It’s been an … odd week. It’s been a long week. Not all is well at City Hall. Not all is well with Project 180. Worked much of the week with a bad cold. Then there was the devastating news of Pulitzer Prize winner and loyal Oklahoma City hometown boy Anthony Shadid dying in Syria. Yet there’s much to celebrate. Much that is going well. Oklahoma City is, in many ways, blessed.
So what do we need to look forward to next week?
We now know that the mysterious operators of “Exhale,” the restaurant? club? bar? planned for NW 15 and Broadway have withdrawn their application for ABC (alcohol zoning) at next week’s Planning Commission. Is the development dead? Don’t know, but wouldn’t assume anything.
Another building is threatened. Apparently the successful transformation of funky old buildings along NW 23 by the Good Egg Group and the “taco twins” isn’t enough to convince the owner of the old Hemi’s Pizza at 1007 NW 23 to fix the place up and lease it again. The Urban Design Committee is being asked by the owner, Monireh Mohamadi, for permission to raze the building with no plans for putting anything in its place.
The building has been empty for a few years, and a lack of TLC has left it a bit too obscured for anyone to appreciate what’s behind the overgrown trees, brush and debris. But assistant planner Paul Ryckbost did some research and determined there’s definitely a building worth saving. He’s recommending the demolition be denied. Paul asked my help in finding a historic photo of the property. I search Oklahoman archives, Retro Metro OKC archives, but found nothing. I know that Paul did extensive research as well. And it was that research, which turned up that this property was first opened in 1958 as the home of Richard Lee Portrait Studio, that allowed me to find out how the building originally appeared when it opened:
The owner, for those of you who might be wondering about this sort of thing, lives in a $1.6 million mansion in Nichols Hills.
Gotta wonder…. can we get a competition going between Keith and the taco twins to make this their next great eatery on NW 23? When this owner or his representatives show up at the Urban Design meeting (3 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall) and argue there is no hope for this property, no one wants to lease it, will anyone show up and show otherwise?
Designer David Ledbetter either misspoke at today’s Board of Adjustment, has a reading comprehension challenge, or has an interesting perspective on truth telling.
Ledbetter, to refresh memories, is the only name we have attached to the mysterious “Exhale” restaurant/bar being attempted at NW 15 and Broadway on the eastern edge of Heritage Hills.
When I first posted on this development, it was simply to note that it was going on without much notice and that it had passed through the Board of Adjustment without any comments from neighbors.
I never once in my post indicated that it would be a nightclub, hip-hop club or strip club (or for that matter a Rave club, Heavy Metal venue or a Drag Show club). These were questions and worries raised by readers as they looked at the posted interior designs and pondered the name on the application, “Exhale.” Read the previous post here.
I reached Ledbetter, asked if he could get me in touch with the operators. He declined, but agreed to show me the exterior designs and went on to tell me it was going to be restaurant and country-western performance venue. He also went on to say “Exhale” was not going to be the name, it was just the name of the newly formed LLC and it was a spur of the moment naming chosen by the owner to describe their sense of relief of moving forward. I reported back with Ledbetter’s information. But the questions and debate continued. Then a person identifying themselves as the manager of “Exhale” accused me of “stirring up” the neighborhood and said they would be contacting me. I invited them to do just that. No contact followed.
Then we find out that the operators did not send the legally required notices to neighbors for the Board of Adjustment meeting. The item was back on the docket today, and despite a request by Ledbetter to continue the action, the board rescinded its previous vote and reheard the application.
When asked why neighbors thought it might be a nightclub, Ledbetter had this to say:
“The writer for The Oklahoman blog, on his post, he basically said it was going to be nightclub, and he further insinuated it was going to be a hip-hop club.”
Folks, read the previous posts for yourselves. Here and here. I did no such thing.
The Board of Adjustment vetoed the application for a variance on parking. But this deal doesn’t appear to be over yet. If by keeping readers informed of what’s going on in their neighborhoods is the definition of me “stirring up” residents, heck yeah, I’m guilty. I plead very, very guilty and I plan to commit this crime many, many more times for as long as I can.
Mr. Ledbetter, you’ve been in this business for a long time. I’m curious as to how the neighbors were not given legal notice on this project. I’m curious as to why, if this is such a wonderful, fine dining establishment in the works, that the operators won’t come out and talk to the neighbors, identify themselves and detail their business plan.
Next step: Exhale folks plan to apply for alcohol and beverage zoning at the Planning Commission on Feb. 23.. Ledbetter continues to insist this will be a restaurant, and not a nightclub. This story has not occupied much of time to date and has taken a back seat to other developments in the news. But with his misstatement at today’s meeting, Mr. Ledbetter has my full attention.
For the record, the neighbors who showed up at today’s Board of Adjustment pointed out the reason they think this is going to be a nightclub is because it has a large dance floor and performance stage with “snack bar” seating often found at strip clubs. It also has two bar areas.
See the plans below:
Looks like my first reactions to the new agenda for the Downtown Design Review Committee match those being asked at OKC Talk. Exactly how is it that city staff can administratively approve replacing brick, as originally voted by the Downtown Design Review Committee, with EIFS Stucco? And what’s up with the windows?
6. DTCA-11-00092, at 250 N Robinson Ave (DBD), by Pierre Derenoncourt for Midland Center LP for revision to original Certificate of Approval to install EIFS in place of originally approved brick veneer on upper levels of the east elevation; and modify the proposed work to reflect only floors 13 to 18 at east elevation.
7. DTCA-11-00092, at 250 N Robinson Ave (DBD), by Pierre Derenoncourt for Midland Center LP, for second revision to original Certificate of Approval to delete previously approved window systems in upper levels of east elevation; install metal panel systems in lieu of windows in same configuration and location at rear elevation.
In other business, as expected by critics of the Civic Center park redesign, the Planning Department is now recommending approval…
Apparently there are some people being left with the impression that I somehow provided “misinformation” about the two-way conversion of Walker Avenue. Let’s be perfectly clear on this: I correctly quoted Public Works Director Eric Wenger in reporting that the city had money for traffic controllers, but not traffic lights, to complete the two-way conversion of Walker and Hudson Avenues. When I raised the question of the traffic lights removed from other streets as part of Project 180 and why they couldn’t be re-used, I was then told by Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers that yes, this was possible. But a delay was again cited in the interest of doing studies to determine how how the conversion might proceed with existing property egress along the two streets. When I then noted that such studies were supposedly ordered by the city council in 1999, the message went out that the idea Walker Avenue was not scheduled to be converted to two-way traffice was “misinformation.” I’ve now seen evidence of this message going out from city staff on multiple occasions. When I contacted city staff to say I was standing by my reporting on this matter, I was told by Clowers they did not intend to state I had put out misinformation, that instead, they had accidentally misreported to me the availability of existing Project 180 funding that does exist to complete the two-way conversion of Walker Avenue as part of the current contract.
NOTE: City staff still also reports that Hudson will remain a two-way, one-way, two-way traffic corridor until more studies are completed on egress and money is identified for installation of the four remaining traffic lights and restriping.
Sometimes I’m asked how I manage to find the time to write books in addition to my work as a reporter, the time I give with Retro Metro OKC, and of course, with my two great sons. The answer is late nights, and in the case of this weekend, a very patient family as I plant myself for hours at the computer today to crank out two of the last four chapters on an upcoming book on the construction of Devon Energy Center and the related work with Project 180. I’ve got a bit of an odd coincidence in that I’m nearing deadline for this book as another one, Foraging in Oklahoma, just went to the printer and will hit stores in April. The Foraging in Oklahoma book is very different from anything I’ve done to date… I’ll share more details as the time for its release is a bit closer.
As noted by frequent OKC Central contributor Dennis Wells in a comment on yesterday’s blog post, the city has shifted its response on the street conversions. Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers reports that the Project 180 contract will include money for complete conversion of Walker Avenue to two-way traffic after all – and that it will be done this year.
Clowers reports no change in plans, however, for Hudson Avenue. More studies and evaluations on funding, etc., are said to be needed before the section between Robert S. Kerr Avenue and NW 6 can be converted to two-way traffic. This means visitors are likely to encounter a two-way, one-way, two-way traffic pattern along the street from Interstate 40 to NW 6 until the city addresses this matter. I will remind readers, the city council instructed the public works department to begin conversions of one-way downtown streets to two-way traffic in 1999 – which was 13 years ago.
Catch live video streaming of the crane coming down at at Devon Energy Center at www.newsok.com/okcskyline
Our friend Charles Hill over at Dustbury brings this great quote to our attention:
“Any city gets what it admires, will pay for, and, ultimately, deserves. Even when we had Penn Station, we couldn’t afford to keep it clean. We want and deserve tin-can architecture in a tinhorn culture. And we will probably be judged not by the monuments we build but by those we have destroyed.”
Read more here.
To fully understand how long the city has been dragging its feet (yes, I said it) on converting downtown’s one-way streets to two-way traffic, consider this 1999 story. Think about who’s names are on this story. Jack Money, my former writing partner, left the paper two years ago. Jay Swearingen hasn’t lived in Oklahoma in about a decade. Amy Brooks left the state as well. Ann Simank stepped down from the council a few years ago and now oversees the Public Inebriate Center. Paul Brum is dead. I am the only one left. This story, comments left at OKC Talk are jogging my memory. I remember how proponents of the one-way street conversions were skeptical of whether the city’s public works department REALLY wanted to make this happen. They had seen projects the department didn’t embrace get buried in study after study. Veteran City Hall observers like the late Councilman Mark Schwartz had schooled me on how city staff could, and did, “kill” projects through delays, studies, confusion, and funding “short-falls.” Schwartz called it “confuse and delay.” Read the story below and you’ll see hints of where the proponents saw the hiring of Cobb Engineering as yet another subterfuge toward stopping or slowing down yet another project.
A former, early employee of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. jogged my memory of another discussion – a presentation done on street conversions by Brum – in 2000 that resulted in similar concerns. During the presentation he gave off every impression that he had no enthusiasm for implementing this project.
Thirteen years later, we’re being told once again more studies are needed. And that the funding, which was fully provided for in Project 180, was cut for completing the conversion of these streets. City staff instead gave priority to cosmetic projects like the much-maligned makeover of the Civic Center park, precedence over making Walker and Hudson Avenues two-way corridors. This detail was omitted from the Project 180 presentations to city council and the Devon Implementation Committee.
But this time, city staff is asking for faith that this time they’re serious. Gang, I’m still here, watching and reporting. And I’ve got no intention of going away. I won’t be confused. There will be no delay in my scrutiny.
Green Light Given To Traffic Study
By Jack Money, Steve Lackmeyer
Monday, April 26, 1999
Edition: CITY, Section: COMMUNITY III, Page 01
Oklahoma City is finally moving forward with a traffic study that could address complaints from metropolitan area drivers and pedestrians about downtown’s confusing one-way streets.
But not everyone is convinced the study, due for completion in about four months, will change the traditional thinking that brought one-way streets to the downtown business district.
The downtown Oklahoma City streets were changed in the 1970s to provide quick, orderly movement of oil-boom workers and their automobiles to and from their offices.
While the study is applauded by most, some downtown leaders privately fear the selection of a local engineering firm to conduct the study will skew its results toward keeping the streets.
Jay Swearingen, director of the Automobile Alley Main Street Program, is one downtown leader who says the streets need to be changed.
He said they are unattractive to pedestrians and potential streetside business operators.
“We have far too many one-way streets in downtown Oklahoma City,” said Swearingen. “They can discourage people who don’t have much downtown driving experience.
“And the effect on pedestrians is just enormous. Any study of downtown traffic patterns should include pedestrian movements and how potential street changes impact them.”
He added the study should also look at how changes in street directions would impact mass transit services, bicycle lanes and other forms of transportation.
Two Oklahoma City council members agree.
Ward 2 representative Amy Brooks and Ann Simank, the Ward 6 council member who represents much of downtown, emphasized pedestrian needs before the council authorized negotiations to hire an engineering firm for the study.
Brooks and Simank actually took time recently to cross Hudson Avenue, one of the city’s busiest one-way streets.
The two council members waited for the light to turn green and crossed the street, having no trouble arriving on the other side before the lights turned against them.
However, they also discovered a 30-second or longer delay in starting across Hudson could easily leave them crossing against a red light.
“Downtown is becoming busier and busier… and it’s time to look at these one-way streets,” Simank said.
She added that her council office has received complaints about downtown streets from out-of-town visitors.
Brooks said she believed two-way streets would help slow Oklahoma City’s downtown traffic. She said pedestrians today often face a psychological challenge of crossing one-way streets.
“When you get in there, you feel like you have to get across real fast,” said Brooks. “It’s like trying to get around downtown Dallas – trying to get around there with the one-ways. If you only go there occasionally or if you’re a visitor, trying to get where you are going is very difficult.”
Oklahoma City’s current street directions create pairs of one-way streets to move motorists quickly in and out of the downtown district.
The city’s NW 5 and NW 6 street corridors were the city’s original east-west link to Interstate 235 and one-way northbound and southbound streets.
NW 6 continues to be one way westbound from its origin at I-235 to Classen Boulevard. NW 5, meanwhile, was broken into two segments by the closing of the street where it passed in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Today, a block of NW 5 between Harvey and Robinson is part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
Members of the Oklahoma City Traffic and Transportation Commission voted this month to make NW 5 a two-way street a block west and a block east of the memorial site.
Between Hudson and Classen, and between Broadway and Interstate 235, NW 5 continues to be a one-way eastbound street.
Oklahoma City has two major pairs of northbound and southbound one-way streets.
One pair is Robinson Avenue, a southbound street, and Harvey Avenue, which takes vehicles northbound. These two streets bracket the heart of the downtown office district.
The other pair is Hudson Avenue, southbound, and Walker Avenue, a northbound street.
These streets take motorists past Oklahoma County, City Hall and the Civic Center Music Hall, the seats of local government and the city’s cultural center.
Oklahoma City Public Works Director Paul Brum said he anticipates the study will recommend eliminating many of downtown’s one-way streets.
Brum said the engineering firm, Cobb Engineering, is using a consultant with decades of traffic engineering experience.
“The report is going to talk about one-way and two-way streets,” said Brum. “It also is going to talk about pedestrian issues and how the streets affect them.”
The public works director said the firm will evaluate pedestrian needs along with its traffic studies.
Brum downplayed the concerns privately expressed by several downtown interests that the selection of an engineering firm instead of a planning-oriented firm might skew the study’s recommendations to favor vehicles over pedestrians.
Brum said only local engineering firms applied for the job. No “planning” oriented firms responded to advertisements for the project.
“Where did these people want me to go to hire someone? New York City?” he asked.
As for the agreement, Brum said it will take his staff a few weeks to negotiate a price with Cobb Engineering.
Brum said Oklahoma City already has extensive studies examining many of downtown’s traffic issues.
“We have done some previous studies, looking at traffic counts, parking issues and access points into the downtown street system,” Brum said.
“We didn’t go as far as determining whether one-way or two-way streets were needed, then, though, because we were waiting for a decision from the state on where it would relocate Interstate 40 and on further implementation of the city’s Metropolitan Area Projects.
“Now that we are further along on those issues, we can look at whether or not these streets should be changed. And I expect many of them will be.”
Swearingen said he hopes Brum is right.
“A good traffic study should be concerned with how well it moves people – not how fast it moves cars,” he said.