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
At OKC Talk, there is a discussion about Deep Deuce and MidTown. The basic gist is an excitement over how Deep Deuce is becoming a truly walkable, mixed-use downtown neighborhood, while the same folks are disappointed about how much empty and undeveloped land persists in MidTown.
Now, for some perspective with the help of some photos. Remember, Deep Deuce development got started in 2000. MidTown development got started in 2006. Bricktown, by the way, was started way back in 1979.
It’s hot outside. Television is a wasteland taken over the Kardashians and Truumps of the world. Sit back and instead enjoy this incredible film produced by William Hider showing Bricktown of yesterday and today. I promise, it’s one great video and one the Bricktown Association might want to add as a permanent addition to their website.
An interesting conversation is taking place over at www.okctalk.com about America’s Pub in Bricktown. I wonder if anyone in Bricktown is aware of this discussion, or what it could mean to the district if this situation is true and blows up.
I’m working on a story for Tuesday about two potential developments in Bricktown. I say potential because after talking to involved parties, neither deal is ready to go. Gary Berlin has desired to convert the upper floors of his Oklahoma Hardware Building for a couple of years. Chris Johnson, who has gained control of the vacant land across from the JDM Building and along Mickey Mantle Drive (across the canal from each other), is looking at creating parking and retail – a proposal that may or may not encounter some difficulty at this week’s Bricktown Urban Design Committee. Anderson owned land in Bricktown before, even once spoke of going a canal side hotel or retail development, but never seemed to get beyond the business of doing paid surface parking.
Both projects are being proposed as a means to see whether they are financially feasible, and this step does not, by any means, guarantee that either will be done.
Count me as one who will be surprised if both plans proceed as fully envisioned at this moment, within the next year. Of course, I could be wrong.
Yesterday I wrote about how some Bricktown restaurants and bars seemed to be playing into the stereotype of Oklahoma City as a town that shuts down at 10 p.m. The following is a response from the owner of Texadelphia:
My name is Manny Leclercq and I am one of the owners of the Texadelphia in Bricktown. I want to first apologize to Steve and the customers who had this experience in our restaurant. It is our policy to keep our doors open to customers past the normal closing time when there are special events that might dictate that, and this should have been one of those events. We are fervent supporters of the Oklahoma City Thunder and have been as excited about the current state of our team and our playoff run, as most of you all are. We are even a proud advertising partner with the OKC Thunder through the Bricktown Association. In the past, we have hosted official Budweiser Thunderstruck Event watch parties, which we promoted through social media, and although this Tuesday’s game was not promoted as one of these events, we should have remained open.
Unfortunately, a critically poor decision was made by someone on our management team in closing down before the end of the game, and we have already address the situation with our team.
As some of you might already know, on many of the evening Thunder home games, we are open 2-3 hours past our normal closing time (as late as 1am at times). With many of the away games, especially during the playoffs, we have remained open past our official closing time when there are customers still enjoying the event. We want to promote the Downtown/Bricktown area as the fun, family-friendly social destination that it is. Texadelphia is uniquely fortunate to have world class sporting events in it’s backyard, and we try to celebrate that with the other Oklahomans who enjoy it as much as we do. Please understand that the poor decision by one of our staff members does not reflect on our true sense of civic pride, and our genuine excitement to actively support our home team and the wants/needs of our customers. We are local owners with strong ties to this city, and we are excited to be doing business here.
I can assure you that this sort of occurrence will never happen again, and we hope you will allow us to prove it at some time in the near future. Our goal is to provide our customers with great food, drinks and customer service, in a fun, social setting, and we fell short in this instance. We are looking forward to watching the Thunder play again this Thursday (and we will be staying open for the duration of the game!)
Texadelphia Social Grill
Bricktown Ballpark. I know it’s a name that is endeared in the community. Many of you do as well. But once again, there’s an effort to do away it. First we saw Southwestern Bell Park. The city revolted. Then there was a compromise offered by the owners of the RedHawks – Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark – that was accepted and embraced. Then onto SBC Bricktown Ballpark, then on to AT&T Bricktown Ballpark.
All along there has been a quiet understanding – keep the name Bricktown Ballpark and everything will be fine.
Now the fad of corporations paying big bucks for naming rights is over (aren’t we all excited about the improvements over at “Oklahoma City Arena”?). The RedHawks were bought by out-of-town owners, Mandalay, and they are making changes as detailed in today’s Oklahoman.
Welcome to RedHawks Ballpark. This is a move by owners who may or may not realize the change in name from the Oklahoma City ’89ers to RedHawks back in 1998 itself wasn’t the most popular move. But no matter. The new owners also are closing off the upper deck that gave residents pride in this new stadium – one that may be minor league, but thanks to the seating capacity and the upper deck, just felt major league.
I suspect that if a survey were to go out, neither change would get a ringing endorsement by local baseball fans or the community at large. But maybe I’m wrong. We’ve seen the out-of-towners come into town making such changes before – there are those who would say just look at First National Tower as example of owners who charted new directions based on their own views of the world, locals be damned, and then faced the consequences later on.
What do you think?
So the Montage Festival folks won at City Council this morning over the Bricktown Association when it comes to closing Mickey Mantle Drive for an entire weekend this summer for a for-profit art festival.
The vote was divided, 6-2, and the Bricktown merchants and property owners made it clear they are not happy with the Montage company closing down a main arterial street for so long.The Bricktown Association indicated today they were willing to go with several different compromises. The Montage company did not at any point in the conversation indicate they were willing to budge from their demand the street be closed all weekend.This having been said, how will this bad blood impact the festival and those who choose to be a part of it? The Bricktown Association could launch its own arts festival that same weekend on the plaza of Mickey Mantle Drive and the ballpark – allowing vendors to set up their tents for free, and thus diluting the business model for Montage. Or they could set up a music festival on the ballpark plaza or Mickey Mantle Plaza or even on the adjoining private property. Or they could simply set their lawn sprinklers on full blast, and if it sprays onto the street where the artists’ booths are, well, it’s summer and the grass does need water.
The Bricktown Association could go a different direction by reviving its Taste of Bricktown to be held in the ballpark plaza at the same time as the art festival and assisting the organizers in keeping the booths open later in the evening – thus making this an event that truly benefits everybody concerned.
In talking with one veteran observer of the entertainment district, one is reminded that any of these responses wouldn’t be shocking. And in Bricktown anything is possible.
The parking lot with the $20 parking is attached to the Rock Island Plow Building, owned by Bricktown Association chairwoman Avis Scaramucci. The irony is, of course, that it was Avis who led the charge against $20 parking arguing it gives Bricktown a bad image to locals and visitors.
I talked with Avis today, who responded she was surprised by the $20 charge. She said she contracts with American Parking to operate the lot, receives a flat sum each month with any profit pocketed by American Parking. She says she still thinks $20 parking signs hurt Bricktown’s image, and said she will talk to the operator. She said she didn’t have any control over the operator’s price controls and wasn’t aware of the charge because she doesn’t drive along Reno Avenue.
When asked further about this question of control, she did acknowledge she has the option of terminating her agreement with the operator. I’ll be interested in hearing what more she has to say after talking with American Parking. What’s interesting is that Brent and Brett Brewer were tagged with being behind these charges, when in fact, I can’t say I’ve seen them go with $20 parking since the association members and parking operators agreed to cap their charges at $10. Now, to be fair, keep in mind that Avis has donated a lot of her time and resources to Bricktown, making it better, and her pride in the district can be seen from the moment someone drives by her restaurant, sees the elaborate landscaping, and then for anyone who goes inside and sees one of the nicest establishments in Bricktown.
I can’t imagine she’s too thrilled with American Parking right now. So what happens next?