(SING TO THE TUNE OF SESAME STREET’S “ONE OF THESE THINGS”): One of these things is almost identical to the other, one of these things has got me very curious, can you tell me which thing isn’t just like the other, before I finish this song …
To quote the annoying voice feature on the Apple computers up in the photography room with every typo committed by the photographers (and trust me, they happen frequently): “CURIOUS.”
On Friday a panel selected by the Urban Renewal Authority will evaluate the five proposals for the site and potentially select three to pitch their plans to the board (this likely would translate into a de facto selection of three finalists. Technically the meeting amounts to being a staff work session – exempt from the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act. But I plead my case with Urban Renewal director JoeVan Bullard to let me sit in on the discussion. No go. I promised to sit quietly in the corner. No go. I promised to keep my phone setting at “vibrate.” No go. I was about to offer to bring free donuts for everyone – but then Bullard pulled the card all government employees are taught on their first day on the job: “it’s important for the people in the room to feel free to have an exchange of opinions and ideas, blah, blah, blah.”
Fine. No free donuts from me.
So let’s do the next best thing is guess what issues might be discussed, and how each project might fare.
Let’s start with the narrowing of the list from five to three. The guys with Home Creations have a good track record, and are the sort of suburban developers downtown would love to attract. But their proposal is unlike any I’ve seen in response to an Urban Renewal project. Two phases? Nope, commissioners don’t like that. Offices? Commissioners have been out of the office development business for the past quarter century. The number of units and investment is also far less than that proposed by the competition.
Don’t be surprised if Home Creations is the first to be thrown out. And don’t be surprised if the downtown leadership and development community quickly contact these folks and show them other opportunities that might be a better fit for their ambitions.
If such a scenario unfolds, that leaves four.
I’m going to tell you what everybody on the inside of this deal has agreed on since the proposals were unsealed: the Edge proposal pitched by Gary Brooks and Mike Henderson is considered to hold the lead spot. They’ve successfully built respected apartment complexes throughout the metro and it’s assumed financing won’t be a problem. The proposal this time around has lots of density (though I messed up in previously reporting that it includes retail) and has a low tax increment financing request in comparison to the others.
But that’s not to say they will win this competition – they have a mixed history on the Legacy at Arts Quarter project down the street. It achieved an unprecedented residential density in the history of Urban Renewal. But most observers agree the final product fell far short of the project’s initial proposed design, and Henderson was about to run out of contract extensions by the time construction started.
After talking to several folks seasoned in this sort of thing, it’s generally agreed that the proposal by Marva Ellard is also likely to make the finalists cut. Her project also has quite a bit of density and she earned respect the hard way by redeveloping the Sieber Hotel apartments, which enjoys full occupancy. Her portfolio is shorter than Brooks and Henderson, though it should be noted she also was originally partners with Bill Canfield in winning development of The Hill in Deep Deuce. Ellard also asks for more TIF money than that requested by Brooks and Henderson.
So that leaves us with two guys playing duck, duck, goose and only one chair left. And that’s where things get … complicated.
MORE TO COME