In a dark parking lot, surrounded by chaos, I filed my first story on the raid of the inaugural H&8th outdoor food market in MidTown. I took my best shot at it, with what few resources I had (I went out for a taco, and had neither a camera, notebook or pen). The story blew out all readership numbers throughout the weekend at NewsOK. And I initially was hit with demands for a retraction by representatives of the ABLE Commission, who at first argued there were only a handful of people involved in the raid and that they had no part in it (they have since backed off from both claims). Organizers weren’t completely forthright with me either – it took them until Saturday to fess up they chose to hold the event without the outdoor permit.
My first in-depth look at what went wrong Friday night is now online. I spent all weekend working on it. Yep. I even missed listening to part of my beloved Casey Kasem 70s AT 40 show. I love that show. But the phone kept on ringing. It started ringing Saturday morning and never stopped.
So we’re cutting into the sucker, and what do we find? We find organizers of H&8th who didn’t get everything figured out before they delved into this event. We find food trucks that thought they had all permits and details taken care of – and in some cases they might not have done anything wrong. We find a “swat team” as one person observed, of 27 people, descending on this event and choosing not to contact organizers instead.
But there are a lot of questions, more fundamental issues, I’m about to tackle. Questions about fairness. Questions about whether an emerging industry is being stomped on in an inequitable manner, and if so, for what purpose? I’ve got questions about what seems to me to be a Byzantine set of rules and requirements that any one of us would probably get wrong. And my questions keep going back to my very first thought: is this how we would respond if we were in that position of authority? Would we choose the surprise attack? Or would we contact the organizers and advise them they might not have taken care of all details, and try to see if they can be helped to overcome such oversights?
Did 27 people need to spend two hours out at H&8th? Or could one person have helped guide these event organizers toward either canceling and delaying the party or addressing fundamental problems in time to let plans proceed?
This was an in-depth effort. Reality dictates not everything will make it into print. First, a couple of items that got cut from the print story:
- City Manager Jim Couch, who attended the market, said he was unaware of the raid when it started, but did notice high-point beer was being sold from the COOP trailer and a lack of trash cans. He also wondered why the operator of Hugo’s was cooking fajitas without any refrigerator visible.
“My impression as ‘hmmm… maybe we should have had more planning on this,’” Couch said. “But I’m not saying we should use Gestapo type tactics. I feel bad for those guys. I was looking for a fun night.”
- Dr. Gary Cox, director of the Oklahoma City/County Health Department, said his agency is using the controversy as a means to see whether improvements can be made in responding to special events and educating food truck operators. “We’re looking at changes as a result of this incident,” Cox said. “We’re reliant on education. We’re not heavy-handed enforcers. One thing we want all these mobile vendors to do is get together and show them all the regulations and work on creating a better situation for the future.”
TIMELINE OF THE CONTROVERSY:
With so much in dispute about the raid of the H&8th outdoor food market Friday night, all involved sides agreed they read a story previewing the event earlier that day in The Oklahoman.
Officials with ABLE, the Oklahoma City/County Health Department, and Oklahoma City inspectors all verified Monday they weren’t aware of the event until after they read the story.
Organizers Laura Massenat, Jonathan Stranger and J.D. Merryweather say they started planning the event in July. Stranger visited with the ABLE Commission on Wednesday and believed he had obtained all required permits and was cleared to sell alcohol at the event.
Operators of the Big Truck Taco and Munchbox food trucks both said they applied for required permits and also believed they had cleared all hurdles (efforts to reach operators of the Hugo’s food stand were unsuccessful on Monday).
Massenat said her staff reviewed required permits by both Big Truck and the Munchbox, but not Hugo’s, before the event starting at 8 p.m. Friday.
That day Massenat learned she was rejected for one permit required for outdoor events. She chose to proceed with the event despite lacking the permit.
Records show city inspectors began voicing concerns about the market at 9 a.m. after seeing the newspaper story. Sometime that day, inspectors with the health department saw the story and agreed to add the market to their previously-planned sweep of food trucks in south Oklahoma City.
Agents with the ABLE Commission also decided to inspect the market and Ludivine after seeing the story. Neither the ABLE Commission, health department or city inspectors notified H&8th organizers about their concerns.
ABLE agents arrive with police shortly after the event starts at 8 p.m. Health department inspectors arrive with city inspectors about 8:20 p.m.
Tommy Hand, director of mobile events at Big Truck Tacos, is told by city inspectors that he bought the wrong mobile food truck permit from the city. Shane Mutz, owner of the Munchbox, is told by the fire inspector he is not allowed to use an extension cord to power his vehicle. Mutz reports when he unplugs the cord, he asks if he can retrieve his power generator but is told by health inspectors his vehicle lacks functioning electricity and refrigeration.
Health inspectors report Hugo’s is shut down for lacking screening for his trailer.
ABLE agents move on to nearby Ludivine and cite it for having a box of wine stored outside the restaurant’s hallway. They also discover the bartender’s license had expired four days earlier — a license the bartender promptly renews.
By 9 p.m. the raid is complete and the market is shut down.
I’m working on a follow-up for Tuesday’s paper, but I’d like to get the following responses out now from Oklahoma City/County Health Department and ABLE.
First, OCCHD says they had the large contingent of inspectors because they were on their way to doing sweeps in south OKC. As to why so many had to surround the trucks, I’m told most of the inspectors were “on hold” but were not involved in the action.
As for ABLE, they correctly point out that while I detailed involvement by COOP Ale and Ludivine in the story Friday, I did not get such detail into the story on the raid.
So here’s a comment from ABLE:
“Based on our discussions with ABLE agents who were present on Friday evening, three ABLE agents were conducting a joint operation with the OKC Police Department and the OKC Fire Marshal involving a mixed beverage licensee, Ludivine, and a beer brewer, Coop Ale Works, who were selling or serving alcoholic beverages in the same area. Despite suggestions to the contrary, the ABLE Commission was not involved in shutting down food vendors or any other activity unrelated to alcoholic beverages. After reading Saturday’s article in the Daily Oklahoman, some readers may have been left with a contrary impression, since neither Ludivine, Coop Ale Works, nor alcoholic beverages were mentioned in Saturday’s article.
The ABLE Commission routinely performs joint enforcement efforts with local police departments and fire marshals in an effort to ensure compliance with public safety laws, but we generally do not regulate activities or events unless alcoholic beverages are involved. While a small minority of Oklahomans would prefer abolishing our state’s liquor laws in their entirety, most Oklahoma families recognize the value of these law enforcement efforts, especially when it comes to reducing youth access and drunk driving fatalities.”
From: XXXXXXXXXX [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Saturday, August 27, 2011 10:05 AM
To: Steve Lackmeyer
Subject: Innaugural Food Event on Friday Night
Just to be accurate there were also many issues involving food safety with the taco trucks. One truck had no electrical power hence no way to keep any of its food refrigerated. The second truck lacked proper refrigeration and food was being held at temperatures which would quickly contribute to a foodborne illness. Licenses and electrical problem surely were problems, but the more serious problem was the lack of proper food safety by the coordinator of the event and the people operating the food outlets. The event coordinator never contacted the Oklahoma City Licensing division, ABLE Commission or the health department to see what was needed to sponsor such an event. While I sympathize with the people who showed up for a festival, I believe the event should be done in a responsible manner that does not endanger the health of the people who consume food at the event.
Senior Environmental Specialist
and a member of one of the teams that asked one of the taco wagons to exit and return to their restaurant
I’m getting conflicting information on this matter. The organizers say the trucks did provide copies of their licenses and that they did talk to the licensing division and were told they had taken proper steps.
What puzzles me is how you guys decided a raid at night, instead of a phone call on Friday morning, was the more appropriate action on this matter. Mr. Bailey said your team were acting in response to my story. The phone numbers to Elemental Coffee, J.D. Merryweather at Coop Ale and Jonathan Stranger at Ludivine are all listed in the phone book.
Is this not an attempt at theatrics over a more mature but less dramatic alternative of making a phone call instead? The fact that Mr. Bailey indicated that The Oklahoman was invited to accompany this virtual strike force makes me question further the conduct of this action. (NOTE: This invite was news to me; no such reporter or photographer was present other than me, and I showed up not knowing this was happening).
- Steve Lackmeyer
… begins Monday.
The following email has been sent to the City of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City/County Health Department:
Under Section 2.a of the Oklahoma Open Records Act, I am requesting to review all emails, documents and correspondence in the custody of the City/County Health Department, the city’s code enforcement office and any other city entities involved in inspections conducted the evening of August 26, 2011 regarding the following:
- The opening of a nighttime food market at Elemental Coffee.
- The decision to conduct inspection of outdoor and/or food truck establishments on the evening of August 26, 2011;
- Coordination of activities with representatives of the ABLE Commission and any other governmental entities.
- Inspections conducted August 26, 2011 and August 27, 2011. I am requesting to review any reports, citations or other documents generated from the inspections on the dates just listed.
- I am requesting to review overtime pay for said inspections.
- I am requesting to review the list of employees involved in the inspections.
- I am requesting to review the list of places inspected.
I want to see these records on Monday, as the law requires that records be available for inspection during regular business hours. If you have any questions about this request, please contact me at 740-4139.
- Steve Lackmeyer
The Hotel Marion at NW 10 and Broadway is probably familiar to most OKC Central regulars. It’s a heart breaker of a building that passed through several owners before landing with the MidTown Renaissance group a few years ago. Give Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming credit, they’ve shown their dedication toward renovating and properly restoring their older buildings, but the Marion is the one building that eludes even bravest of souls in the development world.
Downtown Brainstorming is just that – using the collective experience, observations and imagination of OKC Central readers to help solve problems such as the Marion. It will be done when the key decision makers indicate they welcome such input, and in this case, we have the go-ahead from Mr. Howard himself.
Before getting into the complications surrounding the Marion, let’s revisit some stories about the hotel’s history that help show why it deserves a new shot at life.
The hotel was built in 1908, making it, I believe the oldest surviving structure downtown after the razing of India Temple last year. In 2006, after the building was bought by MidTown Renaissance, I heard from one of the descendants of the hotel’s original owners. J. Malcolm Haney’s grandmother, Bess L. Haney, operated the hotel from 1946 to 1971.
Malcolm correctly recalled the hotel’s east facade for years had a sign that boasted it was “The Nicest Small Hotel You’ll Find.”
“This place has a very special place in our family’s past,” Haney told me. “Our safe haven was staying at the Marion with Bessie in room 110, which had two single beds … Many of Bessie’s rooms were occupied by permanent residents, including three terrific small apartments in the basement. It was the last place many army recruits stayed before they shipped off to boot camp because the U.S. Army recruiting center was across the street.”
Haney’s cousin Bob Villareal recalled the hotel’s telephone booth had a ventilation fan that turned on upon entry.
“You could put your finger in the fan without injury,”
Villareal said. Villareal still remembers the hotel’s corner room, home to an old radio and his grandmother’s parakeet. Photographs from Bess Haney’s lifetime were displayed throughout the hotel.
“I’ll never forget the smells in that old place,” Villareal said. “There was a certain aura about the hotel that’s hard to put in words, but it always felt peaceful and happy. Of course, it was never the same without Bessie. She was the heart of the Marion.”
More recently, my worthy competitor Brianna Bailey at the Journal Record shared even more about the hotel’s history. She shared how the Marion was next to an Army recruiting station, and the Haneys saw countless young servicemen from across the state off to the Vietnam and Korean wars over the years.
Malcolm Haney told Brianna about how the hotel’s old-fashioned soda pop machine that would dispense soft drinks in glass bottles for 10 cents.
“Bessie had an old-fashioned telephone switchboard and would patch people through to the rooms,” Malcolm Haney said. “It was a warm family place and Bessie was the matriarch of the family.”
So what went wrong?
Haney told Bailey that time was the enemy with downtown descending into decline in the 1970s. Chain hotels drew customers away from the Marion.
“Bessie fought the battle of any small hotel operator against the large chain hotels and she fought the downfall of downtown of ’60s and ’70s,” Malcolm Haney told Bailey. Bess Haney’s five children asked their then-elderly mother to retire from the Marion in the 1970s, and she died in 1984 at the age of 95.
So we have a nice historical, architectural gem with a warm and fuzzy history to make us all go “awwwwwwwwww.” With that done, let’s get the harsh slap of reality started.
The building is a mess. The interior consists of rotting wood. The roof is barely there. As I pointed out on this blog a few months ago, the dreadful appearance of jigsaw cracks has emerged along the building’s corners.
Here’s the good news: Bob Howard KNOWS he’s going to lose money with this building. He is no fool. And as Rep. David Dank pushes to eliminate historic tax credits, understand it’s buildings like this that become impossible to save without such assistance. Tax credits saved the Skirvin hotel. Tax credits saved the Gold Dome. Tax credits saved the Sieber.
But tax credits won’t save the Marion. It’s just not enough. Howard says he’s prepared to make this his contribution to the community. He appreciates the history and architecture of the Marion. And if money were the only concern here (understand, however, Howard isn’t going to bankrupt himself on this either), then I doubt the Marion would be our first Downtown Brainstorming candidate.
Talking to Howard and his partner Fleming, it’s clear that one risks killing the Marion if one is to save it.
The interior must be gutted. That means that support beams must be put in to prop up the facade walls much as Marva Ellard did with the old grocery building section of the Sieber. But the Marion is a very tight spot, locked in by properties with different owners.
It is surrounded by occupied buildings, and the parking is heavily used by the law firm to the west. The street, NW 10, is a major corridor that would be a nightmare to shut down, if city folks were willing to even entertain such a move. And even if the Marion had some working space around it, the engineering on this is a puzzle.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the readers make OKC Central special. The conversations are a step above what’s found elsewhere on the ‘net, including the comment sections on NewsOK. I’m proud of that, far more than anything else I’ve accomplished with this site. You’ve been around the world. You’ve followed urban design closely. You’re argumentative, but respectfully so. You bring new ideas. You love downtown Oklahoma City. You’re proud of what’s been done. You’re not satisfied that enough has been done. You’re always pushing for it to be better. And you want to solve downtown’s biggest problems.
Here’s your chance. Are there landmarks elsewhere in the world that have had similar challenges? How were they overcome? What can be done to make the Marion a feasible renovation?
Wayne Coyne’s compound in Classen-10-Penn gets featured in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/ma…ml?_r=1&src=tp
Charles Hill at Dustbury shares his thoughts about Stage Center: http://www.dustbury.com/vent/vent738.html
Sorry about letting the blog go quiet. I caught a nasty chest cold and it was all I could do to produce the stories I did this week on ACM, the new parking meters and Stage Center.
I’ve been thinking about taking this site in a new direction. I won’t abandon the sort of posting I’ve been doing – but I want to do something more with it. OKC Central is blessed with a great readership – one consisting of “regular” folks throughout the metro interested in downtown, and some of the city’s top civic leaders.
This sort of mix allows for an incredible exchange of ideas, as seen already over the past few years. But what if OKC Central readers could actually turn their ideas into reality? Far fetched? Don’t be so sure. I’ll be starting up a series of posts this week – “Downtown Brainstorming” – that will solicit ideas for problems, challenges in which decision makers are inviting readers of this site to help address.
I don’t know if this series will last long, or how it will work. But it’s an experiment I’d like to tinker with. Speaking of experiments, I’ll be making some calls this week on a downtown housing discussion mentioned on this site a few weeks back.
For now, enjoy these new views of a changing downtown Oklahoma City: