Leave it to Chad Huntington, also known as Urbanized at OKC Talk, to write up an even better explanation of what Jane Jenkins brings as the new president of Downtown OKC Inc.
And at the request of Pete, the beloved owner of OKC Talk, let me also point out that Chad’s comments have spurred most of the board members to take a much more positive take on Jenkins’ upcoming arrival.
Here’s what Chad had to say:
Something is being missed when discussing her role at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The national Trust is not just a watchdog agency that tries to protect old buildings. The national Main Street movement was created and is overseen by the National Trust. The Oklahoma Main Street Program -which by the way is one of the top two or three state programs in the country – deals directly with the Fort Worth office that Jane previously ran.
Main Street’s “Four Point Approach” to downtown redevelopment is exactly the model that most downtowns, regardless of size, should use to successfully redevelop their downtowns. Downtown redevelopment was pioneered by Main Street. The Four Point Approach is easy to replicate, regardless of circumstance, and is the most proven method for downtown revitalization. It doesn’t necessarily require a Main Street affiliation, and in fact Jane is perhaps one of the most qualified people in the United States to manage a similar approach without the direct guidance of Main Street.
And for those of you who think Main Street itself is too “small town,” you need only look at the success that Automobile Alley has had, much of which can be attributed to its Main Street program status in the late ’90s. Further, it needs to be pointed out that Boston, MA and Portland OR, among others, are loaded with successfull urban Main Street programs.
Although I had limited interaction with Jane when I was the director of Automobile Alley, I know people who have worked with her closely, who were pleasantly surprised and maybe even a bit amazed that we landed her in OKC.
Let me tell you a little story about downtown redevelopment organizations, and why you shouldn’t judge their effectiveness by the size of their city. Back in 2000, during the five minutes or so when I served as the Director of Marketing for DOKC, I attended the IDA annual meeting in Los Angeles. It was an absolute who’s who of downtown revitalization. The keynote speaker on the last day was Bill Hudnut, former mayor of Indianapolis. He was mayor during Indy’s dramatic reinvention of the 1970s, 1980s and early ’90s, which incidentally was indirectly a major catalyst for MAPS.
While I was at that conference, I spent time with downtown people from Seattle, the Los Angeles Fashion District, the Times Square (NYC) business improvement district, downtown Milwaukee, and I could go on and on. Care to guess who most commanded and held the attention of all of these heavy-hitters? Des Moines. That’s right, Des Moines. A city of less than 200,000. Their downtown folks were the presenters of many of the conference sessions, and I sat in and watched people from New York, Milwaukee and Seattle, among others, hang on every word and eagerly ask them questions. There was zero – ZERO – big-city ego apparent, or indications that people were thinking “I can’t learn anything from people who come from a town smaller than my own.”
My point is only that downtown redevelopment follows set, very basic rules. Rules that can be applied across the board, no matter where the downtown is, no matter its size. Do I think Jane would have been a good hire if she jumped straight from Pawhuska to OKC? Of course not. But the fact of the matter is that she is – according to her own peers who have twice voted her the chair of the IDA – one of the most qualified downtown professionals in the country. That’s good enough for me.
I have often thought one of the dangers we face regarding downtown Oklahoma City is arrogance. That is, the success of MAPS and the uniqueness of its format (large group of projects, dedicated sales tax, no debt, quick transformation) has taken us from not believing in ourselves or our downtown at all to believing that we are the only people doing this. Downtown revitalization began long before Oklahoma City jumped on the bandwagon, and we still have a lot to learn.
There is no question that we have made some amazing gains that have drawn the attention and envy of other cities, but there is a reason, for instance, that the OKC Chamber took a benchmarking trip last year to Charlotte instead of the other way around. We’re still learning how to do this. The fact that for the first time we have looked outside the community and sought out a highly-respected and accomplished downtown specialist is a huge thing. I just hope we give her the autonomy she will need and hear out the new approaches she will undoubtedly suggest, all with a collective open mind.
I’m hoping I have enough credibility with you folks that you know I’m only going to hype a site if I really do like it – regardless of whether it’s in the NewsOk family or not (The Lost Ogle, for example, is definitely NOT a part of the NewsOk family. We consider www.dustbury.com to be an odd, quirky guy that looks like a long-lost uncle).
Now, that having been said, I’m very excited about www.thundermadness.com. It’s probably the sharpest addition to our online efforts to date. And far better than anything I saw associated with the Seattle Post or Seattle Times.
Check it out.
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:
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?
OK, the wise guys at the Lost Ogles will probably suggest a ban on Bricktown coverage or photos of women at downtown nightclubs taken about 2 a.m. Let’s go ahead and strike those off the list right now.
Charles Hill at Dustbury might suggest something involving women’s shoe designs. My good friend Doug Loudenback will of course want more on the NBA. And the guys at Eat Around OKC will likely want me to share my recent visit at a certified shady restaurant.
After six months of doing this blog bit, I want to know, what do you like, what don’t you like? What permanent features can I add? Slight changes made this weekend include a category to the right where you can view recent comments. This will help quite a bit in cases that do occur often where a person posts a comment weeks or even months after a post is written.
Based on initial feedback when I set up this sight, I’ve pretty much kept it tied to downtown OKC. But I do believe that we can learn a lot from other cities, including those in our own state like Tulsa, Enid, Ardmore and even Poteau and Tahlequah.
Once again, I’m flattered and grateful for all of your participation. OKC Central is averaging just under 10,000 page views a month and is the third most read blog at www.newsok.com. (BAM’s Blog takes in an incredible 20 percent of overall traffic amongst the NewsOk blogs and Nerdage comes in second at just over 10 percent).
Yes, OKC Central for the past six months has ranked higher than most or all of the sports blogs at NewsOK – an incredible accomplishment that is very much due to you the readers.
Berry Tramel is not the most popular guy today in the digital world. In a scuffle that began with a sports message board, he has concluded that anyone who participates in message boards is as guilty as someone who visits porn sites.
I’ve been asked at OKC Talk about this, and basically, my answer is this: I’ve done my best to embrace what many call “new media” and I’ve done so for several years. I recall all the way back in 1995 just as AOL hit 250,000 members, I was pressing to do a series of stories about the rise of the Internet. My editors were skeptical and questioned whether the World Wide Web wasn’t just another soon to be doomed fad akin to the news scroll channels that popped up on cable back in the early 1980s.
Quietly, without anyone at work knowing, I joined a police bulletin board (this is old school internet to be sure) to get ideas for when I was on the cop beat. Then, as I moved to covering City Hall and downtown development, I “lurked” message boards run by the city, then briefly by The Oklahoman. I came out, very carefully, and joined OKC Talk in 2004. Because of the uncertainty about such boards, I was very, very cautious on posting anything, though I did offer some harmless clarifications or answers about projects when such questions were posed to me.
Last year everything changed. Our online folks were beginning to have some luck explaining the importance of “new media.” And I was approached repeatedly about launching this blog. I was reluctant at first, not because I fear going online, but as to whether I could commit the time to creating an extra outlet for my writing and reporting. You can be the judge as to whether I’ve pulled it off.
I was also encouraged to increase my participation at OKC Talk and OKMet, though it was made clear to me that I’m out here, without a net (editors) representing The Oklahoman. Oh yeah, no pressure there.
And in this increased role, my work has been beaten up and flattered with praise. And that’s OK. And I’ve learned a lot more about what readers are interested in, and I’ve discovered new ways of reporting on stories – all because of these message boards.
So the question is, do I agree with Berry? I’ll let my continued involvement at OKC Talk answer that question.
The founders of Urban Neighbors, 2007: From left, Sharon Rodine, Jeff Bezdek, David Remy and Misty Kemp. - BY MATT STRASEN, THE OKLAHOMAN
For those who were asking why downtown housing seems so expensive, and whether affordable housing will ever be next …
Why downtown condos cost $250,000 By Steve Lackmeyer
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 4B
For the past two years, the question has lingered among those watching the emergence of housing in downtown Oklahoma City: “Why are so many of the new units priced at $250,000 and up?
Such pricing left a lot of young urban professionals who rent downtown frustrated. They could afford to jump from a $750 a month rental payment to a $1,000 condominium payment. But $1,000 a month doesn’t get you past $200,000 without a hefty down payment.
It’s not as if downtown developers haven’t known all along about this pent-up demand. While they might make more money on a half-million-dollar condo, they would be assured a quick sale with units averaging $150,000. Yet in almost every major downtown development announced to date, the prices continue to hover at $350,000.
The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, recently given a choice between a mixed-use development of lower-price condos and apartments versus high-price residential towers for MidTown, went with the upscale product.
Credit Brett Hamm, president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., for offering an explanation that sheds light on the question of high-price housing.
The slant toward higher-price housing isn’t by coincidence — it is a grand conspiracy. Well, that’s not exactly how Hamm worded it. But here’s his take: you have to start somewhere.
You can start with expensive housing in an area and then eventually add lower-price choices to the mix. But you can’t start developing an area by building a lot of lower-price housing and then hope to add more expensive units later.
Downtown housing really was a blank slate as late as 2000. It was then that a study by Houston-based CDS Market Research reported 6,000 people desired to live in downtown Oklahoma City but their interests were thwarted by a lack of available housing.
That was the match that lit the fuse.Much of the development involves land controlled by the Urban Renewal Authority. The Hill, Block 42, The Centennial and now Overholser Greens all are Urban Renewal projects, all involving products generally priced north of $200,000.
Also priced higher than $200,000, but developed privately, are the Brownstones at Maywood Park. On the other side of this equation are the Central Avenue Villas, the Harvey Lofts and the just announced Lofts at Maywood Park as developments offering at least half of their units below $200,000.
But the number of higher-price units far out-number the ones that will be sought after by all those aspiring homeowners living in the Deep Deuce apartments.And that’s just fine with Hamm. One of the often-told rules of buying a home is to avoid the highest-price house on the block.
Take that wisdom downtown and you can see why it’s so important to get the high-end housing under way. You don’t want to buy a $400,000 house surrounded by $150,000 homes. But who doesn’t want to buy a $150,000 house surrounded by $400,000 homes?
Of course, the next question is whether all of this expensive housing downtown will sell. The results aren’t quite in yet, but with The Centennial a virtual sell-out and half the units sold at Block 42, the grand conspiracy is far from a failure.
One year has passed since I wrote this column. Since then, we’ve seen a sell-out at The Centennial and the Harvey Lofts, and only a few units remain at Block 42. Developers at The Hill have not disclosed their sales, and it’s too early to say whether The Brownstones at Maywood Park or the Central Avenue Villas will or won’t be a success. And one more thought. There are two city-oriented online forums in this town, www.okctalk.com and www.okmet.org. Both boards have members discussing this topic, but notice the difference in how they do so.
Here’s the okmet discussion.
And here’s the okctalk discussion.
Downtown Oklahoma City skyline as seen from Interstate 40 - the view for most people traveling through from elsewhere in the country. How does it compare to Des Moines, Omaha and Charlotte? PHOTO BY CHRIS LANDSBERGER
So this week we took a tour of downtown Des Moines, Iowa; Omaha, Nebraska; and Charlotte, North Carolina. What’s that you say? Boring cities. Not sexy like Denver, Austin, Dallas or Seattle?
I’m not sure it’s safe for an Oklahoma City resident to tour Seattle right now. And those other cities, well, just stick with me here. Did you join me on this tour? If not, hit the “You Tube Downtown Tour” category button and get a better idea of the downtowns in question.
And then consider these very basis numbers, all pulled from the 2006 estimates provided at www.census.gov.
Charlotte, North Carolina. Population, 648,387. Per capita income, $29,825.
Oklahoma City. Population, 543,524. Per capita income, $22,665.
Omaha, Nebraska. Population, 382,776. Per capita income, 423,759.
Des Moines, Iowa. Population, 196,857. Per capita income, 423,215.
Where should downtown Oklahoma City fit into this mix, and based on the tour, how do you think it measures up to these cities today? (Yes, by all means, use that comment field below).