Not gonna lie – 2012 kicked my butt. I’m rested now, ready for 2013. Hit me with your best shot.
Over the holidays a curious a discussion popped up over the long dormant Tower Theater on NW 23rd. The landmark is pretty much all that’s left in terms of major hurdles to be overcome as surrounding storefronts are being redeveloped into upscale shopping or hip restaurants and bars.
The theater at 425 NW 23 was originally purchased by a partnership consisting of music promoter Scott Fife, Marty Dillon, Matt Goad and Terri Sadler-Goad back in November, 2005. They initially hoped to have it reopened as offices upstairs, and a live music venue and independent cinema in the theater. But those plans were delayed again and again, the partnership changed, and in recent years Marty Dillon, owner of Party Galaxy, was left to trying to obtain financing for what turned into a far more difficult than realized redevelopment project.
The Art Deco-style property was built in two phases. The storefronts, which include a second floor of office space, were built in 1926. The strip included a TG&Y and C.R. Anthony’s in its heyday and was the city’s premier suburban shopping corridor until Shepherd Mall opened in the early 1960s. The theater was added in 1937, and its neon sign was even featured in the opening backdrop to early episodes of “The Tonight Show” when it first was hosted by Jay Leno.
The theater has been vacant for at least a decade, and its decline dates back much further. Thanks to a grant, the neon sign was fixed and re-lit a couple of years ago. But just a couple of months ago, with redevelopment all around the landmark gaining momentum, Dillon acknowledged he was still struggling to obtain financing.
Enter into this discussion Jonathan Fowler, owner of Fowler Volkswagen and a beloved figure in the local music scene. Could this discussion be the start of better times ahead for the Tower?
David Morris created a beautiful video capturing what turned out was a beautiful white Christmas downtown this week. And while I’ve shown the second video once or twice before, it sure is fun comparing White Christmas 2012 with this flashback to another wintery day downtown circa the 1930s:
I last saw and spoke to Bill Schnittman on Monday at the annual Retro Metro OKC Christmas party. Bill wasn’t an Oklahoma City native – he is part of a new community being forged together along the Oklahoma River. He was a Michigan native who was eagerly making Oklahoma City his home – and the launching pad for his ambitions to join the U.S. Olympic Rowing team.
That dream will never be realized. On Friday, Bill was gunned down as part of a confusing series of events involving the abduction and assault of a woman, and the eventually suicide of the killer.
You can read more about Bill in his hometown newspaper.
I’ve been contacted by friends and acquaintances I have in the rowing community who clearly wish to have a forum to mourn their loss, pay tribute to the man.
I wish I had gotten to know Bill better. He was a good guy, very friendly, always eager to hear about the city’s history. His hair always looked as it did in the photo above (which makes me smile). I did not know the personal jeopardy he faced. He was just one of many newcomers I’ve met over the past few years, quite a few drawn by opportunities along the Oklahoma River, who loved Oklahoma City and yearned to learn more about their new hometown.
Join Jack Money and I from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the Full Circle Bookstore pop-up shop in the Myriad Gardens restaurant building (next to the Devon Ice Rink) where we will be signing copies of our new book, “Operation Scissortail.” Feel free just to visit, chat about downtown too if time allows!
“Hiya kids. Here is an important message from your Uncle Bill. Don’t buy drugs. Become a pop star, and they give you them for free,” – Billy Mack.
Thanks for your patience as I’ve slowly attempted to get back into my normal routine the past couple weeks. The Mayans – silly goobers – they really should leave this end of the world prediction stuff to cult members wearing Nike Decades sneakers and Glenn Beck. The world is still spinning, and I’m sure some new questions are out there about what’s going on downtown. I’ll do my best to answer those questions, chat starting at 10 a.m. I have to end it sharp at 11 a.m., so be sure to log in questions early. Chat board goes up on the NewsOK business page at 9:30 a.m., at which time you can submit questions and comments. Remember, those entered first get posted first.
Merry Christmas everybody. And remember – don’t buy drugs. Become pop star and they will give them for free.
I regret this didn’t get covered while I was away attending to family matters. For what it’s worth, today is the last day to file comment on the boulevard plans. You can find the form and more information here: http://www.okc.gov/okcblvd/
CITIZENS GROUP ALLEGES OKC BOULEVARD FEDERAL REVIEW PROCESS FLAWED
December 10, 2012, Oklahoma City, OK – Friends for a Better Boulevard (FBB) today challenged the
legitimacy of the federal review process being undertaken by the Oklahoma Department of
Transportation (ODOT) and the City of Oklahoma City (City) with regard to the new boulevard proposed
to be built through downtown. The nearly $100 million project, which is being paid for with federal
funding, is subject to compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Earlier this year,
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) officials ordered additional reviews and public scoping to
ensure the project meets all NEPA regulations. However, recent statements and information provided
to the public by City and State officials indicate there are serious problems with the way in which the
federal review process in being handled.
Bob Kemper, FBB Chair, said that the group had recently learned that the engineering firm hired to
develop and review various design alternatives for the proposed boulevard was restricted by City
officials to only develop alternatives that allowed the boulevard to serve as a bypass and throughway,
even though NEPA and FHWA regulations specifically prohibit such limitations when developing and
“Federal law requires that all reasonable alternatives be evaluated and that no action be taken that
would limit the choice of those alternatives,” Mr. Kemper said. “Unfortunately, it appears the City has
done just that. We’re very concerned that the process is being manipulated so as to arrive at a
FBB spokesman David Dickerson said that at a public meeting held last Monday, City officials tried to
justify the limitations imposed on the development of alternatives by claiming that the FHWA requires
the boulevard to be built as a bypass. However, Mr. Dickerson said a representative of the FBB spoke
with FHWA officials after the meeting and was told that those claims are not true.
“We were told by the FHWA that ODOT and the City may propose any changes to the design and
function of the boulevard that they want,” Mr. Dickerson said. “They are under no requirement by the
FHWA to limit alternatives only to those that allow the boulevard to serve as a throughway or bypass.”
Mr. Kemper said that in the discussions last week with the FHWA, federal officials stated that they were
puzzled by the statements made by City officials last Monday night and don’t understand why the City
continues to push for development of the boulevard as a bypass and throughway when so much has
changed in the downtown area since the original design was proposed a decade ago.
“The public doesn’t want it. The FHWA doesn’t require it. So why are we building it that way?” Mr.
Kemper said. “It seems to me that ODOT and the City have a lot of explaining to do.”
Mr. Dickerson said that at the meeting last Monday, City officials also tried to justify their actions based
on a commitment made by the City to ODOT in 2005 to allow the boulevard to serve as a detour route in
the event of a major accident on the new Crosstown. However, Mr. Dickerson said that an FHWA official
issued a statement last week making it clear that no such requirement exists under the FHWA’s Record
of Decision (ROD) for the Crosstown EIS and that there is no requirement for such in the EIS.
”Due to the failure of ODOT and the City to properly evaluate the proposed boulevard under NEPA,
those prior decade-old commitments between ODOT and the City are irrelevant at this point,” Mr.
Dickerson said. “Until such time as the public scoping and alternatives analysis processes are complete
and the FHWA issues a final decision on the proposed project, the agreement between ODOT and the
City is meaningless,” he said. “It does, however, reinforce the fact that the original design and purpose
of the boulevard was a prearranged solution between ODOT and City officials which they continue to
press for today.”
Mr. Dickerson said that one of the most serious consequences of the City’s restricted review criteria on
the current evaluation is the fact that a “no-build” alternative was not thoroughly reviewed and
provided as an alternative as it typically serves as a baseline comparison of all other alternatives. Mr.
Dickerson said that’s unfortunate given the fact that NEPA regulations require it and that many of public
comments offered Monday were in support of not building the boulevard at all and reestablishing the
original street grid.
“FHWA regulations and federal law are absolutely clear,” Mr. Dickerson said. “A no-build option must
always be reviewed and provided as an alternative. Unfortunately, the restrictions placed on the
consultant prohibited that from being done. Instead it seems that ODOT and City Officials are bound
and determined to ensure that a boulevard is built and that it functions as a downtown expressway. ”
Mr. Kemper said that the root of ODOT’s and City’s NEPA problems lies in the fact that they mistreated
the boulevard project from the beginning as a simple mitigation measure under the Environmental
Impact Statement (EIS) for the Crosstown, when in fact the proposed boulevard should have been
treated as a major federal action in and of itself requiring the same level of environmental review, public
scoping, alternatives analysis and mitigation plans as the Crosstown.
“ODOT and City officials privately negotiated a solution for the boulevard,” Mr. Kemper said. “There
was no detailed review of possible alternatives, including whether or not to build it at all. There was no
specific public scoping process as to the need, purpose and design of the boulevard. And there were no
mitigation measures provided to address the specific impacts of building a boulevard versus returning
downtown to the original street grid,” he added. “That’s why the FHWA has stepped in and is now
requiring a separate Environmental Assessment (EA) for the proposed boulevard, including a new public
scoping process and detailed alternatives analysis.”
“Unfortunately, as complex as the issues are and based on the way ODOT and the City are mishandling
the process, a simple EA may not be enough,” Mr. Kemper said. “This may require a new Environmental
Impact Statement specifically for the boulevard.”
Mr. Kemper said the Friends for a Better Boulevard group is exploring all options to adequately
represent the best interest of the public including preparation of a new EIS.
Sorry gang, just not up to it yet. Maybe next week. Thanks for all your well wishes.