Native Roots Market at NE 2 and Walnut Avenue quietly opened Friday night. Yes, it’s a big deal. And indeed, those discovering the paper was off the windows and the door was open were quite excited.
But during my visit Sunday afternoon, I noticed something else. Just as owners Matt Runkle and Sara Kaplan predicted, the grocery was quickly becoming a community gathering spot. And outside, the Spokies bike share station found itself cleaned out – the last bikes left were checked out and being enjoyed along NE 2 as I left. This, folks, is a true restructuring of downtown. And though Native Roots is simply a 2,300-square-foot store compared to the $750 million Devon Energy Center, have no doubt, this little grocery will have its own big impact on downtown. Get ready – downtown is about to get exciting.
Sometimes the cuts are brutal. And that’s the case with my Sunday story on families moving downtown.
Ah, gotta love the news biz.
So for those of you who follow my downtown coverage closely with this blog, I urge you to read this version of my Sunday story:
BY STEVE LACKMEYER
Richard McKown feels no pressure to advertise his newly opened Level Urban Apartments at NE 2 and Walnut Avenue. He doesn’t have to; the complex was fully leased when it opened last month.
Down the street, also along NE 2, construction plans are being readied for the next phase of “for sale” housing at The Hill after the once slow-selling units were grabbed up by a mix of empty nesters and young professionals.
Families, long missing from the equation, also are now in the mix.
McKown and other developers say they’re seeing a shift in the downtown population as housing picks up steam with the upcoming opening of Native Roots Market, downtown’s first grocery, and planning for a charter elementary school and streetcar system.
New residents include the owners of Native Roots, Matt and Sara Runkle, who along with their infant daughter, Stella, live full time in an apartment over the grocery. Two blocks to the north, Kurt and Charla Gwartney and their 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, are looking forward to when they can walk to get their groceries from their home at the Block 42 condominiums.
Similar aspirations are shared by Kyle and Kate Jones, who along with their 10-month-old daughter, Ramsey, are living at The Hill.
“The sense of community that is downtown is stronger than anything I’ve ever seen in any of the suburban communities I have worked in,” McKown said. “The opportunities are so tangible and real, and the housing choices are growing.”
Those housing choices were key to Kate Jones agreeing to move downtown — a move she admits she only contemplated after her husband bribed her with a new car.
She was worried about what opportunities would be lost for their daughter.
“Where is she going to learn to ride her bike?” Kate Jones recalled worrying. “Where will there be other children for her to play with? I wasn’t even willing to give it a chance.”
With the offer of a new car, the soon-to-be mom searched online. She rejected the first two for-sale housing projects she found because they were multilevel with living areas on the second floor. But she quickly warmed up to The Hill, which she said “felt homey,” and had amenities, including a two-car garage, to which she was accustomed.
When the couple bought their home on Russell Perry Avenue in Deep Deuce in 2011, it was the seventh one sold. Now all 32 units built at The Hill have sold, and developer Bill Canfield is moving forward with further development of what will ultimately be a neighborhood with 157 homes overlooking Bricktown and the downtown skyline.
Kyle and Kate Jones say they are happy to have the option of enrolling their daughter at the future John Rex Elementary, which will be built at Sheridan and Walker Avenues. Kyle Jones also is excited about the prospect of someday traveling to work via a streetcar system that is set to link Deep Deuce and MidTown.
Kate Jones admits her entire attitude about living downtown has shifted. She sees children enrolled in activities daily at Boathouse Row along the Oklahoma River, playing in Myriad Gardens, and frequenting other downtown venues. The couple routinely enjoy walking to the park, restaurants, shops and to Thunder games at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I was very judgmental of downtown living,” Kate Jones said. “But I will never move back to Edmond. The traffic is terrible there. And I love where we are. I’m very glad he talked me into moving here.”
Friends who once mocked their choice of leaving the suburbs, Kyle Jones added, are now envious of their decision after visiting their new home.
The Gwartneys had a longer transition that started with buying a condominium at Block 42 as an investment while they lived at a parsonage provided to Charla Gwartney while she worked in Choctaw. When her job was moved to a church in Edmond without a parsonage, the family decided to make Block 42 their full-time residence.
Kurt Gwartney said when they first bought their condominium in 2007, downtown was still relatively quiet – the Deep Deuce apartments were open, but street-life was minimal.
“You see people living here now,” Gwartney said.
For Elizabeth Gwartney, who is enrolled in a “virtual school,” downtown is a vast classroom.
“When we were just here part time, it was a place we came to relax,” she said. “But now that I do virtual school, I can go to the Myriad Gardens or the art museum for my classwork. It’s all around me.”
Kurt Gwartney said the family loves to walk around downtown and observe the ongoing development. Owner of a dog, Sox, the family also discovered a thriving population of dog owners who congregate at the new dog park added to the Myriad Gardens.
Gwartney is rooting for transit advocates trying to extend the streetcar system along NE 4 through northeast Oklahoma City. The KGOU news director dreams of a day when he can hop on a streetcar to cover legislative sessions at the State Capitol.
McKown, meanwhile, is set on developing more housing just to the east of Level Urban Apartments along Oklahoma Avenue.
“I think we’re going to see a lot more people wanting to put down roots in downtown Oklahoma City,” McKown said. “I’m very optimistic and I think it’s a watershed moment for this generation.”
Ah, wouldn’t it be nice for the city’s oldest grocery (started in 1889) to return to its roots? The rumor is out there. And it wasn’t without some basis. But after doing some digging, I’m not convinced it’s going to happen. But I can share that the odds of downtown getting a grocery store are better than they’ve been so far. Don’t be surprised if we see something announced later this year.
Over the past couple of weeks we’ve had an interesting discussion about the lack of upscale markets in Oklahoma City and whether a state ban on wine sales in grocery stores is to blame.
Today I addressed the following question to Gov. Brad Henry, State House Speaker Chris Benge and State Senate President Glenn Coffee:
Readers say they want an upscale grocery to open in Oklahoma City. Representatives of some of the upscale markets have stated in the past that the state’s ban on wine sales in groceries is an impediment to operations like Whole Foods and Central Market opening in Oklahoma City.
Regardless of whether this is the only reason for the lack of upscale grocers, readers want to know why lawmakers have refused to allow wine sales at grocery stores.
Can you please provide an answer that directly and clearly answers why you have not changed this law and why you think it should or should not be changed?
P.S. Dear lobbyists: you’re next.
A couple of years ago developers and downtown leaders hoped they could make an impression on Drew Braum and convince him to open a Braum’s Dairy and Fresh Market to the corner of NE 3 and Oklahoma. Sadly, Braum couldn’t be convinced that downtown had the rooftops necessary to make the investment.
History makes me question whether everything argument that could be made for a Braum’s was made, or whether the best location was pitched. For years Braum’s had a restaurant at the Agnew exit along I-40 just southwest of downtown and it depended purely on highway travel.
What’s at stake, of course, isn’t just an ice cream and burger joint. The Braum’s market includes fresh meats, produce, dairy, cereal, snacks and bakery goods – all items craved by downtowners.
So, let’s be a bit provocative, shall we? This is all, of course, very flattering to Braum’s. I’m simply giving voice to a need expressed over and over again by readers.
So, let’s start by throwing out some alternate locations. Assuming the economy thaws soon, maybe the Candlewood Inn and Suites can be brought be back to life. The development at Lincoln and Sheridan included a retail pad, and it faces I-40 (both present and future) and I-235 – twice the Interstate frontage of the old store. And it is within walking distance of Deep Deuce or a very quick drive at worst for all of downtown. And I suspect the Candlewood Inn folks might want to re-examine their decision to put this project on hold as word gets out on the street that the new Bricktown Hampton Inn is one of the best performers in the chain.
This is just one idea. Before we go any further with this blogosphere campaign, I want to hear ideas from you that might be pitched to Drew Braum. Next up – a poll, followed by an old-fashioned digital letter writing that will show just how many of you would like Drew to join the neighborhood.
Urban Neighbors, I expect you to be very active with this discussion.
After reading today’s story about Sage (with excellent photos by Bryan Terry), you might be interested in learning more about Deep Deuce. Doug Loudenback has an incredible web site, and he has what I agree is the definitive online history of the area.
Here are more glimpses of Sage’s market and kitchen:
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.
Rumors have been circulating at www.okctalk.com that Homeland is looking at closing its store at NW 18 and Classen and building a new, modern downtown store. This is more than rumor – sources tell me it’s true.
Homeland has been ramping up of late, improving its stores and buying up all but one of the former Albertsons stores that were briefly owned by Williams Discount Foods.
Imagine the possibility of Homeland building a flagship store in the heart of Oklahoma City – one that could serve Heritage Hills, Mesta Park and all the historic neighborhoods circling downtown, as well as downtown’s own growing residential population.
For Homeland, a new downtown store would be great hit publicity wise. Open a store at NW 178 and May Avenue and it will do well, but won’t be a big news story. Open a unique store downtown and expect it to be covered by local print, tv and radio news before and during construction and then after it opens.
Homeland knows from the old store it has now at NW 18 and Classen that a grocery can operate downtown or near downtown. And Byron Gambulous, owner os Byron’s Liquor, can provide some great stats on retail patterns overall.
So, I ask you the readers: where should a downtown grocery locate, and what would you do with the old Homeland at NW 18 and Classen?
Read more here.