I’ve been thinking quite a bit about downtown retail – about how far we’ve come, yet how far we’ve got to go with making downtown Oklahoma City a shopping destination.
The opening of Native Roots Market is, as I’ve said, a big deal for downtown – especially Deep Deuce. But as Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. surveys folks about what can be added next, and I continue to hear suggestions of further experimentation with “pop-up shops” like the ones that were featured at Better Block OKC, I’ve been thinking – what might work downtown?
First, a sampling of what has opened, or is about to open downtown: we have a big retailer with Bass Pro Shops in Bricktown. Other Bricktown retailers include the Bricktown Marketplace/Emporium, The Painted Door, Bricktown Candy Company, Guestroom Records Put a Cork in It, The Store and the House of Bedlam.
Along Automobile Alley we have Broadway Wine Merchants, Pinpoint Monograms, Schlegal Bicycles, Shop Good, Treasures Past, Rawhide and soon, Plenty Mercantile. Deep Deuce now has Native Roots Market and soon Deep Deuce Wines.
MidTown has Floral and Hardy Florist, MidTown Optical and Meg Guess Couture.
The Central Business District has Medicine Cabinet Pharmacy, Nancy Farha Clothing, Tina Hicks Clothing, Floral and Hardy Florist, Becky’s Hallmark, A Story of Hope Gift Shop, the Tinder Box, the Thunder gift shop and B.C. Clark Jewelers.
It’s not a bad start. And Automobile Alley is showing a lot of promise. But we’re far from recovering downtown Oklahoma City’s magical retail past.
So here’s my attempt at brainstorming some retail ideas.
We know that a popcorn shop is opening in downtown Tulsa. If it can work there, why not in downtown OKC?
Downtown lost Taylor’s Newsstand a few years ago. I still miss it terribly. I know we can’t bring back a full fledged, old fashioned newsstand with the variety of newspapers, magazines and books we took for granted at Taylor’s. But good grief, surely there is demand for a hybrid of such an operation – maybe combined with a coffee shop?
First bit of brainstorming – restore the line up of retail along Park Avenue. I dream of Hallmark returning back to its spot along Park Avenue in the First National retail arcade with a newsstand opening next door. Do another switch – have the doctor’s offices in the retail arcade switch sides of the First National arcade with the Medicine Cabinet getting the storefront space now wasted by the doctor’s offices. Then have the Medicine Cabinet, accessible to the street and much more visible, expand it’s operation and hours.
Don’t mess with the Tinder Box. Leave it alone, but provide it with better signage.
Now, this leaves us with one empty space in the Medical Arts Building at the corner of Park and Broadway. We give this space to Hans Herman, a very popular tailor among downtown’s movers and shakers.
Now, see what I’ve done? In my parlor game, I have a great stretch of retail along Park Avenue that begins with B.C. Clark’s and a tailor shop at Broadway, continues with the Story of Hope Gift Shop, the Hallmark store, a newsstand, and the Medicine Cabinet pharmacy. We also have UMB Bank and Café 7 in that mix. Convince me why this is not doable. Not a bad start for a one-block stretch in the heart of downtown, right?
Now, we have another vacancy where the OKC Florist was in the Robinson Renaissance building at Park and Robinson. This is a bit tougher for me to figure out. But it’s an opportunity waiting to be picked up with the space still empty. It would be great if Tina Hicks would take the corner – but I hear there’s no moving that clothing store from its very successful spot on the second floor of Oklahoma Tower. Next door to the former OKC Florist space is MidFirst Bank, followed by Floral and Hardy and the Thunder Gift Shop across the street. The block fills out with a sub shop about to open in the Park Harvey building next to the sushi restaurant.
This is my first entry in this parlor game. Please discuss – how do we make Park Avenue between Broadway and Harvey Avenue a great continuous stretch of retail?
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.
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…
I’ve seen a lot of fits and starts when it comes to Bricktown retail. Let’s review a bit….
Way, way back when, there was a small flower shop started up as part of a failed attempt by Neal Horton to turn a decaying district of old brick warehouses into something special. It didn’t last long, but in the early 1990s we saw the opening of the Bricktown Mercantile. And it lasted for several years – but as Jim Brewer would say, it was too much, too soon, and too ahead of its time.
The opening of the Bricktown Canal in 1999 ushered in another wave of retail – names like the Laughing Fish, an art gallery, a Mexican gift store … all of them failed to take root. I’m not sure if they were entirely bad concepts, but they were all spread out – there was no cluster of retail to draw the increasing crowds being drawn by the canal.
City leaders thought they could kick off retail by priming the pump – chipping in $19 million to help build a Bass Pro Shops and jump start the Lower Bricktown project.
Some retail did follow – clothing stores like LIT and Firefly. Both were trendy clothing shops. But was this the retail concept to match what people visiting Bricktown were looking for? Bass Pro is doing fine. But LIT and Firefly both closed this past year. Maybe they would have fared better if they had been situated next to each other. Instead, developer Randy Hogan had them on opposite ends of the canal as it meanders south of Reno. The LIT space is being replaced by a restaurant. Don’t be surprised if a restaurant takes the Firefly space as well.
So now we move onto the current wave, which I’d argue is kicked off by Chad Huntington and Bob Bekoff with the opening of the Oklahoma’s Red Dirt Emporium in 2007. Not too much earlier we see The Painted Door opening around the block facing Sheridan.
Oddly, just as the Emporium opened, the only retail tenant on the canal level, a Native American gift shop, relocated to Stockyards City. That is now the only space empty on the canal level of the Miller Jackson Building, with the remaining space attracting an art shop, a winery, a convenience store and now the Bricktown Red Dirt Marketplace – all together, all offering a mix that might just be the right draw for visitors.
Below I’ll show the free standing stores, followed by a glimpse of the retail now open in the marketplace – are we about to finally see a critical mass on retail along the canal?
Today’s guest blogger is Blair Humphreys, who ,has had a great influence on my understanding of urban planning over the past couple of years. I don’t pretend to know as much as Blair knows – but I’m often awed by his ability to beyond conventional thinking and to propose solutions not considered. Blair’s experience includes real world urban development, time spent with Hans Butzer, one of the city’s leading design professionals and professor of architecture at OU, an internship at the Oklahoma City Planning Department, and of course, a front row to seat to the city’s political scene. Blair, a national merit scholar at OU, won national recognition and honors while attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he graduated last year with a Master in City Planning and Urban Design Certificate. Blair is now an instructor and researcher at the University of Oklahoma, and has been following the Let’s Talk Transit far closer than I.
After seeing comments already made by respected Oklahoma City blogger Doug Loudenback questioning whether real public input was taking place with the downtown transit, I asked Blair to share his insights.
It has been a while since I last blogged over at www.imaginativeamerica.com! I recently moved back to Oklahoma City and am enjoying being home. While a new job (and a new house, and new puppy, etc) have kept me from blogging lately, I believe this issue is extremely important and hope you will find the post worthwhile.
I will be at today’s Lets Talk Transit meeting at 11:30am – hope to see you there!
The first Let’s Talk Transit meeting was held on March 29, 2010 and the process will finish on Thursday, May 27, with meetings at both 11:30am and 6:00pm. Let’s Talk Transit is the public’s opportunity to interject their thoughts into the decision-making process for the $120 million MAPS 3 streetcar system:
“This is why these meetings are being held so the public can have a voice about what is most important to them. The public’s opinion is vital in meeting the needs of those who work, live and visit downtown.”
- Rick Cain
I was able to attend the first meeting and have kept up with the process by completing surveys, watching videos of meetings, and reviewing the meeting agendas. In fact, Let’s Talk Transit has done a great job making information on the process available. All of the images and/or quotes in this post come from public documents available at: http://www.letstalktransit.com/meetings (#1 – see note). As I have watched and listened, I have developed my own opinions on the best routes for the MAPS 3 Streetcar, and have found myself in agreement with much of the public input to date, but now I am beginning to wonder whether the output of this “public process” will truly represent the input the public gave.
APRIL 13 MEETING
At the second meeting on April 13, 2010, members of the public worked in small groups to layout proposal for the new streetcar routes. There were six tables each of which was asked to take-on the perspective of a potential streetcar rider: resident, worker, and visitor. Figure 1 shows the various proposals that the citizen groups came up with. All of which were aggregated by the consultant to produce the frequency map shown in Figure 2.
Figure 1 – Routes Proposed by Citizens at April 13 Meeting
Figure 2 – Frequency of Routes Proposed by Citizens at April 13 Meeting
So what did the citizens say? What routes had some consensus?
Top routes selected by the citizens at the April 13 meeting:
- Broadway Avenue – 5 out of 6
- Sheridan Avenue – 5 out of 6
- Walker Avenue – 4 out of 6
- N. 10th Street – 3 out of 6
- Stiles Ave – 3 out of 6
Interestingly, if you take a closer look at the individual maps, you find that a majority – 4 out of 6 of the groups – selected both Broadway Avenue and Walker Avenue as a north-south pair with Sheridan Avenue and/or Reno Avenue serving the accompanying east-west connection (#2). In fact, most of the routes are also similar in their use of straight lines and few turns (#3). Given the number of possibilities, to have such a consensus on preferred routes is incredible. It certainly got my attention. But apparently did not impress the consulting team.
APRIL 29 MEETING
The consulting team returned at the next meeting and provided the meeting participants with north-south and east-west route options. There were six north-south route options presented by the consultant – see options – but the Broadway/Walker pair favored by a majority of citizen groups at the previous meeting was not included, and there does not appear to be any explanations as to why. The consultant presented these route options and then, once again, asked the citizens to work in groups to sketch out their own route proposals.
Figure 3 – Routes Proposed by Citizens at April 29 Meeting
Figure 4 - Frequency of Routes Proposed by Citizens at April 27 Meeting
Once again, the citizens showed a very clear consensus on routes with at least 5 out of 6 groups proposing a route that included Broadway, Walker and/or Sheridan. The bright red line – visible in Figure 4 – outlines the core of a simple system on which the majority of the public participants agreed (#4). When you combine the preferred routes from the April 13 meeting with these proposals from the April 27 meeting you get the following:
- Broadway Avenue – 10 out of 12
- Walker Avenue – 9 out of 12
- Lincoln Boulevard – 6 out of 12
- Walnut Avenue – 5 out of 12
- Hudson Avenue – 5 out of 12
- Stiles Avenue – 4 out of 12
- Robinson Avenue – 1 out of 12
- Sheridan Avenue – 11 out of 12
- N. 10th Street - 8 out of 12
- Harrison Ave – 6 out of 12 (#5)
- N. 4th Street – 5 out of 12
- N. 13th Street – 4 out of 12
- The Boulevard – 3 out of 12
So what is the public saying? The only routes shown on a majority of the citizen’s proposals were Broadway and Walker running north-south, and Sheridan and 10th Street running east-west. Also noteworthy is the strength of both Lincoln and Harrison, which speaks to a desire by the public to connect to the Health Sciences Center complex (#6). And once again I will point out the public’s consistency in producing simple systems made up of straight-lines and few turns.
MAY 11 MEETING
At the May 11 Meeting the consultants presented three “conceptual” alignments – see Figure 5 – that were “drawn based on input from past public meetings and the results’ of [the consultant's] analysis.”
Figure 5 - Consultants Conceptual Alignments Presented at May 11 Meeting
Of the three “options” presented, none include the Broadway/Walker north-south pair favored by the public. In fact, only one includes N. Broadway at all, despite the overwhelming support of the public for this route. And while Sheridan is partially included in all three options, none of the consultant’s three options use the straight route on Sheridan found in the majority of the proposals by the public. Also gone is the simplicity of the system favored by the public’s proposals, replaced by an ever-winding path of turns and loops reminiscent of our much maligned rubber-tire trolley system. Some of this winding is done in order to incorporate two options with a Boulevard route, even though this route had little support from the public. According to the meeting summary, Option #1 was the favorite of the citizens in attendance. However, the summary also mentions that a number of concerns were vocalized, including a plea for Broadway to be used instead of Robinson. Of course, this begs the question: how could the consultants take the input of the public which favored Broadway in 10/12 compared to Robinson in 1/12, and decide Robinson was the better choice? Surely the citizen’s input is worth more than that?
MAY 27 MEETING
It was my hope that the routes to be presented at the May 27 meeting would revert back to the public’s wishes and provide a simple system incorporating Broadway/Walker and Sheridan, but the newest “options” – see Figure 6 or download pdf – continue to stray from the input given by the citizens. While the exclusion of Broadway has been changed in 2 out of 3 of the options, the clean Broadway-10th-Walker connection favored by citizens is confused in a series of interconnected loops and bends. And the continuous east-west connection along Sheridan that was preferred by the citizen groups is forfeited, it would seem, so that two of the options can include a Boulevard route. There is no simplicity, few strong corridors, and very little evidence of citizen input.
Figure 6 - Consultants Final Options Presented at May 27 Meeting
These routes will be presented by the consultant today – Thursday, May 27 – in public meetings held at 11:30am and 6:00pm in the City Hall Council Chamber. While the consultant will no doubt claim that these routes were “created using the input received from citizen surveys, hands-on exercises and through open discussion,” all evidence points to the contrary. This is not an insignificant fact. The consultant’s “options” will be placed in the hands of decision-makers that select the final routes and they will be told this represents the public input received during the Let’s Talk Transit process. Mr. Cain stated at the beginning of the process that these meetings are being held so that “the public can have a voice,” but what good is a voice, if no one will listen (#7).
- Give it up for the meeting planners and public relations team. Thank you!
- The April 13 groups that included Broadway & Walker for N-S, with Sheridan and/or Reno for E-S are: 1, 2, 3 & 5
- This typically provides a system with higher degrees of legibility for the user
- Once again, notice that the public recommends simple routes with few turns
- A Harrison line typically connects east-west via N. 4th Street or north-south via Walnut Ave.
- I have heard a lot of people say that even though the HSC has no housing or retail attractions, it makes sense because the workers will ride the trolley to lunch in Bricktown. Sounds great. However, it will take at least one mile of track – or $20 million – to connect to the HSC. And with a 127 passenger capacity and no better than 10 minute frequency between cars, you will not see more than 500 riders per day (or 500 x 250 work days = 125,000 riders per year). Even at municipal bond rates (5% per year on $20 million) this works out to a cost of $8 per rider per year in infrastructure investment (not including operating costs). And the likely routes feature comparitively very little in adjacent development opportunities
- Thank you to Steve for giving me the opportunity. And once again, I apologize for the length of my post(s).
I’ve been thinking more about the question posed in one this weekend’s comment threads – what is there to do beyond restaurants for younger visitors in Bricktown?
There’s a playground, granted, but I rarely see it used. Likely it’s not in the greatest spot. I wonder if it can’t eventually be moved to a better location in Bricktown. And yeah, there’s a movie theater and bowling – but not every visitor is going to want to spend their time bowling or seeing movies. We could also add to the list places like the Bricktown Candy Co. But what unique retail would be a plus for Bricktown – especially for younger visitors?
Would a magic shop work in this day and age? And with the Academy of Contemporary Music thriving along the canal, is there some opportunity for a music shop? How about comic book sales or collectibles? I’ve also wondered how a “nostalgia toys” shop might fare. It would appeal, I think, to youngsters, but probably even more so to the Baby Boom generation shopping for their grandkids.
Could any of these concepts make it on their own? Maybe not. But here’s my freebie idea of the day – combine it all into one store. Or maybe there can be a fun-themed marketplace for all of this where you add in nostalgia t-shirts, a photo booth and some other throw-back amusements (skeeball? air hockey?).
Going beyond the kid set, it seems as if there are a few other additions that would work well. A Native American jewelry and art shop did well in the Miller-Jackson Building, but it lured away to Stockyards City. Oklahoma’s Red Dirt Emporium is a big asset – the sort of gift shop I’m sure other downtown’s dream of having in their midst, carrying an array of quality gifts that showcase items that are either locally made or have Oklahoma ties (and yeah, you can even find my books there!).
It’s no surprise Firefly and LIT clothing shut down – I’m not sure they were offering anything that couldn’t be found elsewhere. And quite frankly, it’s going to take unique concepts to make it in Bricktown. Unique concepts, however, can’t always thrive in the early months without some sort of support to help them get established. Once again my thoughts go to a marketplace … wouldn’t it be great if such a place existed in Bricktown, where for just a few hundred dollars or less one could get their start at entrepreneural success without risking losing everything? Wouldn’t be great if such a marketplace existed to help Bricktown move on to the next step – and become the retail destination sought out by visitors and locals alike?
Yeah, I’m hinting at something here….
It wasn’t too long ago that Randy Hogan was boasting a 100 percent occupancy for Lower Bricktown. Not any more. A few months ago LIT clothing next to Starbucks closed. That space remains empty. Sometime in the past week or two one of Hogan’s oldest tenants, Firefly clothing, closed as well. That leaves Lower Bricktown with a theater, restaurants and clubs. And while the theater was a big win for Bricktown and downtown, the remaining mix wasn’t exactly what city leaders were pursuing when they agreed to the controverial public funding of a Bass Pro Shops to be the anchor for the development eight years ago.
To be fair, retail is getting hit hard everywhere. But in light of where Lower Bricktown is today, should it be considered a success or a disappointment?
A year ago there were at least a handful of downtown developments on the drawing boards that seemed to be sure things. One of those was the Flatiron, a mixed-use development by Grant Humphreys at 5th and Harrison.
Construction was to start in the fall. And that’s where things get all messed up; have your leases and financing nailed down in July, 2008, and things are still set. But fall was a totally different story following the economic crash, and while Oklahoma City has been spared much of the pain, financing is still troublesome for pretty much everybody.
Grant Humphreys wants to make this deal work. He spent time and money on the project. He invested his creative energies and hopes.
The local economy isn’t shutting down, but it’s not immune from the outside pressures. Interestingly enough, I’m seeing more leasing activity along Broadway and in Bricktown than I have the previous two years.
By all accounts, Devon Energy is showing no hint of delaying or stopping construction of its 54-story highrise.
Yet the banking crunch is having its effort. Without any further delay, here’s Grant’s open letter:
From: Grant Humphreys
Sent: Thursday, February 19, 2009 5:03 PM
Subject: THE FLATIRON – A SYMBOL OF RESILIENCE – of our downtown, of our city, of our Oklahoma spirit
Across the nation, the economic crisis has forced many development projects to be put on hold or brought to an end. Yet Oklahoma City, despite some very real economic downturns, continues to prove itself as one of the most resilient markets in America.
After almost three years of design and due diligence, our project known as ‘The Flatiron’ is poised to become a reality. When the construction of this project begins at the gateway of downtown OKC, The Flatiron will deliver the message that Oklahoma City is still in the game. Watching this new 5-story mixed-use project be built will boost confidence in our market and help maintain or increase property values as well. No doubt the Devon Tower will deliver this same message around the world, but we’re the small business version that is ready to go. But we need YOUR help.
We need YOUR help to meet our pre-leasing hurdle. The Flatiron will create more than 73,000 RSF of Class ‘A’ office and retail space ideally located at the gateway to downtown, Bricktown and the Oklahoma Health Center. Our asking rates are $22/RSF (gross) for loft office and $22/RSF (net) for street level retail (with CPI bumps). We need credit tenants willing to sign a 5-year lease. Local tenants are great. Once we’ve pre-leased 50% of this space, we will move towards an exciting groundbreaking event. We want to work with brokers. So bring me a deal. With your help, we can meet this goal . . . and you’ll be the first invited to the party!
All the information you need is available online at www.flatironokc.com. You can find floor plans, marketing brochures and a video of the project. Make a point to watch the video. It’s awesome.
Dave Ortloff, our Director of Marketing, is handling the broker relations. He’s here for you. If you’d like to arrange a tour or receive more information about this exciting project, just call Dave at (405) 228-1000 (ext 4). His contact information is also on the website referenced above.
Let’s work together to show everyone that, despite the rest of the nation, the real estate market in Oklahoma City is alive and well. I appreciate your help!
Find out more by visiting their website at: FlatironOkc.com!
UPDATE: A co-worker got an interesting call from a “homebuilder” who complained about this post. The homebuilder didn’t bother contacting me directly, but apparently feels this is a ”lovefest” for Grant Humphreys and wanted to know how much Grant paid for it.
Grant paid nothing. I post what I find interesting. I found the new animation interesting. I thought Grant’s comments were interesting. There you have it, anonymous homebuilder. The same logic went into yesterday’s posting on the Prohibition Room.
I also think this might be interesting to my readers. If I’m guily of a ”lovefest” here, I guess you can also say I’ve had “lovefests” with Marva Ellard and the Sieber, Ron Bradshaw and the Maywood Lofts, Larry Nichols and Devon Tower, pretty much all of Bricktown and all of MidTown and all of Automobile Alley.
Here’s the thing people keep on missing: I cover downtown and the inner-core. That’s what I do. If I were the Sooner beat writer, I guess I’d be accused of having a lovefest with Bob Stoops.