performers recreate historic figures and tell stories from the places where these folks’ ghosts are almost certainly still kicking back. The DeadCenter Film Festival proved we have a great creative class in town – let’s give them another shot at showing off by re-introducing us to W.B. Skirvin sitting back in his old chair in the lobby of the Skirvin, or Charles Colcord discussing the finer points of law enforcement at the Colcord Hotel, or Jimmy Rushing showing off his musical shops in Deep Deuce.
10. Yes, the NBA is coming. But I’ll argue being a major league city is a frame of mind, not something simply bestowed by a group of team owners. Think small town, and the major league status will remain elusive. Think like a major league city, and no one can take that away from you.