What if, I was asked today, SandRidge Energy had chosen to build a new corporate campus as so many others have done, and left the Kerr-McGee campus a dark shadow over downtown?
Good question. Here’s another question I got hit with this past week: why are you demonizing anyone who disagrees with your outlook on downtown development?
Ouch. That second one hurt. But I won’t say it’s a bad question. It is one that gives me pause.
That’s not my intention here folks. In the battle over the SandRidge Commons project, I don’t see it as good guys and bad guys. I see it as “are all the right questions being asked? Is there a thoughtful deliberation going on before decisions are made?”
I have asked questions and posed challenges that I know have irritated people I like, admire and respect at SandRidge. This is unfortunate, but it also goes to show I’ll do this sort of thing regardless of the subject. Some of my closest friends will point out that I give them the hardest time and subject them to the worst scrutiny.
That’s my job. I’ve also caused some grief to the “underdogs” in this fight – the preservationists fighting the SandRidge demolition plans.
But I’m not trying to “demonize” any of these folks. Truth be told, we could have ended up with a situation where an entire block became blighted, where the north half of the central business district could have entered a slow death.
So let’s answer that first question.
First off, the block would be miserable. Efforts by Rick Dowell to revive the old Midland Mortgage Building would have been more likely to fail being next to an abandoned Kerr-McGee block. Dowell reports that interest is picking up in his long empty building – itself one of Kerr-McGee’s better contributions to the skyline in the 1960s – thanks to the SandRidge Commons plans.
I believe Rick. And for those of you who don’t know Rick, trust me when I say he has never shown an interest in insincerity. He says what he thinks, and doesn’t really care at all (sometimes to his detriment) about how the rich and powerful might be annoyed by his remarks.
If SandRidge had never come downtown, Rick Dowell’s building would likely remain empty for years to come. If it comes to life over the next couple of years, as he anticipates it will, then it’s not a big jump in logic to credit part of that revival to SandRidge.
One can not fully appreciate SandRidge’s renovation of the main tower itself. It was badly outdated. The decor was straight out of the 1970s with horrible retractable wall systems. It was an ominous place even when Kerr-McGee was still around.
Renovations aren’t complete, but what’s been done seems to impress all who see the tower. And the workforce is happy, vibrant and part of the downtown community. That can’t be said about Kerr-McGee for it’s final dozen years. It was a tomb, a depressing and oppressive environment for those who visited.
We also know that the SandRidge Commons plan isn’t all demolition. By all accounts the planned renovation of the Braniff Building is a stellar example of proper preservation (of course we won’t know everything until it’s done). And the company is planning no ordinary piece of architecture to replace the 120 N Robinson building (the combined parking and office structure that was once home to the Petroleum Club).
So what we may have here is a bit of inadequate public relations. Or maybe it’s to SandRidge Energy’s credit that nobody with the company has pulled the line of “just be grateful we came downtown.”
They could have.
Here’s another odd bit: when members of the Triangle Development group had the deal to renovate the older Kerr-McGee properties into housing, they had gotten so far as to get tax increment financing to tear down the former YMCA building and its connector structure to the old Kermac Building. The partners also were hinting, but not saying, that they had no intention to rush into renovating or preserving the old India Temple Building (privately they were saying the same things being said now by SandRidge).
So why was there no protest then? Essentially the Triangle Group was only proposing to save one more building (Kermac) than what’s being saved and renovated by SandRidge. But under that scenario we’d still have a dying Kerr-McGee tower that had fewer and fewer people inside and was adding less and less to the neighborhood.
Maybe I should have written this post sooner. But I was counting on SandRidge Energy making its own case and pointing out the obvious. It didn’t happen. So here it is – feel free to now debate and throw more tomatoes at the author.