A 25-YEAR-OLD FROM HALF A WORLD AWAY WHO BUILT A SCALE MODEL OF DOWNTOWN OKLAHOMA CITY MIGHT VISIT INSPIRATION
Architect may host ‘Russian Sam’
By Steve Lackmeyer
Sunday, October 17, 2010
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 6C
Miles Associates has spent the past two decades helping mold and shape the Oklahoma Health Center. Now one of the firm’s architects is leading an effort to move downtown Oklahoma City halfway around the world.
Dennis Wells is no stranger to the downtown scene. He’s been a leader in advocating modern architecture in the downtown-area neighborhood south of St. Anthony Hospital that he calls SoSA (South of St. Anthony).
Wells was one of dozens of locals who became acquainted this year with “Russian Sam” — a 25-year-old Hypermart worker living in St. Petersburg, Russia, who has built a model of downtown Oklahoma City.
“Russian Sam,” whose real name is Elijah Shvetsov, has wowed the online community for months with his work, so much so that Wells is leading an effort to bring Shvetsov — and maybe his model of downtown — to Oklahoma City in time for the World Creativity Forum on Nov. 16.
To date Wells has secured his firm’s support for flying Shvetsov to Oklahoma City, and Wells himself will be hosting Shvetsov if they can manage to pull off the trip. Creative Oklahoma, meanwhile, is going to provide Shvetsov free access to the forum and potentially a helicopter ride over the downtown he created using photos and renderings found on the Internet.
If Shvetsov makes it to Oklahoma City, just a tour of the work done by Miles Associates, led by Bud Miles, will provide him with an expansive view of the city’s development. The firm’s portfolio includes all of the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park and health and science technology centers throughout the region.
No guarantees yet
The trip isn’t a sure thing. Diplomatic hurdles are almost a certainty even though Shvetsov has secured a passport. Funding is still needed for his expenses in Oklahoma City. And language barriers add to the challenge of bringing Shvetsov to town.
Shvetsov started his hobby gluing pieces of paper together into buses at age 6. He assembled his first building model of the World Trade Center in 1997. After building models of prominent landmarks from around the world, he decided to build an entire downtown. After surveying cities worldwide, he chose Oklahoma City because of its density and relative compactness of its central business district.
He sought out photos online and provided a glimpse of his project at www.skyscrapercity.com. It was there that some Oklahoma City residents found out about his work, and he was introduced on local community forum www.okctalk.com.
Creative Oklahoma, meanwhile, promotes and catalyzes creative idea generation in individuals and institutions. And so the question was posed: What better way to showcase creativity and imagination than by hosting a young man from halfway around the world who saw downtown Oklahoma City as a great place to re-create in miniature form?
HOW TO HELP
Contributions can be sent to: Creative Oklahoma 133 W Main No. 100, Oklahoma City, OK 73102.
For more information: E-mail Dennis Wells at DWells@milesassociates.com.
Some shadows loom larger than others. Tom, your legacy and imprint on Oklahoma City and Paseo will endure for decades after we’re all gone.
God bless. RIP.
Sometimes when I post a music video on this site, it really means nothing at all.
A building erected out of LEGOs? Downtown?
OK, maybe not. Maybe we’ll just go for an entire city.
As someone who spent half his childhood playing with LEGOs, it doesn’t get much cooler than this. When I first heard about this project in the planning stages, everything sounded wonderful except the location: Penn Square Mall. The idea of going to Penn Square Mall anytime between November and January is horrifying. Sorry, but the parking is a hassle and I prefer to do my shopping in locally owned stores when possible.
Why oh why, I asked, couldn’t CityScape be hosted downtown in the heart of the city? This year it’s being done right, in my humble opinion, by doing just that and using space being donated (something that didn’t happen at the mall) by the owners of 1100 N Broadway – Bob Howard and Mickey Clagg.
Believe it or not, this site has far more available parking nearby than the mall, and far more fun activities during the holidays including ice skating, snow tubing, holiday lighting and an assortment of special events in venues like Bricktown and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
CityScape is a great fit with Downtown in December, and if you want to see CityScape grow and thrive downtown in future years, then please be sure to make it one of your family’s stops this upcoming holiday season. By doing so, you’ll help make downtown even better for holiday visitors, and you’ll be supporting a great non-profit, Educare, a school in south Oklahoma City for at-risk children. To learn more about CityScape, go here. To learn more about Educare, go here.
OK, so the good press, it seems, has once again been followed up by bad press.
I’m amazed and amused by the listings that show Oklahoma City as one of “the most dangerous places” on earth (as written by an unemployed hack writing for an obscure website that is part of the crumbling AOL media empire). And now we’ve got Forbes listing Oklahoma City as 9th most dangerous city.
So, let’s see if I understand this correctly. OKC is more dangerous than New Orleans, where the cops are just as deadly and corrupt as the bad guys. OKC is more dangerous than notoriously violent places like Compton, Calif., Newark, N.J. and East St. Louis. OKC is more dangerous than Chicago, where gang shoot-outs are reportedly a daily concern.
So how does OKC earn such a high ranking? Well, the Forbes folks included transportation data. Really? Really? Oklahoma City has three major cross-country interstates coming through town. Could this be a slight skew to the data?
This list of full of horse manure. But if it has any of you concerned, I hear there are some great buys to be found in the lowest 9th ward of New Orleans.
For the record, I’m not impressed by some of the positive list rankings either – especially when they are published by online sites nobody has ever heard of and it’s clearly an attempt by the website operator to get noticed. When a listing involves judges of a respected organization actually taking a long look at the community – as was the case with Paseo earlier this week – that’s what gets my attention.
By the way – OKC could have topped the Forbes dangerous list instead of coming in at No. 9 if they had simply weighed in the risk of traveling the I-40 Crosstown Expressway.
Read it here.
Only downside: now the whole world knows Oklahoma City lacks a really good Jewish deli (I’ll argue with the idea we don’t have any good Italian restaurants).
Great photo by David Morris
What if the “old media” is getting it all wrong? For the past decade we’ve seen old media misfire time after time, thinking it’s got to go shallow, sensational and cheap to appeal to a younger audience. And with each attempt we’ve seen such efforts backfire – we just lose the older audience and don’t gain any younger audience.
But what if…
Isn’t it possible that instead of trying to appeal to people with short attention spans, the trick to success ahead is to go with depth, to go with quality, and believe that the smarter ones under 30 will gravitate toward such content and that audience will grow as the younger demographic matures? And as this takes place, the older audience sticks with you?
What if ….
Or are we just doomed to the sort of future portrayed in “Idiocracy”?
Warning: some crude language.
Yes, let’s address that. But first, let’s go back in time.
It’s 2006. The economy is rolling along quite nicely, though there are some inconvenient nudges from those who say the housing market is going to inevitably crash. They refer to it as the housing bubble, and no where is this supposed bubble more evident than in places like Florida, California and cities like Las Vegas and Phonix.
Haters. Haters are going to hate, so we’ll just ignore them, right?
But truth be told, the real estate market, especially in California, seemed goofy even to the least educated observers. Something wasn’t quite right.
Oklahoma City’s beloved, beleaguered First National Tower had seen virtually no repairs, no upkeep under its east coast owners. Unpaid utility bills were being posted at the door. Local investors wanted to buy the property, but the east coast folks, after buying the tower for $5 million, were demanding $21 million.
It was the sort of insane price that locals felt would prohibit any effective makeover of the property that could make it competitive in the new century.
And in one quick swoop, the young guns (Jason Little and Brett Price) at Sperry Van Ness pulled it off with more experienced gunslingers, Tim Strange and Gary Gregory, at their side. They were proud of their $21 million sale to Californian Aaron Yashouafar. It might not have been in the best interest in the property or downtown, but it sure as heck was in the best interest of themselves and the seller, who reportedly had mortgaged the property to the hint to fund a disastrous investment in the Catskills.
I was immediately skeptical. That very first day I privately suggested to some downtown acquaintances that the deal might be immediately doomed -that such a high price could only lead to bankruptcy court.
We saw that happen today.
To be fair, Yashouafar did a whole heck of a lot more than previous owners. He spent a lot of money upgrading the building’s life safety systems and removing asbestos from the east tower (the one facing Broadway, built in the early 1970s). Dave Lopez, then president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., allowed me to join Yashouafar as he made a presentation to one the most exclusive gatherings of the city’s power and wealth.
They were polite. But they weren’t buying it either.
I threw out a challenge to Yashouafar: I’ll believe you a lot more if you can at least fix the iconic clock at the tower’s entrance. Yashouafar responded and fixed it.
He then engaged in the sort of decision making that re-enforced perceptions, right or wrong, that these west coast owners were just as out of touch with Oklahoma City as the prior east coast owners. He tried to play hardball with the old-timers who ran the barbershop on the 14th floor. They packed up and went elsewhere.
At this point a good public relations firm might have advised Yashouafar to reconsider chasing out “amenity” tenants – characters beloved by downtowners.
He had a good public relations firm – Saxum and Renzi Stone – but by 2008 they were suing over unpaid billings.
Ouch. It’s never good when you get sued by your own public relations firm.
Liens and court filings started becoming commonplace, and Yashouafar was simply bewildered when I came around asking questions. In Los Angeles, such matters would be trivial, he explained, and wouldn’t be worth the time of a major newspaper reporter.
Yeah, maybe so. But by saying so, Yashouafar was showing a fundamental misunderstanding of Oklahoma City. This is a big city wired like a small town. And folks were talking. This was news. People care.
More popular tenants joined the exodus, including Italian Express, Becky’s Hallmark and The Buzz. The loss of such popular anchors made the space on the upper floors less valuable to potential corporate tenants.
In real estate the card shop, the coffee shop and Italian restaurant are considered amenities. For Yashouafar, they were just among the long list of folks he felt were due an increase in rent to Class A rates. He had promised to bring the building up to Class A levels, and by golly, the tenants had an obligation to share in the cost of getting to that goal.
Yashouafar had been warned these tenants had been burned by prior owners. They were not going to simply believe promises of a better future ahead – even if the landlord insisted he was different – that he would do what he said.
The tenants wanted to see visible progress. They wanted to see the cracked windows replaced. They wanted to see the restrooms rebuilt – and moved to each floor.
Yashouafar responded by tearing up the ground floor retail arcade, and to many tenants’ horror, he had Lt. Gov. Jari Askins jackhammer apart the decades-old marble lobby floor in the tower.
To some extent, Yashouafar has done what he said – even if not everyone was really listening and analyzing what that meant.
What happens next is anyone’s guess. With Devon Energy leasing a chunk of space until its own new tower opens in two years, one has to imagine Yashouafar prizes the steady stream of rent payments from downtown’s biggest employer.
After that, what’s next? If the owners survive this bankruptcy filing (expect Capmark to fight back with rigor), where will they find the cash flow to support keeping the building simply operational? Locals still want the chance to return First National to glory. But they won’t engage in California-style real estate deals to make it happen.