Anthony McDermid asked me to post the comments he made at today’s Downtown Design Review Committee concerning plans for a new Greater Oklahoma City Chamber headquarters:
My name is Anthony McDermid – Principal of TAParchitecture at 415 N BROADWAY AVENUE.
I stand before you today as someone who has advocated for downtown Oklahoma City since starting my business downtown 20 years ago when it was a pioneering thing to do.I bought 415 N BROADWAY AVE in the uncertain times after the Murrah bombing and it has been TAParchitecture’s home for the last ten years. I have lived downtown for almost two years. I am past president of AIACOC and City Rescue Mission and current Chairman of the OCFA. I served on this Board for over a year.
Let me say first that I am not opposed to the Chamber
Building on the proposed site or the architecture of the building. On the contrary as an active Chamber member and an adjacent property owner there will be many benefits of convenience and increased property value.
I am not here to criticize the architecture but I am here to advocate for two things:
a. SAVING A PARK and b. URBAN DEVELOPMENT in Oklahoma City’s core.
a. SAVING A PARK
The proposed site is the only grassed open space in Downtown Oklahoma City. There are of course several hardscaped spaces downtown including some with water features. Kerr and Couch Parks – BoK plaza – Leadership plaza – Murrah
Park but NO flat open grass space that can be used for a multitude of events such as:
Staging the Finish of the Oklahoma City Marathon – 16,000 runners and their families and friends.
DeadCentre’s screening under the stars.
The YMCA’s children’s Summer Camps.
A grassy place to spread a blanket on the Fourth of July and a place to view Opening Night fireworks .
It’s a gathering place for the Martin Luther King Parade and the new Halloween Parade.
A grassy lunchtime walk to the Y for its numerous downtown members.
And it is used for numerous other unstructured spontaneous unremarkable al fresco activities that happen in open grassy City parks for ALL citizens, local residents and visitors, young and old, short and tall.
For more reading on the subject I would refer you to one of the Mayors’ Roundtable speakers Fred Kent with the Project for Public Spaces who advocates for useable public space and the value those spaces bring to a City.
As one of the authors of the Core to Shore plan I see how Oklahoma City is embracing the concept of open space and parks that redefine our City. These will come at great but worthwhile expense – here is an opportunity to save one that exists.
b. URBAN DEVELOPMENT in OKC’s core.
The proposed building is 50,000sf and it sits on a site of over 3 acres. The proposed development includes 100 surface parking spaces – approximately ½ the site – and has a building footprint of approximately 12,000sf.
One block away on “the other side of the tracks” and under construction there is a four stories mixed development of residential and office. It is the same height as the Chamber proposal almost twice the size, has the same number of parking spaces and sits on less than one acre. Remember this [the Chamber] site is 3 acres.
I will cut to the chase:
I have advocated to Chamber leadership as I am advocating before you today that the building move east on the site oriented north/south over structured parking. The balance of the site – equal to the area currently owned by OCURA could be deeded back to the City – from whence it came – to become dedicated City
The advantages would be:
1. To preserve a park by creating a large contiguous and useful area west of the building.
2. Conform to the spirit and rules of the new zoning ordinance by the structure touching
third street at the south,fourth street at the north, dedicated park to the west, and eliminate surface parking.
3. Offer better views of the Oklahoman
Building and the
Building and the YMCA from surrounding streets.
I have made these observations to Chamber leadership and got the following rebuttals:
Structured parking is too expensive. The cost of adding structured parking would be approximately $2m. The project is $18m for 50,000sf and has the highest psf cost of any building being constructed in downtown OKC.
It will move the building closer to train noise. Architects learn in acoustics 101 that the only resistance to high powered low frequency noise energy is MASS not glass.
We have a park in the design. The proposal is a hardscaped/driveway with a water feature that is grade separated from two softscapes either side. It is a front yard not a park.
Wrapping up – I am disappointed that our City process for approval of major projects has not become more public and that we are looking at a design for the first time that is complete with furniture.
Many within this community would like to see a more open review process earlier in the concept development as we have seen with Core to Shore and Devon where important issues can be aired early.
We need site plan review early in the design process where improvements or modifications can be made without costing significant dollars or time.
Additional thoughts or quotes:
“This is a very modest sized office project on a 3 acre site. It has all the hallmarks of a suburban project – 5 floors, surface parking, landscaped setbacks. The footprint sets back from the line of a road most planners and urban designers would prefer to see modified or eliminated and the formal entrance was part of a larger element that has since been abandoned and presumably no longer relevant. The biggest negative is the loss of open space that could be achieved by building structured parking underneath the building and between the building and tracks as you would see in an urban project built on highly valued land. This site has a current market value of approximately $4m.
This project had the opportunity to create an urban space that could be enjoyed for the generations who follow us and is now lost for the life of this building. It is worth noting that the two gentlemen who spoke in favor of a more urban project and a park were both from the next generation of leadership, both live downtown and both very educated in urban design and development. I especially enjoyed the perspective of Grant Humphries who was not ready to accept the continuing existence of the much maligned E K Gaylord and its bend in the road and could see a future with a grand park space in place of a bend. His vision would reinstate Broadway as the major street in and out of Downtown. Unfortunately the decision made by this generation of leaders precludes that from happening.”
“This is the second time I have publicly criticized a project I thought was not conceived in the best interests of the City and its citizens. The first was the Galleria parking garage project and closing the
Main Street connection between east and west downtown. Just a few short years later the Devon HQ project will totally reconfigure that garage and my how it begs for that Main Street connection to knit it into the downtown grid. Interesting to note that these projects have the same players calling the shots in the same way it has always been done in this town. If you want to read about it let me recommend Jack Money and Steve Lackmeyer’s “Second Time Around.” It is intellectually amusing to consider the irony of past sins, these two projects, and the players who made them happen but I assure you there is absolutely no satisfaction in saying “I told you so” when the quality of this city’s future is at stake.”