With today’s story on the potential closing of Johnny’s Lunch Box at Sheridan and Walker, questions are renewed about the intentions of the property’s owner, Nick Preftakes. Last night discussion of this story led to an unfortunate exchange via Twitter about “hearing rumors.” So let’s delve into all this. For the past few years Preftakes has been buying up the block bordered by Main Street, Hudson, Sheridan and Walker Avenues and for the most part letting them stay empty (everything he’s bought on Main Street) or running on auto-pilot (like One North Hudson, historically known as the Black Hotel).
Nick is a businessman. He’s not sentimental. He’s respected for knowing the difference between buying “retail” and “wholesale.” Usually Nick always buys “wholesale” – meaning he’s no fool in the real estate game. But when it came to buying out much of this block, truth be told, he’s definitely paid some retail prices. So when he first began his buying spree, which occurred at a time when Devon Energy’s plans for a headquarters across the street was not a secret, his explanation that he was buying the land as “an investment” was laughable. It was also a curious matter that Preftakes was seemingly quite able to sit on $14 million or more for four years and counting.
But he wasn’t able to buy everything on the block. The city owns, and fully occupies, the largest building on the block, 420 W Main. He also has yet to buy nearby Pizza Town or Coney Island Hot Dogs. And most elusive of all was the Union Bus Station. As I’ve noted previously, it was also odd that when Preftakes bought the Auto Hotel at 17 N Hudson, he ended a contract with Republic Parking and closed it down. He said he wasn’t in the parking business. That response came off as odd to those who know Preftakes as a man who is in the business to make money (he later reopened the garage when Devon shut down the City Center West Garage as part of an expansion, creating a shortage of parking for the area).
It was at an October, 2009 meeting of the Downtown Urban Design meeting where Preftakes sought to demolish a rather unremarkable building at 419 W Sheridan, next to the Lunch Box, that he fessed up – a bit. Preftakes confirmed for the first time he is preparing to redevelop the block and that he wanted to acquire the Union Bus Station before taking that next step. Then, a few months ago, owners of the bus station announced they were shutting down operations and yes, the property might be sold. So far, however, so sale has been recorded at the county.
Preftakes has repeatedly declined to say whether Devon Energy has any involvement in his development plans (note I also made no headway in getting a clear answer on this matter from Devon Energy Executive Chairman Larry Nichols). Also note that during that urban design meeting in 2009 Preftakes was accompanied by a Devon attorney. When asked about why she attended, the attorney responded she was there as an interested neighbor. I’ve reported most of this in the past, but it’s important to put all of this into perspective.
Now let’s consider yet another detail – the new Devon Energy wellness center on the second floor of the company’s new and expanded garage that overlooks Main Street. The wellness center is designed so that dozens of employees exercising on treadmills, stair-stepping machines and stationary bicycles are doing so looking out onto the mostly vacant, haggard-looking buildings along Main Street now owned by Preftakes. So ask yourselves – would Devon really design this sort of view (a wide expanse of windows no less) without having any control over the surrounding area or at least an idea that the view would soon change?
Also consider just how much the Myriad Gardens make-over has improved the immediate area, and how a new downtown elementary will be built across from the Union Bus Station.
Are we getting a picture yet? Nick has done some impressive mixed-use development both locally and elsewhere. He knows how to do adaptive re-use of old buildings. He also knows how to tear down a building and replace it with offices, housing or retail. He knows how to do urban development. So when you hear about “rumors” concerning Nick Preftakes and this block, with everything I’ve shared, at this point a picture must emerge ….
I don’t deal in rumors. I deal with what I know, and I’m only going to share what I know. And now I’ve done just that….
News from Kaisers:
On October 22, 2011 Kaiser’s American Bistro will be hosting its first annual Sock Hop in celebration of the one year anniversary of an Oklahoma landmark.
In October 2010, Kaiser’s resumed operations under restaurant owners Shaun Fiaccone and Kim Dansereau. The two have made the preservation of the history of Kaiser’s a top priority in their business.
Kaiser’s was founded in 1910 on 7th and Hudson. Construction began at its current location on 10th and Walker in 1917 and finished 1918. The building as it is known today was completed in 1928.
Saturday’s Sock Hop will include live music from thespyfm’s Juke Joint Jenni, Elvis impersonator Brian Dunning, a classic car show, and prizes sponsored by COOP Ale Works, The Lost Ogle, and thespyfm. The event is from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. and is 21 and up to enter.
“Kaisers is an integral component of Oklahoma City,” said Shawn Fiaccone, owner. “It represents our collective heritage–who we were then, who we are now and who we will be in the years to come. The building represents our enduring spirit as well as our commitment to the strong core values of servitude. Kaisers is and will continue to be a place for our residents to converge, eat, drink and enjoy.”
Let’s start off by breaking some hearts – Nordstrum’s isn’t coming to Bricktown. It probably won’t go to Core to Shore or anywhere else downtown. It’s a fantasy, one that some folks won’t let go. And no, there won’t be a mall built downtown. And the prospects for a life-style center aren’t great either (a few years back someone with Simon Malls suggested a scenario where one could be built in Core to Shore, but 2007 is now history – ancient history).
But retail can prosper downtown. It needs to prosper downtown as part of an ongoing journey into the future.
For the past two weeks I’ve struggled with a very hoarse throat, and today, I was back to being virtually speechless. But work beckoned, so I turned to email to get some interviews done for my story on the Bricktown strategic plan. One such correspondence provides an opportunity to provide you with the full context of my conversation with Chad Huntington, a veteran Bricktown observer who co-owns the Bricktown Marketplace and Red Dirt Emporium:
Question: The study indicates that bankers are less interested in backing bars and restaurants in Bricktown, and are more interested in retail and housing. Visitor marketing studies show retail also is a key factor for long term viability of an urban entertainment district. What obstacles have you faced in operating retail in Bricktown, and why aren’t more people following your lead?
Chad: Most of the challenges we have had is due to a real and/or perceived lack of retail density, and also a lack of awareness that significant retail even exists in Bricktown. We actually have worked to create our own retail density by opening the Bricktown Marketplace in 2010. It is now the largest locally-owned retail floorplate in all of downtown, at roughly 6,000 square feet. Something we tried to do different, though, was carve the space up into manageable pieces, allowing smaller, independent retailers to rent space. I believe that a major obstacle to retail in Bricktown – apparently unaddressed in the study – has been a lack of smaller retail spaces in Bricktown. Local, mom-and-pop style shopkeepers generally can’t say grace over 4,500 feet, 6,000 feet, 10,000 feet, yet often those were the only choices, as I think building owners have been hesitant to carve out 500 or 1200 feet for a small retailer, potentially eliminating an opportunity down the road to lease or develop a large contiguous floorplate. That is why we felt it was important to provide smaller, more manageable spaces, and even to essentially provide staffing services by centralizing the checkout.
Another challenge has been in finding the right product mix. The study mentions the importance of better understanding the market, and I believe that is key. Our first operation (Oklahoma’s Red Dirt Emporium) came about because for years we heard Water Taxi passengers asking for shopping that was authentically Oklahoman. We might not have never considered that product mix, or even a store itself, if we had not listened to what the market was asking for. This has also proven to be the case in the marketplace. Vendors who are constantly adapting their product mix to what customers already in the district are asking for thrive; those who do not don’t thrive. Bricktown has some natural advantage in already having a large number of customers. The trick is to figure out what they are interested in buying.
Question: Tell me about the addition of Signature Books and why you see that as an important addition to the marketplace.
Chad: Books of course are a great impulse item. Many of our customers are visitors, convention-goers, business travelers, and spouses of the same. We’ve been asked in the past if there is a good bookstore downtown, and unfortunately we’ve not had a place to send people. There are also quite a few locals who pop in at lunch, or after dinner or events, and lots of people love to hunt through a trove of great old books. We are thrilled to have a longstanding book dealer like Wayne take an interest in the marketplace, and think it will be beneficial to our mix, to his business, and to the locals and visitors who come into the store.
Question: How will the addition of Guestroom Records at the ACM add to the retail efforts along the canal?
Chad: It’s a natural with the proximity of ACM. You have students who are working on their own musical foundations, and they will now have a great place to discover new and old music that will influence them in their career. But beyond that, I think many travelers look for great record stores when they are visiting a city, especially in an urban area. When I visited New York City last year, one of the highlights of the trip was spending a considerable amount of time in Bleecker Street Records in the West Village. Guest Room is exactly that kind of record store, and I think it’s a brilliant stroke of luck for everyone concerned that they will be here soon.
I’ve covered Bricktown for almost 20 years, and regardless of what’s underway, one common theme remains the same: residents are not content with the amount of progress to date.
Wednesday’s paper includes an intriguing look at some harsh truths about Bricktown, and what might be done to move forward.
It starts off with some great news – Guest Room Records is going to open a music store in the Oklahoma Hardware Building in conjunction with ACM@UCO. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
But the story also comes with photos of a deserted Bricktown Canal – photos taken Tuesday afternoon. Something still isn’t quite right.
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of pride out there. The first truly celebratory moment for MAPS was the opening of the Bricktown ballpark. That pride felt in April, 1988, was magnified several times over when the canal opened one year later. But the glass has always seemed half full or half empty.
Let’s just consider Reno Avenue. This corridor passes the Myriad Gardens, Chesapeake Arena and Cox Convention Center before crossing into Bricktown. And what is one of the first views offered to our visitors as they pass under the gateway into Bricktown on Reno? It’s a boarded-up Rock Island Plow building.
Properties like the Rock Island Plow Building, 29 E Reno, are seen as reminders that the district has yet to arrive. To the north is the Bricktown Canal, which is lined up with shops, restaurants and offices. To the east is the ballpark. And to the south is Lower Bricktown, anchored with a hotel, bowling alley, restaurants, theaters, shops, condos and offices. The property is owned by Phil and Avis Scaramucci, who have set a great example in developing their other property in Bricktown – Nonna’s and the Painted Door. And to be fair, the couple and their investors spent a lot of money making emergency repairs to ensure the Rock Island Plow building didn’t collapse from years of neglect. But the building’s boarded up windows still serve as a reminder something isn’t quite right.
Fortunately, we’ve seen a lot of the other empty eyesores in Bricktown renovated and brought back to life in the past few years, most notably the Red Ball bought by Harding & Shelton (including the home of Zio’s along the canal).
Yes, the glass is half empty. Yes, the glass is half full. But after residents have invested more than $300 million into the immediate area (including the arena), why is Bricktown still not an unqualified success story?
The city could have hired a consultant to figure this out. In fact, I think a consultant was hired early on, but was quietly cut off when their work turned out to be rather unremarkable. I’m not a bit fan of consultants. More often than not they seem to fall short on calling a spade a spade, and offer up what is often just a rehash of prior work.
I urge you to read the report. Presented by city planner A.J. Kirkpatrick and assembled in conjunction with the Bricktown Association and Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., it is among the best, most honest looks at our our urban core in the 15 years I’ve covered all this (only to be topped by the Jeff Speck report on walkability).
You’ve read the story. So let’s get down to what it says (with my translation):
- Too many property owners don’t know what they’re doing
- The city screwed up when it turned Reno into a virtual highway separating Bricktown and Lower Bricktown
- The city made it too easy for property owners to cop out and create cheap parking lots
- The city made it too easy for property owners to cop out and go for flame-out bar leases
- The city is virtually hiding the canal
- The city has done little to link up Deep Deuce with Bricktown
Fixes are available for all these mistakes. And some of the solutions wouldn’t be very expensive. But is the leadership in place to make the right changes? And can a new generation of owners overcome the mistakes of their predecessors?
From the Banjo Museum:
The Original Wildcat Jass Band will be performing in concert at the American Banjo Museum Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 6:30 pm. From Tuscan, Arizona this world-renown band is comprised of six outstanding jazz musicians performing (www.wildcatjass.com) traditional New Orleans and Chicago jazz in a style that is both true to its roots and entertaining as well. Seating for this event is limited. Tickets – which include a pizza/salad buffet and soft drinks – are just $20 in advance and are available by calling the American Banjo Museum at 405.604.2793.
Attendees will also have the opportunity to enjoy the American Banjo Museum and its $3.5 million collection of instruments celebrating the rich history of America’s instrument – the banjo. With more than 300 instruments, the museum contains the largest collection of banjos on public display and the only facility in the world dedicated America’s native musical instrument. Examples include replicas of primitive banjos developed by African slaves in the Old South, Minstrel Age instruments from 19th century, and post WWII instruments used in bluegrass, folk and world music. The museum’s core collection of instruments are the ornately decorated banjos made in America during the Jazz Age of the 1920’s and 30s. As entertainment of the 20s and 30s was a flamboyant “in person” experience, the banjos from this era were very decorative and ornate, with exotic woods, inlays of ivory and mother-of-pearl, jewels, as well as hand carving and painting, which makes each banjo a work of art in itself.
The American Banjo Museum is located in Bricktown at 9 East Sheridan, Oklahoma City. For more information and to purchase tickets contact the museum at 405.604.2793 or visit: www.americanbanjomuseum.com
A couple weeks back I wrote about some interesting design twists being taken as part of the MidTown Renaissance development being led by Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming. I was especially taken by plans to create this public courtyard space in the alleyway between the Guardian Garage building (which is set to be converted to retail and housing) and the Packard Building (which is to be converted to retail and offices).
It’s an amazing transformation taking place, considering that for years the building at NW 10 and Robinson, being rechristened by its historic name of Packard Building, looked like this:
Over the years I’ve tried to find photos showing what the Packard Building looked like over the years, but with little success. Go figure I’d find a treasure trove of photos looking for images of the old First Christian Church across the street (of which I again had little success).
MESSAGE FROM Urban Land Institute
Please join us on October 12th as we discuss Moving Toward A Walking/Bike Friendly City.
Randy Entz, Transportation Planner for the Oklahoma City’s Planning Department, will be presenting a piece on sidewalks & trails resulting from MAPS 3 & the recent Bond Issue.
Randy has worked in several areas of planning, but became focused on transportation while he worked for the Association of Central Oklahoma
Governments. Since joining the City of Oklahoma City in 2008, Randy has worked on transportation projects including the implementation of the City’s Bicycle Transportation Plan, the Functional Classification Plan, and Project 180.
Jennifer Gooden, Director of the City’s Sustainability Office, will present the bike share program. The City plans to launch a pilot program in the Spring of 2012. The program will include approximately 100 bicycles.
John Sharp, Program Coordinator with ACOG, will be presenting the 2035 Regional Trail Plan for the region of Oklahoma City.
Pete Kramer, a cycling advocate, served on the Oklahoma Bicycling Coalition Board and is an active member of the League of American Bicyclists. Pete will present issues relating to Project 180 & bike safety.
Immediately upon the conclusion of the program please join other cycling enthusiasts for a ride thru downtown Oklahoma City. If you are interested and need a bike please register by emailing Betsy Brunsteter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Date: Wed., Oct. 12th
Location: Oklahoma City Community Foundation
Cost: $10 for ULI members & guests of ULI Oklahoma
I am not a Flaming Lips groupie. But I will readily admit that by and large, I like their music. The songs I like best put me in a good mood – and that, in my mind, is a good thing. And then there is the lead singer, Wayne Coyne, who may be a bit unusual at times, but he absolutely loves his hometown. And he’s been a true urban pioneer, not just sticking it out in Classen-10-Penn, but he’s brought life and vitality to it and helped in the revival of the nearby 16th Street Plaza District.
And then there are moments like this that really make me smile:
Now, what do we know about this photo? We know that it was taken outside the Skirvin tonight by local attorney Josh Welch, a buddy of Coyne. In posting the photo, Welch said it was taken while they were on their way to the WWE wrestling at the Chesapeake Arena.
Richard Dreyfuss is one of my favorite actors, going back to American Graffiti. I was one of 10 people who watched his television show, “The Education of Max Bickford” (a really good show about Dreyfuss as a college professor). So to have this photo… I begin to dream up favorite scenarios. I picture Dreyfuss and Coyne walking across the street and giving a ’60-style pep talk to the Occupy OKC crowd at Kerr Park. Or I imagine a “Dinner for Five” style chat in which the pair share stories about their craft. Or they simply walk over to the arena together, buy a couple of COOP Ales and watch the wrestlers go nuts in the ring.
UPDATE: I am informed via Twitter by Liz Welch that Dreyfuss did indeed go to the WWE with her husband, kids and Coyne. I’m a happy guy.
I don’t really want to hear what really happened. Reality is far to drab these days. Let me have my dreams …
YET ANOTHER UPDATE: Now we know why Dreyfuss was in town.
Yeah, I’m going totally stray from this blog’s purpose (something regulars are quite accustomed to anyway) and join the millions sharing their thoughts on Steve Jobs.
I was at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art when the alert of Jobs’ death appeared on my phone. I was sitting in a crowd, listening to a brilliant architect, Jon Pickard, share the inspiration for his design of Devon Energy Center. I was marveling at the incredible changes I’ve been blessed to witness over 20 years. And there it was – the end of an era with Steve Jobs.
My first connection to Apple was back in high school, when my parents bought me my first computer – an Apple IIc. It was wonderful – word processing, a spread sheet program and plenty of cool games. Twenty-five years later I see his iPad as the last, best hope for journalism in the future to not just survive, but thrive.
I could go on and on about Jobs’ extensive patents. He was our generation’s Thomas Edison. And in his 2005 speech at Stanford, he leaves us inspiration for moving forward, especially in this difficult time we’re in today. It’s ok to be creative. It’s good to be creative. It’s good to actually love what you for a living. Yeah, there maybe some narrow minded folks in management who don’t subscribe to such ideas, who feel threatened if they have underlings who aren’t tied to a desk all day obsessed with following company policy. Jobs inspires us to break free of such shackles – even if it results in getting fired (an experience he dealt with personally at age 30).
It’s a tug-of-war that will continue forever.
“Stay hungry, stay foolish.” It doesn’t get any simpler than that.
RIP Steve Jobs.
Think about it. That’s what I do. I tell people’s stories. Sometimes they are happy stories, tales of hope, recollections of times past. Sometimes the stories are not so happy.
And sometimes the people whose stories I tell are … people.
They are people like Robert Pemberton, a man who has a great family legacy with Crescent Market. A legacy that isn’t diminished by the store’s closing. But he’s a person under great strain. His mother is ailing. He’s facing the inevitable onslaught of newer, hipper, better funded corporate groceries coming in from all directions – Whole Foods to the south, Sunflower Market to the west, and a revamped Homeland to the north.
His days as a grocer, at least in Nichols Hills Plaza, were numbered. But he wasn’t ready to tell his story. And when he learned that Linda Cavanaugh at KFOR was going to tell that story, with or without him, he panicked.
And when I called him, he denied everything. Even though the truth was apparent to everybody.
So what was I to do? I had a denial I knew wasn’t going to hold. And to put that denial out in print would be to question the work of a journalist I respect. Someone who did her homework. Someone who got the story right.
And so I did the post you read last week. It was a compromise, really. It was a way for me to tell you that yes, I was aware of this story. Yes, I had checked into it. This was his response. But I wasn’t telling you that Linda Cavanaugh got the story wrong.
I knew she got it right.
Every journalist has their own way, their own method of telling these stories. And we face times when we’re conflicted; do we go ahead and get the story first, regardless of whether someone like Pemberton is ready to share that story? I’ve done that from time to time. That’s what Cavanaugh did last week – and it was a totally legit move on her part.
Then there are times when you decide to hold – even when you know you’re going to be legitimately scooped. My gut told me I could get a better grasp of this story – and give more context – if I worked with Pemberton, gave him time to come to terms with what is, essentially, a death of a loved one (the store).
If you go to www.newsok.com/stevelackmeyer you can read those stories now – or catch the morning paper and take it all in, photos and all, and plan what might be your first, and last, visit to Crescent Market.