Galleria Site to Be Divided Up Redevelopment Options Discussed
By Mary Jo Nelson
Sunday, May 5, 1991
The age for a monolithic downtown development in Oklahoma City has come and gone, if you heed a national architectural firm that has created mixed-use centers in the heart of 20 other American cities.
That means a four-block site in the central business district will be redivided and parceled out for individual buildings, city redevelopment officials confirm.
A project on the scale of the proposed $100 million Galleria, or the less ambitious $33 million Festival Market Center, is no longer valid, says John Gosling, architect and planner in the Dallas office of Baltimore-based RTKL Associates Inc. RTKL designed one of two never-built projects intended for the downtown Galleria site, extending from Robinson to Hudson between Park Avenue and Sheridan.
Second Century Inc., a public/private policy body set up to direct downtown rebuilding, is considering ways to disassemble the Galleria land. Main questions are how the large parcel will be broken up and redeveloped, Second Century president Tiana Douglas said.
A pair of office buildings and two-level parking structures are all of the original plans ever built on the Galleria/Festival location. Two massive retail/hotel/office projects never made it beyond concept stage. The redevelopment contractors were unable to finance the ventures.
The failures left a gaping empty space at the city’s core, and Second Century officers say once the location is cut into small parcels, it could take years to rebuild.
“We believe the development strategy for the Galleria property should focus on a series of separate entrepreneurial actions that are, relative to past aspirations, quite modest in scale,” Gosling recently reported to Second Century officials and the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority.
With break-up of the four blocks, at least part of the former street pattern will be restored, Second Century vice president David Jones said. But re-opened Harvey Avenue and Main Street won’t see typical downtown traffic again.
More likely, a T-shaped streetway/plaza will result where pedestrians will share space with selected vehicles, possibly trolleys.
“Main and Harvey won’t become dedicated streets again. Instead, they’ll be passageways limited to some kind of specialized traffic,” Jones explained. “What kind has not yet been determined. ” Second Century hired RTKL to suggest options for redeveloping the Galleria space. As architect and planner for the site’s proposed Forest City’s Festival Market Center, RTKL already had compiled vast amounts of data and understood the whole environment, Douglas said.
Pending construction of an office building for the Internal Revenue Service, to be owned by and leased from a local investment firm, “gives us another opportunity to look at the whole site and do some strategic planning and to some marketing,” she added.
“We’re really not anxious for a grand master plan,” Douglas said. “What we do now will be step-by-step. ” She considers RTKL uniquely qualified to guide downtown Oklahoma City’s revitalization. The Forest City project was one of many the firm has designed for central cities nationwide. Among major urban renewal projects to its credit is Charles Center – the core of Baltimore’s renaissance.
“It’s a different universe out there today” than four years ago, when Forest City Enterprises planned to develop a downtown Festival Market Place, Gosling said. With national economic, financial and real estate climates drastically altered, “we’re trying to make sense in the ’90s for a vitalization plan that would energize downtown. ” Gosling forsees downtown remaining a center for the arts, government, finance and utility companies for the next 20 years.
“We tried retail and it didn’t work,” he said referring to the ill-fated Galleria and Festival Market Center plans. “Now we’re looking at arts programs and working off what you can do from convention and tourist-related interests. The formula is so much more complicated now. ” To speed up expanding convention facilities, Second Century directors on Thursday agreed to spend $60,000 to study the need for expanding Myriad Convention Center and building another hotel nearby. Requests for proposals will be sought from consultants, Jones said. Possible sites for the hotel would be at Sheridan and Robinson, and on Sheridan west of Robinson. Splitting the $60,000 cost will be the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Commission and the urban renewal authority.
A hotel is proposed for Sheridan Avenue, west of the historic Colcord Building, in all RTKL options yet submitted. Virtually all authorities agree another downtown hotel is needed to attract more conventions.
The RTKL options set aside much of the western half of the four-block site for expansion of the downtown cultural/arts district. Specifically proposed are an arts museum and a new central library. Other possibilities identified are a performing arts center smaller than Civic Center Music Hall and a location for the Oklahoma Historical Society.
A cultural/performing arts, entertainment/tourism bag that is slowly emerging downtown has begun to work in other cities, Gosling said. But the fundamentals will continue to be based on city, county and federal government, financial and professional services (mainly law offices), utility companies and the corporations that historically have been based downtown, such as Kerr-McGee Corp. “I don’t see any fundamental shifts,” Gosling said. “There aren’t any corporations moving into downtowns today. When they move at all, it’s to suburbs. ” He forsees no more giant projects in Oklahoma City or elsewhere.
Douglas, Jones and Gosling unanimously stress one element: “The day of the speculative office building (such as First Oklahoma and American First Towers) in downtown is over. ” They anticipate no more of this type of construction, probably for the rest of the century.
On the other hand, Gosling said, there is not much contiguous space for large users downtown. He said the one major supplier of 75,000 square feet or more is First Oklahoma Tower. RTKL proposes that about a third of the vacant Galleria space be designated for “build-to-suit” buyers.
“We have enough office space for a five- to 10-year supply. We are seeing some businesses moving up (to more luxurious space) and some law firms returning,” Douglas said.
Two of three options also provide more multistory parking in the center of the four-block site. Existing parking structures were designed to support multiple levels. This would allow ample on-site parking behind future buildings constructed to front on Park Avenue, Hudson, Robinson and Sheridan. Douglas also forsees Sheridan becoming the new Main Street.
In the case of the downtown IRS building, proposed on N Robinson between the Colcord and American First Tower, ” the government is now getting the private sector to build buildings for them,” Gosling said. “We are seeing government departments looking at sites that support downtown wherever they can. They’re not interested in owning buildings any longer. I don’t know if this is a trend, but it’s happening all over the country. ” Besides the IRS project, the State Insurance Fund is searching for downtown space.
Whatever option is adopted Gosling and Jones point to downtown’s advantages. Although an eroding employee base has diminished the amount and type of retail establishments, the area has the tunnel system and “some of the lowest crime statistics in the city. “