Should Oklahoma City consider using the balance of tax increment financing from the Devon tower project to improve Automobile Alley, MidTown and Bricktown, or should it, as is currently being discussed, be used in the Core to Shore area where there is no current development?
Broadway Reunion Developer Regroups
By Mary Jo Nelson
Sunday, September 16, 1984
The economic environment is the main reason his Broadway Reunion market center hasn’t been able to get going, developer J.D. Lobb contends. But he sees other factors, too.
“I took a tremendous risk. I feel terrible that what I have tried to do hasn’t worked,” said Lobb, who bought up 26 properties between NW 7 and NW 10 along Broadway in an attempt to revitalize the once-booming automobile row.
“I don’t know where to start. It’s a combination of a lot of things, but the economic environment is the biggest thing,” he said in an interview.
“By the time these things came on line, things were winding down, not up.”
Lobb has found no problem at all arranging financing for undeveloped properties, he said, but Broadway Reunion was “a one-man show.
“I had no big investors. I had a limited amount of capital to start, but the lenders were interested in seeing if I could acquire enough (properties) to make it feasible. Once I put the package together, because of the economic situation, they were unable to finance it. Most lenders had troubles of their own by then.”
Without blaming city officials or business leaders, Lobb said another part of the problem lies with Oklahoma City itself.
“The whole focus has been northwest,” while downtown was allowed to deteriorate, he said. “Downtown hasn’t done any good because they let everything go northwest.”
He doesn’t affix blame. “Oklahoma City is a new city and people here like the shopping malls and the convenience of the strip (shopping) centers. It’s all new to them. They like the enclosed malls and the air conditioning.”
On the other hand, he said in older cities he sees people who prefer rehabilitated areas, the historical zones, with arts and crafts and street performers.
“I think that’s coming, but we’re not ready for it yet.”
Lobb also believes his project was hurt by Broadway’s past reputation for prostitution, drugs, assaults and other criminal activities once common in the neighborhood.
“The stigma of the area was hard to overcome,” he said. He said he never got far enough to follow a master plan designed by The Benham Group to transform three blocks of neglected Broadway buildings into a marketing center.
“I was always out trying to raise money.”
Five of the first six restorations were to bear antique car titles, in deference to Lobb’s hobby of collecting old cars. The centerpiece was to be the old Earl Hotel, constructed as the St. Nicholas Hotel in 1910 by an immigrant Greek Orthodox family. Its original name was revived. The St. Nicholas Building was cleaned of its grime and the interior was rebuilt.
Benham’s master plan called for a pedestrian skywalk to cross Broadway just north of NW 8, a small park, an open mini-mall, early 20th century lamposts, carriage lanterns, canvas awnings, courtyards and plazas.
Last year, landscaping began, bright awnings sprouted and some businesses moved in. Brick exteriors were painted on several structures, most of them dating to the 1920s or earlier. A station to handle the downtown bus trolleys and their passengers was an early step. A courtyard with benches and planters was developed to serve as a passenger waiting area.
One big success story in Broadway Reunion is John Hoke Ltd., occupying the 18,000-square-foot Stutz building at NW 8 and Robinson.
Hoke, who publishes two magazines and is an automobile broker, did almost $4.5 million in his first year of buiness in the location, Lobb said.
But almost as quickly as they had appeared, some project tenants moved out. A few weeks ago, a foreclosure action was filed in district court.
Lobb says he may be down but he is not out.
“The knee jerk reaction is over. I think I’ll be able to hang in.”
To give himself capital for the project, Lobb plans to sell several of his 26 Broadway structures. The first move in this direction came this past week, when he sold the Stutz building to its occupant, John Hoke & Co. The selling price was $500,000.
Hoke also took an option to buy several other buildings on the east side of Broadway.
Lobb is proud that his one-man renewal project “accomplished a lot.
“I feel I have done some good. I cleaned up Broadway and I changed the atmosphere a little bit.”
Now, “I’m trying to regroup and reorganize. I’m not playing dead.”
With the Central Expressway under construction and scheduled to come within two blocks of Broadway Reunion, Lobb remains confident the area holds “tremendous potential.”
Today was one of those days that erases all the stress of work, all the worries of the world, and reminds one that life isn’t so bad. And really, if you think about, life is pretty good in Oklahoma City. When I was growing up, sad to say, life was pretty dull in OKC. That’s the truth. My friends and I would spend a Saturday playing in a nearby creek (much to our mothers’ chagrin) or browsing the aisles of Woodward’s Hobby Shop, hoping Mrs. Woodward would extend credit to us just one more time for that really cool model airplane kit (and more often than not, she would!).
The central city, meanwhile, offered no diversions as far as I can recall (late ’70s and early ’80s).
Today my son and I started off with a tour of the Lovallo residence off of NW 7 and Shartel. My son, being interested in art, enjoyed the view from the top floor but couldn’t imagine houses looking like the ones he saw in this district of historic and modern homes (what a mix!). I missed a chance to catch up with Dustbury blogger Charles Hill, but you can catch up with his take about the house here.
Our next stop – Blue Sage Gallery at NW 12 and Western where we got to watch Andrew Boatman practice his craft of glass blowing. It was a thrill for my son, who turns 8 next month, to pick the colors and help mix them together for a bowl and an ornament made by Andrew. This artisan is also a middle school teacher, and he was great about telling my son and I about every part of the process of making glassware.
Our final stop consisted of our monthly journey to Cuppies and Joe, where we enjoy one cupcake each, along with milk for the midget and great cup of Apsen coffee for myself over a game of checkers.
Just a slice of life on a wonderful autumn day in OKC Central.
So now we have a name for this massive downtown makeover about to hit this spring. Here’s a presentation given this week on the project:
And here’s a link to the latest specifications report on potential light, street furniture and landscaping designs being contemplated by the city (go here)
Sitting here, waiting for a file to upload on streetscapes. And since I’m killing time, why not, I ask myself, copy and post a string of Twitter comments by Charles Hill of Dustbury fame? Here’s Mr. Hill at his very best, completely quoted in context, or at least in the context allowed by Twitter:
In Your Face by Dick Cheney. Justice O’Connor’s husband has died. Their lives together comprise one hell of a story. Peace be with them both. Feed the hungry, just not here. “I find your lack of lube disturbing.” It’s a plot by the Tulsa World. Well, that would be just *creepy*. You say that like it’s an undesirable combination.
Remember Kelo vs. the City of New London? That was the ground breaking and controversial eminent domain ruling a few years back that involved removing an entire neighborhood to accomodate plans by Pfizer to expand their corporate campus and do a mixed use development. The Wall Street Journal reports the area is a disaster and Pfizer is bugging out.
Read the story here.
Our own civic leadership, meanwhile, got some class time of their own last week when they visited Kansas City’s Power and Light District. Some were a bit remorseful over how things didn’t go so well with The Cordish Co. a decade ago when the city was deciding the future over what is now Lower Bricktown. Some privately wondered whether we missed the boat by not teaming up with Cordish, who went on to do the Power and Light District and similar greatly hyped projects across the country.
But with Lower Bricktown, the pricetag isn’t anything closer to what came with doing a deal with Cordish. And Cordish apparently plays hardball. Behind the lights and glitter of the Power and Light District, the stark truth is that Kansas City’s already stressed general fund, and not the Tax Increment Finance District, are paying that pricetag.
For the past few years it seems as if everytime I look at a story involving downtown Tulsa, the folks up there can’t help taking some sort of pot shot at Oklahoma City. And yet I rarely hear Oklahoma City folks taking pot shots at Tulsa. Personally, I love downtown Tulsa, I love the architecture, I love Cain’s and I’m rooting for downtown Tulsa to be better than ever.
And yet the pot shots continue, as I noted in Tuesday’s post on the Journal Record story on Tulsa’s holiday festivities. It’s time for us to take the lead here and end this war once and for all. Praise and encouragement haven’t worked. So let’s give Tulsa another city to diss.
But then Tulsa’s beloved Mayor Kathy Taylor had this to say:
Highlights include a 60-foot by 150-foot ice rink, flanked this year by a “warming” tent for spectators. At 9,000 square feet, Bolton said that rink provides more skating surface than New York’s famed Rockefeller Center ice.“I think our skating rink might be bigger than the one in Oklahoma City,” said Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor.
Dear, dear Kathy… our rink is 62 feet by 150 feet. Just sayin’….
Yesterday I posted a page from a 1965 Life Magazine quoting I.M. Pei. I’ve been told the quote is difficult to read. And that’s not my intent – at all. If Mayor Mick Cornett, if chamber president Roy Williams, if downtown corporate leaders like Larry Nichols, Clay Bennett, Fred Hall, Tom Ward, and others were to just read this site once, and never again, I think it might be this one quote by I.M. Pei – the man who has been villified more than any other person as the one who killed downtown in the 1970s:
“Americans are too impatient. They expect instant beauty. But they forget that cities are not built in one day. We may spend years agonizing over a renewal project and then we expect the city to be rebuilt instantly. Can you imagine what Paris must have looked like when Baron Haussmann finished with it? The social and cultural shock must have been tremendous. It’s like surgery; it takes a long time for the tissue around a wound to heal. The city has to echo life. If our life is rough and tumble, so is the city. I’ve always felt that ugliness with vitality is tolerable. The great danger our cities face today is that their vitality will be sapped by too much concern for instant beauty. New York is not a beautiful city. It may even be ugly, but it is exciting. It draws beauty from its vitality. If you drove all the residents out and made it a gleaming commercial center, it would only be beautiful in a narrow sense. It would be lifeless, and therefore intolerable.”
As Oklahoma City prepares to embark on a makeover every bit as ambitious as the one our grandparents attempted 40 years ago, maybe, just maybe, it’s time to delve into the legacy of I.M. Pei. Those of you who have read OKC Second Time Around already know history got rewritten along the way. Now it’s time to deal with this ugly chapter in our history and hopefully learn something from it.