Over at www.downtownontherange.blogspot.com, Nick Roberts is continuing to put his own stamp on the discussion of downtown Oklahoma City’s ongoing transformation. Nick, who is pursuing a planning degree in college, is able to take that discussion a bit further than I can due to our different roles in the blogging world. I try to offer news and observation (and sometimes very uncomfortable questions posed to those I cover), while Nick goes straight to commentary. He’s good at what he does. But confusion sometimes emerges. Last summer developer Richard Tanenbaum put up a slide of quotes praising his track record and attributed it to OKC Central – when it actually was written by Nick over at Downtown on the Range.
Nick and I are often thinking about the same topics. This time we’re both thinking about Avis Scaramucci, owner of Nonna’s and The Painted Door in Bricktown, and who is going on her fourth year as chair of the Bricktown Association (she also serves of chair of the Bricktown Urban Design Committee). A few weeks ago, I took the following photo:
Yep, that’s more windows getting covered with plywood over at the Rock Island Plow Building. Keep in mind it’s a structure that is on the National Register of Historic Places. Before I could post anything on OKC Central, Nick posted his own photo with the following quote:
Does a single successful restaurant make someone the “Queen of Bricktown?” So far Avis has done nothing to prove that she wasn’t one and done in terms of Bricktown development, and how did this get to be the person chairing the Bricktown Suburban Design Committee?
So I guess Nick would be none too thrilled to see more plywood going up on windows at the 100-year-old Rock Island Plow building, which Avis owns. It’s the ONLY boarded up structure left in Bricktown, and it’s along Reno Avenue where thousands of visitors travel daily, both by foot and by vehicle. It’s a prime corridor for tourists and those attending NBA games at the nearby Chesapeake Energy Arena.
County records show Avis and her husband Phil bought the building for $1,450,000 in 2003. I’m also aware they spent a significant amount of money doing emergency structural repairs several years ago that, if not done, we likely would have lost this building all together.
I’ve been hearing complaints similar to those voiced by Nick, and I asked Avis why the wait – why not move forward with a development or simply sell the building to someone who will make something happen. I know they’ve had willing buyers – parties with a track record of successful development. So far, Avis’ response is simply “now is not the time.”
This won’t make Nick any happier. And I fully anticipate he’ll have more to say on this matter.
The Hotel Marion at NW 10 and Broadway is probably familiar to most OKC Central regulars. It’s a heart breaker of a building that passed through several owners before landing with the MidTown Renaissance group a few years ago. Give Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming credit, they’ve shown their dedication toward renovating and properly restoring their older buildings, but the Marion is the one building that eludes even bravest of souls in the development world.
Downtown Brainstorming is just that – using the collective experience, observations and imagination of OKC Central readers to help solve problems such as the Marion. It will be done when the key decision makers indicate they welcome such input, and in this case, we have the go-ahead from Mr. Howard himself.
Before getting into the complications surrounding the Marion, let’s revisit some stories about the hotel’s history that help show why it deserves a new shot at life.
The hotel was built in 1908, making it, I believe the oldest surviving structure downtown after the razing of India Temple last year. In 2006, after the building was bought by MidTown Renaissance, I heard from one of the descendants of the hotel’s original owners. J. Malcolm Haney’s grandmother, Bess L. Haney, operated the hotel from 1946 to 1971.
Malcolm correctly recalled the hotel’s east facade for years had a sign that boasted it was “The Nicest Small Hotel You’ll Find.”
“This place has a very special place in our family’s past,” Haney told me. “Our safe haven was staying at the Marion with Bessie in room 110, which had two single beds … Many of Bessie’s rooms were occupied by permanent residents, including three terrific small apartments in the basement. It was the last place many army recruits stayed before they shipped off to boot camp because the U.S. Army recruiting center was across the street.”
Haney’s cousin Bob Villareal recalled the hotel’s telephone booth had a ventilation fan that turned on upon entry.
“You could put your finger in the fan without injury,”
Villareal said. Villareal still remembers the hotel’s corner room, home to an old radio and his grandmother’s parakeet. Photographs from Bess Haney’s lifetime were displayed throughout the hotel.
“I’ll never forget the smells in that old place,” Villareal said. “There was a certain aura about the hotel that’s hard to put in words, but it always felt peaceful and happy. Of course, it was never the same without Bessie. She was the heart of the Marion.”
More recently, my worthy competitor Brianna Bailey at the Journal Record shared even more about the hotel’s history. She shared how the Marion was next to an Army recruiting station, and the Haneys saw countless young servicemen from across the state off to the Vietnam and Korean wars over the years.
Malcolm Haney told Brianna about how the hotel’s old-fashioned soda pop machine that would dispense soft drinks in glass bottles for 10 cents.
“Bessie had an old-fashioned telephone switchboard and would patch people through to the rooms,” Malcolm Haney said. “It was a warm family place and Bessie was the matriarch of the family.”
So what went wrong?
Haney told Bailey that time was the enemy with downtown descending into decline in the 1970s. Chain hotels drew customers away from the Marion.
“Bessie fought the battle of any small hotel operator against the large chain hotels and she fought the downfall of downtown of ’60s and ’70s,” Malcolm Haney told Bailey. Bess Haney’s five children asked their then-elderly mother to retire from the Marion in the 1970s, and she died in 1984 at the age of 95.
So we have a nice historical, architectural gem with a warm and fuzzy history to make us all go “awwwwwwwwww.” With that done, let’s get the harsh slap of reality started.
The building is a mess. The interior consists of rotting wood. The roof is barely there. As I pointed out on this blog a few months ago, the dreadful appearance of jigsaw cracks has emerged along the building’s corners.
Here’s the good news: Bob Howard KNOWS he’s going to lose money with this building. He is no fool. And as Rep. David Dank pushes to eliminate historic tax credits, understand it’s buildings like this that become impossible to save without such assistance. Tax credits saved the Skirvin hotel. Tax credits saved the Gold Dome. Tax credits saved the Sieber.
But tax credits won’t save the Marion. It’s just not enough. Howard says he’s prepared to make this his contribution to the community. He appreciates the history and architecture of the Marion. And if money were the only concern here (understand, however, Howard isn’t going to bankrupt himself on this either), then I doubt the Marion would be our first Downtown Brainstorming candidate.
Talking to Howard and his partner Fleming, it’s clear that one risks killing the Marion if one is to save it.
The interior must be gutted. That means that support beams must be put in to prop up the facade walls much as Marva Ellard did with the old grocery building section of the Sieber. But the Marion is a very tight spot, locked in by properties with different owners.
It is surrounded by occupied buildings, and the parking is heavily used by the law firm to the west. The street, NW 10, is a major corridor that would be a nightmare to shut down, if city folks were willing to even entertain such a move. And even if the Marion had some working space around it, the engineering on this is a puzzle.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the readers make OKC Central special. The conversations are a step above what’s found elsewhere on the ‘net, including the comment sections on NewsOK. I’m proud of that, far more than anything else I’ve accomplished with this site. You’ve been around the world. You’ve followed urban design closely. You’re argumentative, but respectfully so. You bring new ideas. You love downtown Oklahoma City. You’re proud of what’s been done. You’re not satisfied that enough has been done. You’re always pushing for it to be better. And you want to solve downtown’s biggest problems.
Here’s your chance. Are there landmarks elsewhere in the world that have had similar challenges? How were they overcome? What can be done to make the Marion a feasible renovation?
This morning I drove along Automobile Alley and noticed dozens of political signs illegally placed in public flower planters along both sides of Broadway. A reader sent in the following comment:
“I was in Downtown OKC and they had 4 or 5 people sticking signs in EVERYWHERE. I followed them and took pictures of them doing it and asked that they please not put them on city property. Many people have worked hard to clean up our city and the 744 crowd just marches in and decides that they want everyone on the parade route tonight to see their cause.
All of a sudden this guy comes says – “How much are they paying you?” I told him no one is paying me and that I am not on either side. I am just a guy that wants the area to remain looking nice. I pull a sign out and tell him that he is violating the city code that prohibits sign placement on city property. He freaks out and starts videoing me, zooming in on my face and yelling “You are a liar, tell me NOW who you work for and how much they are paying you”. He then pushes me and saying I am a thief and I am stealing his property. I told him that he could pick his sign up at the police station.
Then I I told him lets call the cops and see who is right.
He again demands to know who I am. He yells, “Get out your wallet and show me your ID”. I laugh and told him he is not the boss of me and he can’t make me. I pull out my camera phone and start taking pictures of him. All of a sudden he “Ninja Kicks” my hand and knocks my phone out of my hand. Carrie and the kids are in the car on the street and watched it all. I then take a picture of his car and tag. What is interesting is that both guys were from out of state. One was from Minnesota and the other (Ninja boy) from Tennessee. Hmmmm, so who is getting paid and who is not.
I honestly did not have a dog in the fight. It just pissed me off that they put like 15 signs per block along the parade route. Anyway that is the short version. I know that an organization can’t control every person that works for them but I am NOT IMPRESSED with the Yes for 744 crowd. Take a look today at how many signs are in the medians, really do we need 50 per block.
Actually even one is illegal. I can tell ya how I am voting now.
I thought about filing a complaint with the cops and calling the news but i figure no one cares but my FB friends.”
NOTE: I’m not taking sides on the political message shown on the sign, and it should be noted people running for political offices throughout the spectrum ROUTINELY VIOLATE the law when it comes to these signs.
I’ve covered downtown development for more than a dozen years. In that time, I’ve heard one discussion after another about various eyesores downtown and potential solutions. Not once have I heard mention of the most obvious eyesores to be found pretty much everywhere downtown – our parking meters. To the left is what we see right now. They’ve not changed much – regular old meters on ugly poles installed decades ago. Maybe, just maybe, city crews brushed on a new coat of silver paint on the poles. And that’s it.
Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly has been challenging the status quo with these meters. He asked a good question over the summer – why is parking banned at some meters between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.? The restrictions were placed years, if not decades ago. City staff did an analysis of traffic patterns and guess what? The restrictions weren’t needed at all.
The photo on the top of this post shows a parking meter along Dewey Avenue just south of Main Street. The photo to the left shows another parking meter on the same block with a new cover on the pole. Is there any question as to which one looks better?
I don’t know who is installing these covers, but I’m curious as to whether we might see these covers added throughout downtown?
And is there any chance of painting the meters black so they match the poles? I’ve got more questions coming soon.
Today we start off with a new feature at OKC Central – Why?
I now know that this blog is getting read by an interesting mix of people throughout downtown. So why not use it to ask some really uncomfortable questions? And while we’re at it, let’s just send a photo to the appropriate people with just one question: “Why?”
So, the following photo is going out via email tomorrow to Planning Director Russell Claus, Mayor Mick Cornett, and the two people in charge of the city’s fire code inspections, Deputy Chief Bryan Heirston and District Chief Kellie Lee.
Let’s see if they respond. In the meantime, any of you readers care to take a shot at this same question?
The apparent junk yard at NW 10 and Harvey. Why?
This beauty at 100 NE 8 has looked like this for quite some time. And until 2006, it was owned by the Corsair Cattle Co., which also owned the former Pat’s Lounge building on NW 10 now being renovated by Greg Banta.
The billboard is an interesting approach to zoning. This property is visible to thousands who travel I-235 into downtown.
The property was sold to the Triangle development group in 2006 for $353,000, and they are now seeking to have the building torn down.
I can’t remember a time when these duplexes along Broadway Drive at NW 11 were anything but trouble for downtown. Several years ago they were well known crack houses. Hand Up Ministries bought them, fixed them up, and then turned them into halfway houses for sex offenders. The neighborhood didn’t like that either, and by last fall, authorities were responding to complaints that they were illegally within the prohibited range of a school (the Oklahoma School of Math and Sciences). Anyway, by winter, they were history.
They’ve quickly fallen into disrepair, extensively vandalized – likely by copper thieves. Anyway, Bert Belanger admits they are his now, and he is preparing to tear them down for an undisclosed future development.
Now, what would work well on this site (and realize his holdings will including the junk yard to the east on NW 11 and the boarded up nursing home across the street, which he also says will be cleared).
Read my story here.
UPDATE: Old Downtown Guy, a man definitely in the know about what’s happening in the city, comments on Bert’s past work and predicts that housing may be on the way for Broadway Drive. Read his comments here at www.okctalk.com.