Lot’s of miscellaneous items today.
Item No. 1
The above signage ought to go a long way in promoting tenants in Lower Bricktown. But the question remains – if signage like this is ok in upper Bricktown, which enjoys the advantage of free parking and one sane owner and developer, than why can’t one be used to promote the restaurants and retailers along the Bricktown Canal north of Reno Avenue?
Item No. 2
Devon released renderings about a year ago for the auditorium that will be built at the corner of Hudson and Sheridan. Sometimes it’s the finer details that prove to be interesting. From the rendering submitted recently to design review it would appear that architect Jon Pickard is once again nodding to a bit of downtown’s Art Deco heritage by going with the sort of lettering for the auditorium entry that, at first glance, hearkens to the Civic Center and First National Tower.
Speaking of Devon tower (which we now know will be referred to as Devon Energy Center), here’s the latest view from the OKC Skyline cam at www.newsok.com/okcskyline:
Item No. 3
Final thoughts…. seems as if the dream scenario of a real local station being allowed to exist in this market is was just that – a dream, albeit one enjoyed for real for little more than a year at 105.3 FM. The corporate types have done what they do, and now the real Spy can only be found at www.thespyfm.com. I’m not sure what the corporate folks are thinking, but in the age of the Internet they won’t fool followers of Ferris O’Brien for long. They will abandon the radio station and follow him to his online station. This begs the question though – can Ferris pull it off online only?
Here’s my thought – and from what I learned today, it’s something that’s been talked about: move The Spy to The Oklahoma Hardware Building in Bricktown, home to the increasingly awesome and inspiring ACM@UCO. Ferris would be attached to some of the city’s best aspiring musicians and might even have an “in” on doing live broadcasts of masters classes guests (Jackson Brown was the latest visitor, with prior guests including Roger Daltrey). Imagine a lecture given by Chris Martin going over live…
Just a reminder – if you are an Oklahoman or NewsOK subscriber, log in and visit www.newsok.com/okcskyline to see live video streaming of the Devon tower construction. Here’s a shot from this afternoon:
And here’s a glimpse at the latest work:
I’m betting yes. And this bet was placed even before Richard Mize’s story on Saturday that detailed how committed Devon CEO Larry Nichols is to selling the current headquarters at Sheridan and Broadway.
It has seemed as if all along this was one big chess game with a lot of moving pieces. Consider for a moment that the expansion of the former City Center West garage (now a part of the future Devon complex) creates a potential glut in parking on the east side of the central business district.
The Santa Fe Parking Garage, currently maxed out, will suddenly have hundreds of empty spaces – unless. I could say “unless” James Cotter, owner of Chase Tower (oh, excuse me – it’s Cotter Ranch Tower), is able to fill up the half of his building to be vacated by Devon.
Don’t count on that happening too quickly for a lot of reasons ….
Or maybe it will be “unless” First National Center is fully leased. Pretty much everyone would love to see this happen. But don’t hold your breath.
Or maybe it will be “unless” the former Mid-America Tower – currently home to Devon – is filled up by a new owner. And this is something Nichols could control. So consider that the same Devon tower tax increment finance district that is fueling Project 180 also has $40 million reserved for luring a corporate headquarters to downtown. And also consider that the city has plans to apply for matching funds – potentially millions more – from the Oklahoma Local Development and Enterprise Zone Incentive Leverage Act. And add to all this the GOLT bonds passed by voters a few years back that could allow for even more money (again in the millions) to go toward such a corporate headquarters relocation.
Now consider this key statement from Richard Mize’s column on Saturday:
Devon real estate director Todd Glass said they hope to sell it to an owner-occupier by the end of the year.
Now isn’t that an interesting little tidbit? If this comment were attributed to any other company in town, I’d say, “well, isn’t that nice? Hope is a wonderful thing.”
But with Devon, it’s something different. This is a company so conservative that its founders forgot to take photos of themselves as they built what is now a powerful Oklahoma City corporate headquarters. This is a company that shies away from making promises – “UNLESS” – (there’s that word again) – they have good reason to believe such promises will come true. It’s a company that believes in doing more than hoping. So when someone with Devon says they “hope” to get something done …
I’ve placed my bet. And the addition of up to a few hundred more executives downtown as part of a corporate relocation may be the next big boost for revival of the urban core.
Don’t be too surprised if parking at the Santa Fe garage remains daunting for years to come.
The Oklahoman is unveiling this project this weekend, but I’ll give you loyal readers the scoop here first. With the roll-out of www.newsok.com/okcskyline we’re delivering to Oklahoman subscribers live video streaming of the Devon tower site, Project 180 and other downtown improvements.
Oklahoman subscribers wishing to obtain the account number needed to log in and view the OKC Skyline Cam can do so by going to www.newsok.com/settings, emailing email@example.com, or by calling 1-877-98-PAPER (1-877-987-2737).
That means it’s got to be a done deal, right? Of course Google maps is still missing several new hotels, housing developments, two garages in its aerial photos. And when this photo was taken the Colcord was still Class C office space.
When I became re-involved in 2003 in OKC development, I touted TIF (Tax Increment Financing) as the means through which the MAPS sales tax incentive could be “bootstrapped” to help create a dense mixed use environment. The target: a broadly defined “triangle” bordered by I-40 on the south, I-235 on the diagonal and on the west, a north-south boundary splitting what is now known as MidTown.
My first efforts were with ERC on Deep Deuce, then the Arts District, then The Factory, in which I was technically “Oh for three.”
However, we learned a great deal that we have tried to apply since. We conducted a market study of 14 peer cities that had neither sexy mountains nor shorelines and found that each had between 2 percent and 8 percent of their MSAs’ population within the urban core. At the low end for OKC, that math translates to 24,000 people. Even counting the Jail, we are under 2,000 today.
Now that a number of players have emerged downtown, the geographic focus has naturally gotten blurred. The Thunder and Devon Tower have brought into the game two 800-lb gorillas – the NBA owners group and Devon Energy. To a significant but lesser extent, Sandridge, the Humphreys family, Roy Oliver/Mark Beffort and CHK/McClendon have gained strong positions in the core. Greg Banta/Bob Howard/Mickey Clagg and Corsair/Smith Brothers have made a number of speculative buys in MidTown that are starting to see life. Steve Mason, Chris and Meg Salyer, Nick Preftakes, BMI and Earl Neighbors have taken very different but positive approaches as user/owners.
The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and the City Staff are clearly and rightfully feeling their oats, while the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority has been weakened by Larry Nichols’ departure and the controversial pick of The Hill’s developer, which probably has spawned a winding down of some trustees’ long running influence. The approval of a un-Urban design for the Chamber’s building was an unfortunate reminder of the darker days in OKC history before the Bombing made consensus and grass roots projects possible over politics.
A perceived negative out there is that the former Triangle group has splintered, which is true but not necessarily a bad thing, as each of us can now play in their own sandboxes and probably get more done, and I think Maywood Park has been unfairly maligned as a bit of a bust as most of the brownstones sit empty. I say unfairly because I think they will ultimately sell, and because the City got exactly what it asked for from all of the Downtown housing developers – expensive, high-end for sale homes.
Neither the City or Urban Renewal wanted affordable rentals, as they turned down both of my ERC proposals for mixed income apartments in the competition for the Deep Deuce site (2002, with Benham) and the Arts District site (2003, with ADG and Raptor). The only for sale projects that have sold out have been the Centennial (albeit to mostly corporate buyers) and the Harvey Lofts rehab (only 17 units between $100k and $200k).
Dick Tannenbaum has made a very successful entre into housing development (Park Harvey and Lincoln), but not without hiccups (eg the failed attempts to condo both the Montgomery and the Classen). Block 42 has more dark windows at night than not, and The Hill deal is a ticking time bomb; the unpaid contractors will soon grow tired of waiting for their money and will no longer play as nice as they have been.
The national meltdown has been a big factor, but the reality is that OKC has never been a big condo market. Also, no one can blame even the richest buyers for a reluctance to buy if the surroundings of a real dense and active urban village does not materialize as quickly as everyone would like.
The reality that the City is experiencing downtown is that critical mass and density matters most, and is not delivered quick enough through the linear production and absorption of for-sale housing. The decision by Urban Renewal and the City to promote and push for upper end, for-sale housing first was ill-timed to be sure, but generally a violation of real estate development fundamentals.
In my opinion, the critical path to successful infill Downtown development in OKC begins first with creating density of people using the real estate on a 24/7 basis. This happens quickest through 2 uses – Hotels and Rental Apartments, which more quickly put more heads on beds than any other use.
Everyone wants to experience an urban “Magnificent Mile” environment like Michigan Avenue, but Daniel Burnham’s Plan For Chicago took 15 years to draft and adopt and over 90 years to develop, culminating with Millennium Park, absolutely the coolest urban green space in America. That is why I think that the current Core to Shore emphasis puts the cart way before the horse. We need to finish the Core first in a most excellent way.
I believe that the following represents a better chronology for a critical path for OKC’s Downtown Development
1- Plan for Core to Shore through a broader 20 year long process and horizon, led and participated in by more than a couple dozen people, incrementally stopping and adjusting every 3-5 years to review how the market is responding. Mix in Social Initiatives like the Jail (on a more modest, phased basis, not as a response to another unfunded Federal mandate) and Homeless Center with the sexy stuff so that voter fatigue doesn’t kill the Goose that Laid the MAPs Eggs.
2- Avoid the consolidation of power in administering Business Improvement Districts comprising the current and emerging “districts” that make up the Downtown Core. Remember that absolute power corrupts absolutely.
3- Let the Neighborhoods and Districts decide where their boundaries begin and end and manage themselves through Business Improvement Districts and other Owners Associations. The localized characteristics of Auto Alley, Bricktown, Deep Deuce, Maywood Park, Midtown, Film District, Lower Bricktown, Courthouse Block, Devon/Botanical Gardens each have their own forces of will, market attraction and good design attributes that will help compel and sort out the timing and priorities of projects – politics should not.
4 – Use TIF creatively and broadly to include Sale and Room Taxes for discrete user-driven projects, as per the examples of the Skirvin Hotel and Devon Tower.
5- Inventory current infrastructure opportunities and challenges in the Core and create a priority list that gets addressed by TIF. Example on one end of the spectrum – we can cheaply double parking on Broadway through angled striping and narrowed, slower traffic; versus the other end of the spectrum – the costly Boulevard through nothing to nowhere, which only happens five years after the Feds fund I-40.
6 – Agree that density, shared parking, connectivity and walkability are good and should be the paramount ideals for Project design.
7 – Focus on Big Users and what they need to come into the Core.
8 – Rental apartments can be tailored for sites big and small, renters rich and not so rich, and are the most finance-able class of real estate today and for the foreseeable future.
9 – The Quiet Zone (property owners are seeking new gates along the BNSF railroad to quiet train noise as it passes through the Flat Iron district) is a threshold need that must happen first BEFORE any other project Downtown – it is absolutely essential to any private project of scale, and will create incremental value on both sides of the tracks for miles East and West, North and South.
10 – Do not try to Force the Core to Shore – it is my sense that a relatively small group of parties are unduly influencing priorities. I am okay with the MAPs 3 Convention Center Idea just South of the Ford Center, but it is still a long ways to the South shoreline. Our version of Millennium Park will have to be birthed and season for 10 years before development happens naturally further South. The thing that could change this is if a huge User shows up, but none are on the horizon that I can see.
At first I was feeling a bit guilty about my sporadic blogging this week. But then I saw the lively discussion underway on my last post about Core to Shore and realized, “hey, these folks do just fine without me. Uh-oh…”
Nope, not feeling guilty. But that odd quirk of mine, which someone described as “an odd obsession with staying employed” kicked in.
So OK, I’m back.
Truth is I tackled more than I could chew with Millenium Park. So let’s just summarize it by saying it’s an incredibly ambitious mix of entertainment venues, public art and community space. It’s amazing, and it speaks volumes that this is what is in Mayor Mick Cornett’s head as he talks about the potential for a new city center park in Core to Shore.
Today I got a last minute invite to a discussion of the future for Film Row. It’s amazing how far this area has come in just a couple of years. What was an area dominated by misfit property owners has matured into an enthusiastic alliance of property owners who have all come to appreciate that this could very well be downtown’s next hot spot.
Not hurting their momentum, I’m sure, is a streetscape about to start this summer and the proximity of the new Devon tower.
Oh, by the way, I was visiting with folks at Devon today. I could name drop,but I won’t. But I see nothing indicating this project is slowing down at all. It’s still happening.
I know a lot more than I did yesterday. I’ll do my best to share as much of it with you as soon as possible.
One final, unrelated note: “Major snow storm this weekend.” Really? Really?