Alright … computer is fixed again. I think. I’m at my desk. Stuff is happening out there. I’m a bit fuzzy this morning. But somehow I’ll get back in the groove. I think.
It’s been a rough week. Not just for me, but for a lot of folks. Some folks are facing an uncertain future, hostage to others’ agendas. Others might be taking a long overdue look in the mirror. The dreamers are gearing up for fights where they risk nothing less than the very depth of their passion and hope. And me? I’ll be on the sidelines, a paid stenographer, a sideline reporter entertaining the masses.
All of this may sound far too dark, and I don’t mean it that way. But I definitely need this weekend. And I suggest others keep their computers powered down, their electronics shut off, and just enjoy life.
The fight will be waiting when you return on Monday. Get the spray hose out and get the kids wet. Play a video game. Go out to the park (early in the morning to avoid the heat!). And get back in tough with the magic that gives you life.
I don’t know why I bother anymore. But for those who believe there’s an open slate as to where a new convention center will be located, go browse through Tuesday’s city council agenda and check out the item where the council is being asked to pay for improvements needed at Robinson Avenue to ensure the new I-40 ramp doesn’t block the land needed for “the proposed convention center.” Then explain all this in a way skeptics can understand. Or maybe they already understand all too well.
Today was, my friends, what we in the news biz call a “crazy day.” Everything seemed to hit the fan at once. Here’s a full transcript of my interview with First National owner Aaron Yashouafar. He was not willing to discuss matters currently in litigation – including the foreclosure action on First National.
Q: A lot of locals were shocked at the $21 million paid for First National in 2006. Looking back, do you still think the price was a good deal?
A: First National Center consists of 1 million square feet of prime, landmark, office space in Downtown Oklahoma City. The price paid is well beyond a good deal. The building was purchased at approximately $21 per square foot. To rebuild such a project would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, not to mention the fact that this landmark is irreplaceable.
Q: How much have you spent improving the property? Approximately $8.5 million, and continuing.
A: One of the biggest complaints I’m hearing about the current ownership is how there were sharp increases in rent even though improvements were halted.
A: Notwithstanding the improvements the ownership has made to the property, the rents are still in line with (and sometimes below) what others in the neighborhood are charging. We are all aware of substantial increases in the cost of operating a building such as First National Center (such as utilities, insurance and labor). Prior rents from old leases dating back to previous owners (who neglected the building, and would take anything from anyone without contributing to the building), should not be considered when talking about the rent increases. There has been 4 years of work and progress towards substantial improvements in building infrastructure as well as cosmetics. The pace of making improvements has only recently slowed down, not by no means, “halted”.
Q: You’ve seen properties in L.A. and New York go into foreclosure and the newspaper accounts paint a pretty bleak picture of your company – how do you respond to that?
A: Although Oklahoma has been, to a great extent immune, the rest of the nation is undergoing one of the most significant recessions, with the real estate industry taking a substantial hit and undergoing tremendous devaluations. Many properties, many owners, and many banks have gone out of business. Milbank, however, on behalf of the various owners it represents, is continuing to deal with the economic slowdown by repositioning the properties it manages. Many other owners faced with the same facts, have simply abandoned the properties.
Q: What’s your reaction to The Village Voice describing you as one of New York City’s “worst slumlords”?
A: I am not sure you have all the right facts. Milbank has not been managing the properties in question for nearly a year and a half. The lender hired its own management company to manage the properties, and that management company is the one being blamed. Unfortunately, when that management company was engaged, Milbank was prevented from carrying out its plan to improve and stabilize that property. In fact, the tenants are suing the lender now because of its lack of care for the properties. During the time that Milbank was managing those properties, many violations from prior owners were removed, the buildings improved substantially, and the tenants were being tended to. We do not believe that Milbank is a “bad manager” – especially here in Oklahoma City, where occupancy at the FNC has increased threefold in four years.
Q: With the debt level being so high and the mid-2000s real estate boom history, how do you make a property like First National successful again?
A: The property is already successful. Through the financial resources made available by the owners, the management team has been able to raise the occupancy from low 20% range to almost 65%, in just four years. In a building as large as First National Center, this translates to over 400,000 square feet of new leases. I am not aware of any other building in Downtown Oklahoma City experiencing such a transformation. In fact, the owners have always been, and continue to be, in compliance with the loan.
Q: Do you have any regrets when it comes to First National?
A: Not at all. At a time when almost everyone in Oklahoma City had simply written off First National Center, the current ownership made a commitment to give the property a new life. The dedication of the owners encouraged the City officials to support such renovation and together we created a dedicated and compassionate team whose results we are witnessing today.
It’s not pretty folks. It looks like I’ve lost my personal email folders and other files for good. If you recently sent me a press release or other correspondence and haven’t seen a response or action on the matter, and especially if it had a large attachment, please email it to me again.
Thanks – Steve
It pains me to say this – but a very valuable and popular local message board has been hit with a nasty virus. The virus apparently hit my computer hard – I’m hearing others have had similar experiences. I’m hoping that the operator or a representative of the site will contact us and let us know when this matter is resolved. Until it is, I’m staying off the site. I do want to add this virus apparently hit a lot of message boards and I don’t think this should reflect badly on www.okctalk.com or its operators. Let’s hope they “get well” very soon.
UPDATE: I’ve talked with one of the moderators at OKC Talk and we will coordinate an alert to let folks know when it’s safe again. For now, all of you engage in rational discussion are welcome to chat here. Those of you who are hostile and crazy – go to www.okctalk.com right away and ignore this post (it’s just a conspiracy to silence OKC Talk and you can’t let that happen!)
On Twitter there is a gentleman criticizing my coverage of the SandRidge Commons development as being anti-SandRidge and suggesting I might be trying to drive the company out of the city. Meanwhile, over at www.okctalk.com, I’ve got a guy insisting my coverage has consisted of press releases dictated to me by SandRidge Energy.
That’s me – Steve Lackmeyer – annoying everybody since 1990.
Best steaks: Red Prime
Best burger: Nic’s (as a matter of staying alive, I can only eat at Nic’s a couple times a year)
Best pizza: The Wedge
Best barbeque: Earl’s
Best sandwiches: ND Foods
Best food on the street: Big Truck Tacos
Best upscale restaurant: Red Prime
Best lunch spot: MidTown Deli
Best cup of coffee: Beatnix
Best breakfast: Classen Grill
Best Mexican restaurant: Iguana Grill
Best Latin restaurant: Cafe do’ Brasil
Best restaurant downtown: Skirvin Hotel’s Park Avenue Grill
Best restaurant more people should know about: Steak & Catfish
Best new restaurant: Big Truck Tacos
Best art gallery: Istvan/Urban Gallery
Best hotel: Skirvin
Best family entertainment: OKC Zoo
Best local non-profit: Oklahoma City Beautiful
Best annual event: Festival of the Arts
Best museum: Oklahoma City Museum of Art
Best local bookstore: Full Circle
Best local author: Um….
Best social media fanatic: I struggle with the idea of using “best” to describe such a person
Best politician: Yeah right, like I’m going to share my vote on this
Best community leader: Wayne Coyne
Best TV or radio personality: the goofy KAUT movie guys I can’t name
Best local website: www.abandonedoklahoma.com (last year I voted for www.dougdawg.blogspot.com)
Best TV station: KWTV (no, we’re not doing the convergence thing anymore)
Best radio station: KGOU
Best place to spot a Flaming Lip: The Plaza District, hands down
Best proof that Oklahoma is more than OK: Too many choices
Best local thing that would give Sally Kern nightmares: The Plaza District, hands down (I kid! I kid!)
So, what do you think about SandRidge Energy threatening to leave downtown? Read the story here.