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?