My morning appointment has been moved to this afternoon, so I’ve got a bit more time to blog.
I’m convinced that Tuesday marked the first local social media election for Oklahoma City. Having followed Twitter, Facebook, OKC Talk and various blogs, it’s clear that social media created a huge wave of voters, especially for the pro-side that consisted the same sort of younger demographic as was seen in the fall presidential election last year.
Can I prove it? No. But anecdotally, I’m pretty certain of it.
More thoughts on the oversight board as well. Consider that the best people to have on the board won’t necessarily be those who will apply for such slots.
Having talked to several folks the last 48 hours, the following names emerge as people who have the ideal mix of experience, wisdom and judgment but may or may not need to be convinced into serving in such a capacity.
They include (not my list – but from others):
- Joe Clytus
- James Pickel
- Renzi Stone
- Nick Preftakes
- Marsh Pitman
- Dave Lopez
- Tiana Douglas
- Mark Beffort
- Rhonda Walters
- Bill Bleakley
- Kirk Humphreys
- Don Karchmer
- Jim Loftis
So what names would you want to see put into consideration?
Let’s talk about it briefly this morning, and we’ll get back to SandRidge either this afternoon or tomorrow.
To be blunt – city staff have their work cut out for them. The good news, if we use NBA metaphors, this isn’t a raw talented but inexperienced Thunder squad facing its first season (which city staff was in 1993 with the original MAPS). Instead, we’ve got the Celtics and they’re fierce and they know what they’re doing.
But mistakes can still happen, and a lot of unknowns are ahead. It’s in these early days that biggest mistakes can be planted in the ground, unnoticed for months if not years, and then they pop up very ugly later on.
So, what can we learn from history?
- Assemble a blue ribbon worthy citizens’ oversight panel. Ensure that all the council has had input into selections of members or else the group will suffer from a lack of legitimacy later on. Not everyone will like, let’s say, Brian Walters’ pick, but having a critical voice in the midst can be helpful, as was proven during the original MAPS program.
- Figure out a good process to ensure orderly implementation and means of keeping touch with voters.
- DON’T MAKE ANY PROMISES YET ON SCHEDULING! People remember these things and perception can go horribly wrong.
- Be confident, but not arrogant. City staff is damn good. But they’re human. Mistakes can and will be made. People who aren’t always the most likeable sort may point out these mistakes and it may be easy to ignore such voices. Remember always the three-segment canal and the role Moshe Tal played in the ultimate design of the waterway.
Love and kisses and best regard from your history geek downtown reporter, Steve Lackmeyer
The book debut is 5 p.m. today, at the Skirvin Hilton, 1 Park Avenue. It’s come and go, open to the public. Dave Morris did an incredible feature on the book that really captures the story behind the story.
Say what’s on your mind today. Feel like you’ve not had your say on something? Now’s your chance to get it out.
All too often I end up facing the same quandry – how do I expand the discussion of issues we face downtown without getting too wonkish for readers? Over this past year we’ve delved into an exploration of urban planning from the viewpoint of Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs, the ideas of William Whyte including the “blank wall,” and finished with a parade of guest blogs about downtown from some of the brightest minds of this city.
We live in a society where we like issues to be simple: brand x and brand y. Good guy and bad guy. Black and white. Coke and Pepsi. One, maybe two plot lines that can be wrapped up in 60 minutes, minus commercials. Or better yet, let’s limit the whole damn conversation to 140 characters.
I’m suggesting – no – I’m challenging and daring you to declare once and for all that we’re ready to go more in-depth on a topic. And this topic demands some serious discussion – SandRidge Energy’s proposal to tear down four downtown buildings. Until now most people (and maybe me included) have looked at this as a question of “is the building historic?” But there’s an urban planning and design question at stake here as well.
So let’s start with the introduction of a new word to our vocabulary – one that we’ve not heard said much in OKC but is certainly a topic of importance elsewhere: “Streetwall.” We start by going to Chicago.
A familiar face is general manager – Brad Jackson, who previously worked at the DDG before going to the Mickey Mantle Steakhouse where he worked his way to assistant manager.
Considering the restaurant got hit with a table for 14 on its unpublicized “soft opening,” things went Ok. The wait time was long, but not unexpected, and the food was the best it’s ever been at the Deuce.
The Deuce always had the location and “vibe” nailed down. But in prior years, you either had great food and bad operation (under the first management team), or OK food and good operation (under “Big Will” before he left for personal reasons), or to be blunt, bad food, bad service and bad prices under the final regime (sorry guys, but this is the concensus from most folks I’ve talked to).
I’ve seen some good restaurants with rough openings, notably 1492 and Big Truck Tacos (can anyone remember the two-hour waits at BTT that first week?).
I’d advise if you visit this week, that you go with the same understanding and patience. The menu is completely revamped, and even with today’s bigger than expected crowd, the food was very, very good.
Most imporantly, it appears as if Deep Deuce has its grill and bar back in operation.
The newspaper had a pretty good display today on the SandRidge project, but space didn’t allow for every photo to be printed or for everything I wrote.
So let’s start with a visual inventory first.
I’m not sure the loss of either of these first two buildings will prompt much shedding of tears. But here comes the part I know will trouble some folks….
The India Temple Building, is, from all the research I’ve done, the oldest significant structure still standing downtown. Built in 1902, the building once housed the state legislature. And either in the 1950s or 1960s, Kerr-McGee, with the assistance of Frankfurt-Short-Bruza, did this:
SandRidge Energy could have torn all of these buildings down, no questions asked, as recently as four years ago. But the creation of the Downtown Design Review Committee ended the days of demolition without public input. SandRidge must get permission first from the committee. If the committee votes against any of these applications, SandRidge can either comply with the order or appeal to the Board of Adjustment. And if that appeal is not upheld, the company can then take the matter to district court.
So let’s delve further into the India Temple Building before moving on to the final structure. SandRidge CEO Tom Ward calls this building as it appears now an “eyesore.” I doubt anyone would argue that. But is the real building, one that would be a magical recovery of our past (ala the Skirvin), just waiting to be rediscovered and brought back to life?
Architect Anthony McDermid was once part of a team chosen by Kerr-McGee to redevelop these old buildings into housing. The team did a lot of work – they obtained TIF money to tear down the old YMCA building and replace it with a modern garage for the Kerr-McGee workers and the future residents of the Braniff Tower and neighboring KerMac Building. The deal fell apart just as they were about to seek building permits. From the start, McDermid shied away from stating any plans for the India Temple Building.
Three years later, McDermid admits they likely never would have pursued housing for the 107-year-old building.
Here’s what didn’t make today’s paper:
The building at 111 Robert S. Kerr, would, at first glance, seem to be most historic property on the block. The building, built in 1902, briefly housed the state legislature and its ornate façade, if it still existed, would be a unique reminder of an era that was removed entirely during the Urban Renewal era.
But McDermid, who surveyed the buildings extensively, said he came to the same conclusion reached by SandRidge Energy – the former India Temple building was too far damaged by Kerr-McGee to be restored.
“We even had someone from the State Historical Preservation Office look at it,” McDermid said. “He came, we walked the entire building and evaluated what was going on with it. It had been so altered – a new floor had been added into the two-story lobby, it had been torn up inside, and while we never pulled the outside panels, we had eyewitness reports the exterior features had been sawn off.”
McDermid has no involvement with SandRidge Energy, the campus makeover, or any of the old buildings. So one might conclude he’s a good neutral judge of whether the India Temple Building could be brought back to life.
Consider this account by yet another team of respected developers who looked at the building in the early 1990s:
Mark Ruffin, Nicholas Preftakes and Jim Parrack looked at the odds of renovating the buildings and walked away.
“The bones weren’t really that conducive,” Ruffin said. “They had low clearance heights, they had significant asbestos issues. From a functional standpoint, they just weren’t that conducive.”
That’s a lot of damning expertise. And yet something else makes me wonder if more should be known before calling out the wrecking ball. Consider the testimony of a dying man I reported in a column three years ago as McDermid’s housing project was falling apart due to the demise of Kerr-McGee:
I wanted to share Bob Maidt’s story at a triumphant moment. Maidt and his son Bob Maidt Jr. were veterans in the plastering business, and I was first introduced to Bob Maidt Jr. when he helped me understand the pros and cons in the use of EIFS stucco in new construction.The visit about the Kerr-McGee campus building would be their last. That night, Maidt Sr. died. Ironically, the story that sparked the Maidts’ visit had been written a couple weeks earlier — intended to run at a later date. Had the story been delayed one more day, the information needed to restore the India Temple building to its original facade might have disappeared forever.
In March, I wrote a story about a building on the Kerr-McGee campus that was to be part of a condominium development. At first glance, the building at Broadway and Robert S. Kerr Avenue in Oklahoma City is hardly spectacular. But developer and architect Anthony McDermid was aware that the concrete facade covered up a historic facade that dated back to 1902. The building, far from a forgettable Urban Renewal addition to downtown, is a true gem — and its restoration would give back a bit of history in an area that lost much of its past in the 1960s and 1970s.
But McDermid had no information on how the fake facade was added or whether the original India Temple facade was still intact. Before and after photos were printed with my story, and Bob Maidt Jr. immediately recognized the project as one completed by his ailing father. Maidt Jr. later e-mailed saying he approached his father, who was bed ridden, and memories started to flow.
The elder Maidt, 82, had been released from the hospital a couple of weeks earlier, with doctors telling the family they could do no more to relieve the man’s failing health.
“He did most of the Kerr-McGee work, so I figured it was his job,” Maidt Jr. said. “I went over in the afternoon, after work, and he seemed pretty excited. It perked him right up — put a gleam in his eyes. He said, ‘Oh yeah, I remember doing that.’”
Maidt Sr. not only recalled the job, but also told his son where to find the job files and photos of the new facade’s installation. The original building, he said, wasn’t seriously damaged during the 1960s-era renovation.
For Maidt Jr., the conversation was a chance to relive the days when the pair worked together, running the family business. Their plastering business had been started a century earlier by Maidt Jr.’s grandfather’s uncle, Albert Maidt (who also was one of the founders of Twin Hills Golf and Country Club). The family business had passed from one generation to another until it closed in 1997.
When I last spoke to Bob Maidt Jr., he indicated the paperwork and plans from the job were safe and could be provided to anyone wanting to delve deeper into whether the building could be saved. SandRidge reports the building’s facade was shaved off and is lost forever.
These two accounts, at first glance, appear to be in direct contradiction of each other. And as we know from the example set by Steve Mason along NW 9, what may appear to be a hopeless cause may simply be a question of commitment. I don’t think anyone would blame Tom Ward or SandRidge for wanting to get rid of the India Temple Building. But it’s up to the members of the Downtown Design Review Committee (some of whom read this blog) to decide how much dillegence is needed to see whether the India Temple Building, as with the original first two stories of the Skirvin, can be restored.
And now for the final target for demolition – the old KerMac Building. Standing at 135 Robert S. Kerr Ave., the 11-story, 155,911-square-foot building was built in 1921 and was once Kerr-McGee’s headquarters.
McDermid’s one concern with the SandRidge plan is the old KerMac Building. He knows it can be salvaged – it was part of the Braniff Towers project. And even today there are developers who have make their interest in converted to housing known to SandRidge.
So the building can be salvaged, and there are good prospects for adaptive re-use. Further, SandRidge Energy plans to create an open plaza where there is now a strong urban streetfront. The entrance would create a gap – the sort of thing that pedestrian consultant Jeff Speck described as a sap on walkability and urban life.
Folks, this is the plan. But it’s not final, and there’s a process ahead for determining whether some, all or none of SandRidge’s planned demolition comes to pass. In my stories today, I quote historian Bob Blackburn in pointing out that preservation doesn’t mean saving EVERY old building. Let the discussion begin.
Let’s start with some context first before we delve into this week’s flashback. First off, every person I’ve spoken to about the history of the Skirvin hotel report Norton Locke was a disastrous pick to become manager during the landmark’s dark days in the late 1980s. He was a Meridian Avenue hotelier who, those who worked with him or witnessed his style, was totally unsuited to run a downtown hotel.
Next thing to note: with or without a boycott, the Skirvin was likely doomed to close in the late 1980s. And if it hadn’t closed, it likely never would have gotten the extensive top to bottom makeover in 2006 that made it the success story it is today.
Final note: I think it’s important not to rush to judgment against those who were dealing with issues in another time – and facing decisions that aren’t quite as easy as they appear now in hindsight. But history can be a wonderful teacher. And with all the hostile words being exchanged today, I just hope today’s lesson isn’t lost on those who might need it most.
Skirvin Scarred by Past Siphoning, Blacklisting Blamed for Decline
By Mary Jo Nelson
Sunday, September 9, 1990
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 01
Siphoning revenues from the Skirvin Plaza Hotel to another building venture shares the blame for the national landmark’s series of downfalls.
Blacklisting of the hotel in retaliation for a former manager’s anti-tax politics also may have contributed to the historic hotel’s 1988 decline.
For 30 years, these and more misfortunes have taken a toll on the historic structure that sheltered presidents, royalty, famous personalities and heads of state through seven decades.
Now standing empty and forlorn in downtown Oklahoma City, the property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was sold at a sheriff’s auction Tuesday. It was the second time since January 1988 that the Oklahoma County sheriff had auctioned off the classic property to satisfy a mortgage debt.
The Skirvin stands in the shadow of the city’s tallest building, Liberty Tower literally and figuratively Oklahoma County district court records show.
Stanton Young, appointed receiver in 1971 for the bankrupt Skirvin and its sister hotel, the Skirvin Tower, alleged in a 1972 lawsuit that Skirvin revenues were funneled into construction of Liberty Tower by Griffin Enterprises Inc. and a group of New York investors.
Griffin Enterprises had acquired the two Skirvins in 1967. The eastern businessmen were added to the owners’ list through a complicated financial arrangement with Griffin, the court petition says.
Griffin also developed the skyscraper located just across Park Avenue and a broad plaza from the hotel. The defendants never admitted they diverted Skirvin revenues to the construction, but the case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
The settlement was used to pay the bankrupt hotels’ secured and unsecured claims, and the Skirvin never closed during the 18 months it was in bankruptcy proceedings, Young said last week.
Through the 1970s and ’80s, the Skirvin changed hands several times.
Owners included a group of Oklahoma City businessmen headed by managing partner Ronald Burkes; a 17-investor group based in Miami, Fla.; and, most recently, two Fort Worth partners in Savoy Hotels and Resorts.
The boycott came during the Florida group’s ownership, and has been identified as one possible cause of the October 1988 closing of the Skirvin. The blacklisting at least contributed to the Skirvin’s financial difficulties, four sources speculated at the time.
Several civic and cultural leaders acknowledged in January 1987 that they steered business away from the Skirvin in the latter part of 1986 because its manager helped defeat four of six economic development proposals intended to help pull central Oklahoma out of depression.
Three sources said the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce moved scheduled events to other hotels.
The manager, Norton Locke, had publicly opposed some of six municipal revenue proposals on a June 1986 referendum. Locke also allegedly gave $17,000 to defeat a proposed increase of the municipal hotel/motel room tax from 2 percent to 5 percent. A few months later, the Florida hotel owners were sued by the city for failure to pay $23,000 in room taxes.
“I can’t tell you the business that has been taken out of the Skirvin because of that stand (against the room-tax increase),” one civic leader said in January 1987.
Herschel Lamirand, a member of the mayor’s task force that promoted the economic development measures, and James Tolbert III, longtime civic and arts leader, were among those acknowledging in 1987 that they had personally influenced bookings and lodgings away from the Skirvin.
Andy Coats, then Oklahoma City mayor, also confirmed that several downtown groups canceled meetings and accounts with the Skirvin.
Lamirand, executive director of the OU Health Sciences Center Foundation, stressed this was his own philosophy and not that of his employer.
“Opposing the tax was one thing, but financially supporting opponents was the last straw,” he said then.
But Lamirand said last week that the Skirvin had not been boycotted.
He also voiced solid support for attempts to resurrect the hotel.
“(We) weren’t really blacklisting the Skirvin. That was the misinformation last time. What people really wanted to get the attention of was a fellow named Locke who was acting pretty independently and not really representing the ownership of the Skirvin.
That hurt the development of Oklahoma City,” Lamirand said.
“There was a great number of people who felt very strongly about Norton Locke, but … I don’t think there was anybody who was actually trying to destroy the Skirvin. It was a move against what he (Locke) stood for.”
Before its troubles piled up, the Skirvin hotel enjoyed a long and distinguished reputation. It was built in 1910-1911 by the late William B. Skirvin, who made a fortune in the Spindletop oil fields in east Texas before bringing his money and search for oil to Oklahoma. The Skirvin lobby is part of the oil lore of early Oklahoma, with such names as Skelly, Champlin, Getty doing business there.
The hotel remained in the founding family until 1945, when it was sold to Oklahoma City businessman Dan James. It was acquired in 1963 by a group of midwestern investors headed by John Grande, formerly an executive with the Statler chain. Two years later, Grande’s group added the 3,000-capacity grand ballroom the largest hotel banquet hall in Oklahoma a swimming pool and other improvements.
The next owner-operator after Griffin was O’Meara-Chandler Corp. of Houston, which acquired the property from the principal mortgage holder, New York Life Insurance Co., and changed the name to Skirvin Plaza.
Then, a group of Oklahoma City businessmen, headed by managing partner Ronald Burkes, purchased the property to keep the hotel open.
The Florida group acquired the property in 1985. Among them were several executives of a Walt Disney Productions subsidiary. Skirvin GP Inc., headed by Gary Engle, took title to the property.
By late 1987, spokesman Engle acknowledged the Skirvin was near bankruptcy, and could not make its mortgage payments. The title was relinquished to Business Men’s Assurance Co. of Kansas City, the principal mortgage holder.
Fort Worth businessmen Peiter Streitt and Michael Profitt, partners in Savoy Hotels and Resorts, became owners of record after the January 1988 sheriff’s sale returned it to BMA.
Profitt and Streitt had taken over management of the hotel for BMA in 1987, almost a year before completing the purchase. They shut it down in October 1988.
Last Tuesday, New Orleans-based Empire Land Co. took title to the hotel with a $2.22 million dollar bid at the latest sheriff’s sale.
Prior to the auction, Empire, headed by New Orleans businessman Louis J.Roussel Jr., became primary mortgage holder by purchasing the foreclosure judgement from previous lender Mutual Savings Life Insurance Co. Empire is expected to entertain offers from buyers interested in restoring an reopneing the downtown lankmark, but no timetable has been established for such transactions.
Last week, Lamirand and others voiced strong support for any attempts to reopen the Skirvin.
“I think everybody in the community desperately wants that facility open. We all miss it so much. It’s incredible how much it plays a role in all of our lives,” he said.
All of this can be found at Penn Square Mall (downtown, get your game on and try to land this great attraction next year!). To learn more about Educare, which benefits from this fundraiser, visit http://www.okceducare.org/