So, what can we learn about downtown Omaha? First off, from the downtown Omaha association, we discover that “successful growth and development of the Old Market, Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park, numerous residential properties, hotel facilities, the new arena and convention center, the First National Bank project, and other corporate building projects have boosted the popularity of Downtown Omaha, making it an attractive destination to live, work, and visit.”
Wait a minute: did someone mention “Old Market”? What’s that?
“The Old Market Omaha, is a premier arts and entertainment district featuring fine dining, shopping, corporate meeting facilities, hotel accommodations, upscale night life, and sought-after real estate. Located in downtown Omaha just minutes from Omaha Eppley Airport, the Old Market is close to several nearby attractions including Durham Western Heritage Museum, Omaha Civic Auditorium, Qwest Center Omaha, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and more.
Head to Omaha’s Old Market district, where exceptional gifts and dining are around every corner. From Harney to Jackson streets and 10th to 13th streets, unique shops, boutiques, pubs, more than 30 area restaurants and distinctive entertainment define this historic neighborhood.
Home of the new Holland Performing Arts Center, downtown is also a haven for the arts. The Holland Performing Arts Center, completed in 2005, provides a true concert hall environment with acoustics designed to accommodate the Omaha Symphony as well as other local and touring arts organizations and artists. The Joslyn Art Museum, the Orpheum Theater, the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center, and more are all located in downtown Omaha.
The Old Market district was crucial to the commercial development of Omaha as the wholesale jobbing area flourished in the 1880’s and continued well into the twentieth century. The district, then comprised of former light industrial and warehouse buildings and wholesale jobbing houses, served as the distribution center for a variety of goods shipped on the Union Pacific Railroad and its branch lines all the way to the west coast. Today, the Old Market Omaha is a multi-block collection of renovated brick warehouses, quaint storefronts, old-fashioned lampposts, uneven brick streets, horse-drawn carriages and street-side musicians.
The city has spent nearly $2 billion in new construction and development, including the $291 million Qwest Center Omaha, a new 40-story First National Bank Building, a riverfront university campus for the world-renowned Gallup Organization, and a National Park Service Regional headquarters building for Union Pacific.
Follow the brick-paved streets of history into an area of Omaha rich in history and bursting with the flavor of today. Enjoy an intimate dinner or shop for the latest fashions. “
That sounds like a lot of fun – even better than Bricktown! So we’re not the only city with an old town area after all…
So let’s take a tour, shall we?
First, downtown Omaha:
And, now, Old Market:
I’ve been thinking about all the downtowns I’d love to visit and learn from, and I think one of the cities that really keeps me curious is Charlotte, North Carolina. After all, it was this city, perhaps, that gave OKC leaders the initial hope that they too could land a major league team (Charlotte, home to the Hornets, and then deemed worthy of a quick replacement team when things went south between the city and Hornets owner George Shinn). And now, this in: Charlotte has a light rail system going downtown and to the city’s airport.
Voters approved creating light rail in 1998. The system opened in November, and reported initial ridership averaging 8,700 daily weekdays. By February, ridership was up to 14,000.
Charlotte has transitioned into a major financial center, and its downtown skyline includes a 60-story tower built for Bank of America. The city is home to seven Fortune 500 companies and its population is 630,000.
Here’s a link to the skyscraper page forum on Charlotte.
And here is a slideshow of downtown Charlotte:
Finally, let’s take a ride on the LYNX, shall we?
It’s always interesting to step back and look at downtown development in light of what’s going on elsewhere. Sure, we can visit the Tulsa World website and find the usual sibling bickering between OKC and Tulsa on any story that suggests OKC is doing something right with its downtown.
I’m not talking about that.
Instead, first let’s consider this blog by Texan “Durango”:
“Can the Star-Telegram please name the cities that envy Fort Worth? The only big city I’ve ever been to with a deader downtown than Fort Worth is Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ironically I was at a convention in their very nice convention center, that, apparently, unlike Fort Worth’s, is frequently used. It even has a large hotel attached to it that, unlike Fort Worth, they did not have to provide tax incentives in order to get someone to build a hotel. And though downtown Tulsa was not very lively it looked real nice, with a wide pedestrian walkway connecting the convention center to the downtown core. I was there on a Sunday. A lot of towns are pretty dead on Sundays.
Maybe the Star-Telegram should send a reporter to some other cities that really are both vital and revitalizing. Geez, just drive east 30 miles and see all those construction cranes all over downtown Dallas. Visit the downtowns of Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Denver, San Diego, Chicago, Boise, Salt Lake City, Phoenix or even Oklahoma City and San Antonio and you’ll see very vital, booming, growing downtowns with downtown residential buildings being added.
Nothing happens or is happening in Fort Worth that hasn’t already happened elsewhere. For any city to envy Fort Worth Fort Worth would have to be trendy, would have to be doing something someone else isn’t already doing. The Star-Telegram needs to knock off their phony transparent civic boosting. Fort Worth is a perfectly nice town. Quit pretending it’s something it’s not.”
Now that’s a twist. You always hear about Fort Worth being a model downtown. And on my last visit, the city’s center – especially Sundance Square – was teaming with people enjoying a night on the town, strolling from restaurant to restaurant, listening to street musicians, hanging out at the Barnes and Noble.
It seemed. So much. Better. Than. Downtown Oklahoma City.
Sure, Saturday night, downtown Oklahoma City was packed with people. But tonight, well, I’m not so sure (I’m home now so obviously I’m going on a hunch).
But Durango has a point that can be said in any city getting too cocky about its downtown: one can always do better, and there’s likely another city that has pulled off the same miracle, the same triumph, the same incredible transformation. Or maybe it’s not the same. Maybe better.
I was intrigued by what I saw on visits the past couple of years to downtown Wichita, Denver, Fort Smith (yes!), Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, Boston and San Antonio.
My last visit to Kansas City was about seven years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s changed a lot since. So where would I go, if my editors paid the tab?
I’ll start the list, and then you provide some additional suggestions for my bosses just in case they find that elusive money tree.
- Kansas City (last visit: 2000)
- St. Louis (last visit: mid-1990s)
- Houston (last visit: early 1990s)
- Little Rock
- Memphis (last visit: 1993)
- Nashville (last visit: 1990)
It looks like AOL has removed the reference to OKC being one of the 10 worst places to visit. According to a travel item AOL did with some web site I’ve never heard of, they justified ranking OKC as more dangerous than Baghdad because of natural disasters, and went so far as to claim the May 3, 1999 tornado destroyed most of the city.
Anyway, Solitude at www.okctalk.com fired off some complaints to AOL, and here is the response he received:
Thank you for your phone call regarding the content provided to us through askmen.com. Our AOL editorial team looked at the material and were unanimous in their agreement that inclusion of Oklahoma City in that kind of negative list was wholly unfair and poor quality journalism. We have since edited/modified the list online and plan to monitor our content relationship with askmen.com in a more careful manner. Our apologies for the inappropriate nature of the listing for Oklahoma City. FYI, one of the AOL VPs was in Oklahoma City this past December and was appalled at the description of your city by the askmen writer. Mr. Werther described Oklahoma City as a dynamic city that rivals many that we’re familiar with here on the East Coast. He told me to feel free to include his feelings in any responses to this unfortunate incident. Thank you again for taking the time to contact AOL.
AOL Executive Assistant
Sure enough, OKC is no longer on the aforementioned list.
But it is still on the site that generated the original story. Here’s a bit about the writer from his website:
Nick Clarke is a professional writer living and working in Marbella, Spain. In his twenties, he’s not your usual crinkly copywriter; instead, he prides himself on supplying his clients with content that is fresh, inspired and innovative. With Nick, you’re assured of copy that today’s readers will be able to connect with.
Nick studied at Sussex University, and graduated with a degree in English Literature and Media Studies. He has worked on a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, and specialises in popular culture and travel. He particularly enjoys writing about all that is beautiful in the world, including luxury hotels, trendy restaurants and the latest gadgetry for the home. If it’s hip and gorgeous, Nick will have something to say about it.
When he’s not writing, Nick enjoys spending time with family and friends, catching up with the latest releases at the cinema and eating out.
He is currently working on his first children’s book, to be published later this year.
304 NE 3 – The heart of Deep Deuce and nominated for Worst Downtown Eyesore.
Let’s see now… it’s been boarded up since at least 2002, it has broken windows and the siding is peeling off. I know it was placed at least once on the city’s “long-term boarded-up buildings” list but not sure if any action followed.
Oklahoma County Assessor records show the building was built in 1915 and is owned by Melvin F. Luster.
A couple of weeks ago I posted the following question at www.okctalk.com: what are the worst downtown eyesores?
Here’s the list they compiled:
Old Downtown Library
Former Stewart Metal buildings
304 NE 3 (Deep Deuce)
Former Fox Collission Building
Bob Howard Ford
Union Bus Station
First National Arcade
Garage at Kerr and Harvey
Park Harvey Building
Former nightclub at Main and Walker
Goodyear Tire store
Bricktown Parking Garage
U-Haul building in Bricktown
So, what’s next? I’ve got a camera, and I’m preparing to take some photos of these “eyesores.” Then I’ll provide details on some of these properties, followed by a poll here at www.okccentral.com. The more of you who vote in this poll, the more likely it is you might nudge someone to make some improvements. Now, quiz time friends… which one of these “eyesores” is the only Oklahoma City property to win one of the highest architectural honors possible? Which property was deemed one of the city’s most significant architectural landmarks by a panel of architects and preservationists? Which building is owned by dedicated urban pioneers who have led in their district’s revival? And which building is closest to becoming history?
No, it wasn’t Mayor Mick Cornett’s appointment to replace Larry Nichols as a board member at the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. After seeing one comment after another on local message boards – notably www.okctalk.com and www.okmet.org - by members insisting on more openess and vows to go to a meeting, digital downtown finally caught up with virtual downtown.
A week earlier, I met with Nick Roberts, otherwise known as “Spartan,” at The Buzz and discussed all sorts of issues involving downtown. For me, this opportunity to meet with the operator of okmet.org was a chance to get a better insight into what’s driving continued interest in downtown development, what stories I might pursue, and how I can improve my reporting so that it stays relevant to you the reader.
Nick is a bit embarassed by the attire he wore to Wednesday’s Urban Renewal meeting – he was running late after traveling from Norman and trying to find the meeting locale, and didn’t realize the small confines of the board room where the commissioners meet. But consider this: Nick took the time and effort to see firsthand how development is guided by Urban Renewal and what discussions do and don’t take place.
That says a lot. I can’t recall another time when someone from digital downtown took such an effort to cross the gap into virtual downtown. We’ve seen near misses – one poster actually called into Urban Renewal’s offices several months ago criticizing a pending selection of a developer and vowed to show up leading a protest (no such protest followed and the person in question, who I’ve also met, has yet to appear at any Urban Renewal meetings that I can recall).
Nick, it was fun and enlightening meeting you over coffee, and I hope you learned something Wednesday.
Thanks to the wonders of photoshop, some glances at our potential new skyline are beginning to emerge. Here are a couple that have popped up the past 24 hours:
- Doug Loudenback, www.dougdawg.blogspot.com
- BG198, www.okctalk.com
I know there are a lot of photoshop and simcity geniuses out there, and even some architects and architectural interns and students who are reading this blog. So let’s have some fun with this – take your best shot at imagining the new downtown OKC skyline and email to me, and I’ll post them over the next several days.
You might never know whose eyes are reading this site, and how your imagination could influence the folks who will be making the final call of downtown’s future.
Does this sign make the best impression?
Photos courtesy of Pete Brzycki, administrator at www.okctalk.com.
Over at www.okctalk.com, the discussion this weekend is about the old Santa Fe Train Depot at Broadway and E.K. Gaylord. Owner Jim Brewer is apparently nearing the end of a three-year-long renovation. Pete Brzycki took a grand tour of downtown with his camera this past week while searching out a place for a reunion. As he notes, Oklahoma City may not be making the best impression on visitors coming through the old depot to ride the Heartland Flyer to and from Fort Worth.
Note that this very simple upkeep is being neglected as city voters have agreed to spend more than $100 million to turn Ford Center into a world-class statement that says that Oklahoma City is a major league city.
It’s empty and available. Got any ideas?
An interesting parlour game discussion is underway at www.tulsanow.org that asks the following:
Many times, we talk about certain locally-owned businesses going in (or worse, leaving) downtown, the creative re- and mixed-use of buildings, and high-quality urban design. We always want these local, creative-types to open places for us, but we don’t really go out and do it ourselves…So I’d like to challenge each of us on here to create an idea for a business of our own that incorporate all of these elements. I think it could be fun…If you could open up any kind of business in downtown, what would you open and why? …Or, if you don’t want to open one, what would you like to see downtown?
I’ve taken the questions that followed and changed them so they might relate to downtown Oklahoma City. So tell me:
-Your location/intersection (or current building) within downtown
-How you would re-use a current building or construct to match
-How many floors is the building?
-Who will occupy the upper floors?
-What would the inside look like? (Bricktown? MidTown? Flat Iron? Western Avenue? Paseo?)
-Would you incorporate green building materials?
-What type of business is it? Restaurant/Retail/Entertainment, etc.
-What segment you cater to?
-How would you draw people in from the suburbs who don’t patronize downtown establishments?