Some quick observations – Braum’s has pulled its last big connection to downtown by deciding not to continue sponsorship of the ice rink. Not sure of their thinking on this – the ice rink is easilly the most popular of the Downtown in December festivities and Braum’s was getting a lot of buzz from the sponsorship. Braum’s, as you might recall, also decided against opening a location downtown during a courtship earlier this year.
I wonder if there are any valid competitors ready to take a shot on downtown?
Devon Energy took over the ice rink support. The Oklahoman has apparently taken over the canal boat ride sponsorship. And SandRidge took over sponsorship of the Christmas tree, which will be lit at 5:30 p.m. today (great festivities in Bricktown tonight for the whole family).
I’m still tired from Black Friday shopping. Saw consumerism at its worst at Wal Mart at 5 a.m. (I only went because I was able to save $50 on gift for my son). People pushing, shoving, no organization from the store’s management, and the highlight was a woman with a full cart (far more than the “20 or less” sign on the isle would allow) cutting me on line and telling “everybody is doing it.” I suggested Karma is going to get her. She’s trying to figure out who Karma is.
Two months ago the Downtown Design Review Committee unanimously approved plans for a new headquarters for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. Today, committee member James Loftis said something about that project in comparison to the Devon tower that he didn’t express in September before his vote:
“We’ve had a suburban approach to the chamber building. This is a very urban thing – it goes far beyond anything I thought we’d see in our lifetimes…”
So, tell me what you really think….
Don’t worry – no such insults are being hurled at the designs for the Devon tower, which are being heard right now by the Downtown Design Review Committee. But this presentation is far more than I expected with quite a bit of color and new details coming out.
The Downtown Design Review Committee is being asked to approve plans on Thursday for the new Devon Energy world headquarters. Part of the project calls for removal of these ornate bridges between the east and west City Center garages. I called architect Scott Dedmon, whose firm ADG designed the garages, and learned the bridges could be salvaged and used elsewhere.
Question No. 1: Should the bridges be removed? Devon Energy wants the bridges removed because they want to secure access to the west garage, which they are buying from the city, and to clear the view of a rotunda that will stand at the end of Harvey Avenue (just south of the bridge in the foreground).
Question No. 2: Where could the city best re-use the bridges if they are taken down? Where could these bridges make the best impression?
I’m still a bit bewildered as to why I’m hearing no discussions of a canal extension in connection to the planned Devon tower TIF or expansion of Ford Center. A canal extension ranked high with residents responding to a MAPS 3 survey – higher than improvements along the Oklahoma River, which do seem to be very much a priority for folks at City Hall.
So, here’s the first of a series of polls. The first poll asks if you want to see a canal extension that would take the waterway past Ford Center and to the Myriad Gardens.
My next poll will weigh interest in further improvements to the canal versus improvements to the river. My final poll will ask how many of you have visited the canal or taken a cruise on a canal taxi versus visiting the river or riding the river boats.
(Yes, I’m very well aware these questions might be unpopular with some folks. But I lost the Mr. Popularity vote a long time ago, so I’m OK with that).
Downtown is about to undergo changes that could arguably rival the original MAPS program. Developing ….
Oh, and add a banana split sundae and a visit to F.A.O Schwartz toy story. Yeah, that would be a dream day for a kid – and my good friend Doug Loudenback might just be enjoying the equivalent of such a spree this summer with the arrival of the NBA and Devon’s unveiling of plans for a skyscraper.
For those not familiar with Doug, he runs www.dougdawg.blogspot.com and is a fellow history buff. He has a book coming out next month about Springlake Amusement Park, and I’ve seen it – it’s great!
Anyway, Doug has a nice history on OKC skyscrapers at his blog, and makes the point this won’t be the first time a new skyscraper has put OKC up on the charts for having one of the tallest buildings in the country.
He’s also uncovered some great Oklahoman front pages:
So if you read my column today, you now know that there likely are some growing pains ahead for downtown, especially in regards to parking.
The Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority will likely be pocketing some money from selling garages to Devon and SandRidge. So, if it were to build a new garage or add parking, where should that take place?
Ideas that have been floated around:
- Add on to the east City Center garage
- Tear down Century Center Plaza and replace it with a bigger garage
- Tear down the middle tower of First National Center (the ugly one) and replace it with a high rise garage.
Any other ideas?
The model and renderings for the new Devon Energy tower drew rave reviews this week. But Tulsa blogger Michael Bates wonders how it will tie into life on the street.
Sad, but true, when Devon Energy announced plans to build a skyscraper that will not just be the tallest in the state, but one of the tallest in the surrounding region (bigger than anything in Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Dallas, Fort Worth, New Orleans and Austin), I expected Tulsa’s online community to react with bitterness and resentment.It’s weird, really. You rarely see the OKC online community trashing Tulsa – there’s a lot of admiration for downtown
Tulsa’s Art Deco skyline and enthusiasm for any efforts to revive the area. And there is admiration for the design of BOK Arena, and shared celebration over the renovation of the Mayo Hotel.But in Tulsa, pretty much any good news about downtown OKC is greeted with a mix of cheap shots, cliché insults and vows of “it will never happen.”But there are exceptions. I’ve long been a fan of www.batesline.com because its author, Michael Bates (also a columnist at Urban Tulsa), isn’t afraid to ask the unpopular questions. And his latest post may cause some discomfort for Tulsans and Oklahoma Citians alike when it comes to the new Devon tower:
Over at TulsaNow’s public forum, some participants are feeling tower envy, wishing for some deep-pockets oil company to build some new skyscrapers in downtown, but we have to recall that Oklahoma City took a pass, for the most part, on the building frenzy of the late ’70s, early ’80s oil boom. While OKC’s tallest building is of that era, the next tallest is from the ’30s. From the late ’60s to the early ’80s, Tulsa built five new skyscrapers: Fourth National Bank (now Bank of America), Cities Service Building (now 110 W. 7th), 1st National Bank (now
First Plaza), the BOk Tower, and the Mid-Continent Tower — the addition that stands beside and is cantilevered over the original Cosden Building at 4th and Boston.There are rumors of even more tall towers in Oklahoma City, and some OKCers are giddy at the thought of “filling the gaps in the skyline.” The thing about filling those gaps is that the new skyscrapers have to touch the ground at some point, and how these towers meet the street is what matters most to downtown’s vitality. It may look beautiful from five miles away, it may have a great view from the top story, but how does it look to someone walking by on the street?
Bates may very well be onto something here, and it’s a thought that Jack Money and I contemplated in our 2006 book “OKC Second Time Around.” We discovered the writings of William H. Whyte in files maintained by late Bricktown developer Neal Horton. It was easy to see why Whyte’s writings attracted Horton, who was trying to reinvent the old warehouse district as an old towne district that would bring life back to downtown streets:
“As Horton and his partners raced ahead with their grand plans, they followed other downtown renovations like those on Dallas’ West End, Pitsburgh’s South Side, and New York City’s South Street Seaport with great interest. They also took notice of comments made in a 1983 Time article by William Whyte, a renowned critic of modern city planning who had visited Oklahoma City in the early 1980s. “The Blank Wall is on its way to becoming the dominant feature of many United States downtowns,” Whyte complained. “Without the windows or adornment to relieve their monotony, the walls are built of concrete, brick, granite, metal veneer, opaque glass and mirrors … designed out of fear – fear of the untidy hustle and bustle of city streets and undesirables – the walls spread fear.”
- OKC Second Time Around
In his book “City,” Whyte included this study of how the shopfront for Saks Fifth Avenue created a vibrant urban corner in New York City.
In our book Jack and I then noted the obvious – that in Oklahoma City’s rush to improve, it had also built an ample supply of “blank walls” The towers built during the Urban Renewal era fit perfectly into the very sort of design criticized by Whyte. Even older buildings like the historic Pioneer Telephone Building had their old storefronts sealed with brick and marble.
Quoting Whyte again:
“By eliminating the hospitable jumble of shop fronts, restaurant entrances and newsstands, the walls deaden the very city the buildings claim to revitalize.”
Bates’ questions might just apply as well to the proposed new headquarters for the Oklahoma City Greater Chamber. Or drive down Automobile Alley and look at how Steve Mason has brought life back to the1000 block of N Broadway.
Leadership Square – one of downtown’s most admired Urban Renewal era office buildings. But does it have the sort of street-frontage that brings life back to the street?
Pioneer Telephone Building – a marble fortress?
Look for something big – and complicated – to ensue when the following people are found gathering in one room: Assistant City Manager Cathy O’Connor, the city’s economic development coordinator Brent Bryant, City Attorney Kenny Jordan and private attorneys Dan Batchelor, Leslie Batchelor and John Michael Williams.
Along with Urban Renewal director JoeVan Bullard and assistant city attorney Dan Brummit, they were the dream team that put together the complicated financing package for the Skirvin Hilton Hotel, and many of the same names were involved with bringing Dell Computers to town, finding a way to finance the Native American Cultural Center, and almost certainly ongoing work in Core to Shore.
Keep all this mind as I quote from today’s story about the impact of the new Devon Tower on downtown’s tax increment financing district:
O’Connor sees no shortage of takers for any increase in TIF funding — and she said she strongly believes Devon’s project will be followed by more high-rises in the immediate neighborhood.
“There is an element of spin-off here,” O’Connor said.
Well now, isn’t that interesting? Now, let’s put this together with what I’ve written previously about veteran developer Nicholas Preftakes:
Main Street land could be landlord’s development ticket
By Steve Lackmeyer
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1B
Over the past few months, Ed Strawn has noticed a steady stream of surveyors outside his downtown landmark cafeteria, the Lunch Box. He assumes they are working for Nicholas Preftakes, who has spent the past two years buying up surrounding properties, and most recently spent $750,000 to add to his collection the one-story building that has been home to the Lunch Box since 1947.
“He doesn’t want us to close,” said Strawn, whose restaurant dates to World War I when it first opened near Sheridan and Broadway. “He told me he won’t be the one to close us down.”
But Strawn reports Preftakes did hint that the Lunch Box could be relocated when his three-year lease expires.
Preftakes’ purchase of the Lunch Box building is fueling rumors that his plans include more than being a landlord over the diverse block bordered by Hudson, Walker, Sheridan and Main.
To date, Preftakes has spent more than $12 million on the block. Only five properties on the block are not under his control. They include 420 W Main, a 10-story office building and surface parking owned by the city, the Union Bus Station at Sheridan and Walker, Pizza Town, 430 W Main and Coney Island, 428, W Main.
Preftakes has declined to discuss his purchases on the block, continuing his silence about any long-term plans. When he bought the Auto Hotel at 17 N Hudson, he ended the contract with Republic Parking and closed it down. Anita Sanders’ law firm immediately left a building they remodeled at 408 W Main after it was bought by Preftakes.
But at One N Hudson, the former Black Hotel, Preftakes has continued to lease the property, most recently adding a restaurant on the ground floor.
So what gives? With Preftakes not talking, all eyes turn to Devon Energy Corp., which is pursuing plans to build a skyscraper across the street from the properties Preftakes owns.
Devon’s Chief Executive Officer Larry Nichols said he doesn’t comment on work involving other developers.
And he has dismissed rumors that Devon was interested in seeing the properties west of Hudson Avenue razed to make way for parking.
Nichols said Devon is only focused on expanding the City Center garage and dedicating it to parking for that company’s work force.
Preftakes is one of downtown’s veteran developers, and is no stranger to new commercial development or redevelopment of old urban properties. He started the downtown living trend with renovation of an old automobile dealership into lofts at NW 13 and Broadway some 13 years ago.
He also took the worn-out former headquarters of C.R. Anthony’s and turned it into a modern office building at 701 N Broadway building.
Brett Hamm, president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., admits he, too, is clueless about Preftakes’ ultimate plan. But he predicted future development could include housing, retail, offices or a hotel.