Those of you who followed OKC Central for any length of time probably realize that I’ve got a soft spot for the kids who are enrolled at Emerson High School. It’s an alternative education school at NW 7 and Walker where kids with some of the biggest challenges (teen pregnancy, not fitting in) are trying to overcome great odds and obtain a high school diploma.
I was first drawn to the plight of this school when I learned it was possible that those horrible (and they are horrible) run-down metal trailers outside the historic building could be left standing and in use as classrooms AFTER it undergoes its MAPS for Kids renovation.
A “ground-breaking” took place back in October. I’m not sure why that hasn’t translated into the ground actually being “broken” and construction taking place. But such delays happen – we’ve seen a similar silence with the Kevin Durant restaurant in Lower Bricktown.
Believe it or not, there is no clinic for the teenage moms at Emerson. A trailer clinic was provided several years ago, but support for it shriveled up with a loss of funding and/or interest.
Andrew Rice gets it. And as director of Variety Health Care, he’s seeking to have his organization operate a pre-natal/pediatric clinic at the school. The catch is the Oklahoma City Public School Board must approve a memorandum of understanding that would allow for the renovation of the century-old building’s boiler room to be used for the clinic. The school board will meet at 5:30 p.m. Monday at 900 N Klein Avenue.
Emerson is downtown’s only school at the moment. Not everyone may appreciate it being an “alternative school,” but it is making a difference for kids. And I’ve met some of these kids. I’ve participated in tutoring at the school. They’re good kids who either struggled in the normal flow or messed up without the safety net many of us had when we were younger. They simply need to see, to benefit, from a community that cares about them. With a lot of the kids coming and going from the school, I won’t lie – helping isn’t easy. But nothing extraordinary is accomplished without an extraordinary effort.
As I first reported last week, Paul Coury is set to have plans for conversion of the Osler Building into an Ambassador Hotel reviewed by the Downtown Design Review Committee. Here are more drawings submitted for consideration:
Construction is set to begin next month on The Edge, perhaps the most ambitious downtown housing project to date in terms of scale, amenities and finish. This video can only be seen online right now via NewsOK.
As I mentioned earlier this week, there’s a lot going on – so much so that it’s almost impossible right now to keep up with it all. Hopefully by the end of this week I’ll have most items caught up.
Let’s start with Bricktown, where it looks like a small wedge-shaped building along Main Street is being remodeled:
In MidTown, meanwhile, we’re continuing to see an influx of new housing and restaurants. At 430 NW 12, a long vacant two-story office building is about to extended to three stories and converted into housing:
We also know that the old strip shopping center at NW 10 and Walker is being renovated into an upscale string of restaurants as well. Passersby have seen renovations underway for the past couple of months for a Go-Go Sushi restaurant:
If you follow The Oklahoman’s food writer, David Cathey, you’ll also know that a new location for Saturn Grill will be opening next to Go Go Sushi. The opening of these two restaurants will likely solidify Walker Avenue’s status as an addition to the city’s list of leading restaurant rows.
This story starts back in December, when it appeared as if a great little restaurant in MidTown was going to fail – not because the young couple who ran it were not likable, not because they didn’t serve great unique dishes, and not because of the location.
No, the imminent failure of the old little diner at 1220 N Hudson, which originally opened as “Foodies Express,” could only be attributed to a lack of marketing, branding and word of mouth.
It was only word of mouth – an urging by Marva Ellard, who owns the neighboring Sieber Hotel Apartments - that got me in the doors. Those who read this blog know I was already in love with this half century old diner and it didn’t take me long to take a liking to the food and the owners. Quyen Le and Bang Bui are truly “foodies.” Their diverse menu is unlike anything I’ve ever encountered in Oklahoma. It’s not a Vietnamese restaurant, though that influence can be found in much of their menu. It’s not a Greek restaurant, though they have some of the most original gyros in town. It’s not a chicken wing place, though they have a diverse variety of wings that include a “suicide” batch made with ghost peppers. It’s not a burger place, though they do serve burgers and chili. It is, as summed up by people far smarter than I, an Asian American Diner.
I shared this discovery with Chad Huntington, who in turn became a regular customer himself. And it was on one night in December, just a few weeks after Foodies had opened, that Chad shared with me his fear the restaurant wouldn’t make it. He also went on Twitter and shared with the local social media world what they were missing.
Brian Winkeler, one of several people I’ve become acquainted with in the creative community who I truly respect and admire, gave his best smart ass response. He dismissed the restaurant, saying he’d be more likely to visit if they had a better looking sign, logo and overall presentation.
Bad move, Mr. Winkeler. I said just as much. Knowing he possessed the skills to address Bang and Quyen’s biggest shortcomings, and knowing Winkeler to be someone who cared about the neighborhood, and understood how a successful restaurant in this location could make a world of difference, I challenged him “pass it on.”
Winkeler, joined by his kids, met me at Foodies not long after. And he too discovered why Marva, Chad and I all wanted to see this young Vietnamese immigrant couple succeed. Winkeler, whose recent work included the rebranding of the Bricktown Brewery, accepted the challenge and drafted a fellow talent, Phillip Schroeder.
I’m happy to say that Bang and Quyen are doing well now – they’re getting great reviews on sites like Urban Spoon. And after working a few weeks with Bang and Quyen, Brian and Phillip amazed everyone by creating far more than a new logo and sign. They created new menus, and a new look for the diner itself. Bang is hoping the transformation will begin sometime this month. In the meantime, here’s a glimpse of what’s to come (and yes, Bang reports the bars are about to be removed from the windows!):
I’ve heard from a couple of readers interested in seeing more images of the old Mercy Hospital that occupied by the NW 13 and Walker block in MidTown now slated for The Edge apartments. It’s easy for me to forget that not everyone saw this huge complex day in and day out as much as I did, and that some never saw it as well.
So let’s take the time machine back and visit the hospital during its glory days, and then not so glorious days:
So how did we get here? How did we get to January, 2012, and residents of Heritage Hills are surprised that a housing development is about to go up on the former site of Mercy Hospital?
First, let’s go back one decade. Mercy Hospital abandoned its downtown home and opened a new complex in the mid-1970s in what was then the sticks – Memorial Road just west of May Avenue.
The old Mercy hospital ended up boarded-up blight on the neighborhood for a quarter century.
In the late 1990s the city finally got around to securing control of the block and the Urban Renewal Authority was tasked with finding a developer for the site.
Nicholas Preftakes made the first pitch in 1998. The $11.8 million proposal, the first downtown area housing attempted by Urban Renewal in 20 years, called for 16 two-story town houses, 72 city villas and 52 apartments. A rendering from the project shows the apartment building would have been six stories high.
The project was canceled in 2002 after Urban Renewal commissioners refused a request by Preftakes to acquire a duplex just south of the site. That duplex, once criticized by neighbors as a public nuisance, was later renovated into law offices.
The Urban Renewal Authority made another request for proposals for the site in 2006. By this time downtown housing was gaining momentum with the success of the Deep Deuce Apartments and other for-sale and rental housing popping up throughout downtown.
Two developers stepped up on this second go-round.
Marva Ellard pitched a plan dubbed Mercy Park, a $48.3 million development that would include 111 apartments, 22 for-sale condominiums, restaurant and retail, and a 72-room hotel. The Mercy Park proposal called for a restaurant, deli, shops and a grocery to face NW 13 between Dewey and Walker. Condominiums would face Walker while apartments would be built along NW 12 and Dewey. A hotel would be built in the center of the development, with underground parking serving the entire complex.
Chuck Wiggin, meanwhile, pitched Overholser Green, a $61.3 million development consisting of four buildings, four- to eight-stories high, with 109 upscale for-sale condominiums built above underground parking.
Wiggin’s proposal was chosen, only to fall through due to the economic crash of 2008. Wiggin attempted to persuade Urban Renewal board members to keep his contract in place and allow him to adapt his proposal into apartments. The board instead decided in 2010 to put the project back out for bid. And this time they received five responses – though one, pitched by Home Creations, was deemed significantly out of line with what was being sought by Urban Renewal due to its mix of office space and low threshold of investment.
This time Wiggin proposed a five-story complex with 24,000-square-feet for restaurants and retail, a 375-car garage, featuring 200 rental units with monthly rates between $600 and $1,900.
Ellard pitched a proposal again as well, this time submitting plans for a 150-unit, four-story complex that would have included enough parking to share with the nearby Unitarian Church and a daycare center.
This time around, the competition was joined by Richard Tanenbaum, whose previous residential downtown development included the Park Harvey Building and The Montgomery. Tanenbaum and his son Stephen proposed a four-story, 268-unit apartment complex with a pool and courtyard.
The Edge has undergone some changes since it was first proposed (as shown in the above rendering). In response to a push by the Urban Renewal board and neighborhood advocates, a retail mix was added along Walker Avenue. The amount of stucco facade was reduced, and garage was relocated to where it will be far less visible to the street.
These deliberations were open to the public; I even did live blogging and in-depth evaluations of each proposal.
Building permits are being sought, financing is apparently set, zoning is in place. All that remains, really, is a routine replatting of the block and approval for the exterior design by the Downtown Design Committee, which meets on Thursday. One variance is being sought – for a three-foot parapet to screen rooftop equipment. The Mercy site has never been this close to development – and after 13 years of similarly-sized developments being pitched and attempted for the block, it now has the attention of the Heritage Hills neighborhood one block to the north.
Let’s examine a bit more closely the 10th Street Medical Corridor Plan, prepared through the 10th Street Medical District. This was a private organization founded after the city and county agreed to address problems in MidTown that had St. Anthony Hospital pondering a move away from the urban core.
It’s a group that has done a lot of good for MidTown. But it’s a private group – one that denied me access to its deliberations as it considered housing proposals for property it controls at NW 10 and Hudson (the deal ultimately went to a hospice group, though we’ve yet to see any work commence).
The Heritage Hills residents opposing The Edge repeatedly quote from a study done with the 10th Street Medical Corridor, in which one section is devoted to the former Mercy hospital block. Planning Director Russell Claus noted the study was a snapshot in time, one that was written to address the area as it existed in 2005/2006 – before the emergence of the Walker Avenue shops and revitalization of several former flop houses in MidTown into upscale apartments. It is a document that was intended to be guidance, but not a statutory restriction, to development of the area. Note that within the language of this section is its own description – “design recommendations.” No more, no less.
The section of the study addressing the Mercy hospital block, set to be developed as The Edge, is presented for readers to decide for themselves the significance of the document six years after it was written:
Opportunity Area “A” comprises a single vacant parcel two blocks north of St. Anthony and directly adjacent to the residential neighborhoods of Heritage Hills and Mesta Park. The block has great access and visibility from both 13th Street and Walker Avenue. This 3.2-acre site is ideal for new moderate-density residential development to serve the needs of the hospital employees and others working in the area and downtown.
New residential uses south of 13th Street will advance the broader objective of developing this area as a transition zone between the neighborhoods to the north and downtown to the south. Medium-density housing would be most effective in tying these areas together. Because the site is already vacant and owned by a single entity—a city agency involved in redevelopment—this area is well suited to be developed early, as one of the first major residential construction projects in the district.
Given the proximity of this site to the southern boundary of Heritage Hills, the character and scale of the architecture should address the edges of the site in different ways. At 3.2 acres, the site is large enough to accommodate a range of housing configurations. Several housing types can be dispersed on the site, with smaller footprints facing 13th Street and larger buildings oriented to the south and 12th Street. This variation in scale will help to create the desired transition from the residential scale of northern neighborhoods to the institutional scale of St. Anthony.
Access to parking for the new development should be located off of Dewey and Walker streets so that additional curb-cuts off of 13th Street are not required. The parcel is large enough for surface parking to be in the middle of the site surrounded by buildings that shield the parking from the street. In addition to parking on the interior of the block, on-street parking should be encouraged.
Urban design recommendations for Opportunity Area A:
Surface parking for new residential development should be kept to the inside of the block, shielded by buildings that form its perimeter. Direct driveway access to the site from 13th Street should not be permitted; parking access should occur from the north-south streets of Dewey and Walker.
Residential density on the site should range between 25 to 40 units per acre. Some small-scale, ground-level commercial uses could occupy the corner of 13th and Walker, drawing pedestrian activity from the restaurant and commercial uses beginning to cluster on Walker Avenue to the south.
Release the Request for Proposals (RFP) for developers to redevelop this site calling for new residential
Initiate a site survey and subsurface exploration to identify any potential obstacles to development such as utility lines and abandoned foundations from the former Mercy Hospital.
In today’s paper we got to see the case presented by some Heritage Hills residents against The Edge, the 252-unit apartment complex about to be built in MidTown. Note, it’s not in Heritage Hills – it’s in MidTown. As with any complicated story, it’s challenging to get every detail into a daily news story. But this story represented my best first shot at delving into this debate.
Let’s start with some basic information first:
- Gary Brooks was selected in what was an open and transparent competition with three other well respected developers. When potential unfairness was noted on this site, including the prospect that some of the developers wouldn’t get to make a presentation to the Urban Renewal board, the board quickly reversed course. I also witnessed first hand a board membership that seemed to sway back and forth between three of the four proposals (for the life of me I can’t figure out why a rather wonderful proposal by Marva Ellard didn’t gain any traction). From information I was gleaning before the final Urban Renewal vote, it appeared possible that Richard Tanenbaum was going to win the contract. Even Brooks himself appeared resigned to losing the vote when I encountered him 30 minutes before while fueling our vehicles at a downtown convenience store. I then witnessed a vote that almost seemed to swing toward Chuck Wiggin before ultimately coming down on the side of Brooks.
- This project was covered extensively in The Oklahoman, on OKC Central, in the Journal Record and in The Oklahoma Gazette. You couldn’t escape it on the popular online community forum OKC Talk.
- As I reported in today’s story, Heritage Hills was represented in a committee review of the development proposals by Steve Jacobi, board president of the neighborhood association Historic Preservation Inc. It was during this process that issues of density and design were delved into and settled (a discussion that took place a year ago).
- This site is zoned for apartments.
- This site falls into an area represented by the Urban Neighbors residents association. I’ve heard from multiple members, including an officer, who are VERY unhappy that the Heritage Hills residents have tried to dictate terms in an area that is not in their neighborhood and did not bother to bring their concerns to Urban Neighbors, which does represent MidTown.
Now, that all said, let’s look at the emails that got people talking:
First up – a January 11 email from Alicia and Scott Champion, who live on NW 14 (there is a half-block buffer zone of office buildings separating The Edge site from Heritage Hills. Midtown is south of NW 13, Heritage Hills begins at NW 14):
Subject: The edge – PLEASE REPLY – AGREE
Heritage Hills residents
Have you been made aware that there is a new 68 ½ foot at the tallest point or 5 story apartment complex in the works to be constructed on the south side of the street at 13th& Walker? This is a 252 unit project that will have 232- 1 bedroom units, 10- 2 bedroom units, and 10-3 bedroom units and the “asking” rent price for a 1 bedroom is $1,000.00 a month. The Edge apartments are supposed to be “high end” and I do not doubt that they won’t be but, the scale of the project is enormous! If you are concerned about what an apartment complex will do for your property value in the next 20 years please read on.
A height of 6 stories (at the tallest point and a common green space area) is a big invasion of privacy for those resident that not only on the “border” the south side of 14th but all of 14th street. If you are walking along the street on 14th you will indeed be able to see the complex cascading over the roof tops and trees. While we earnestly are passionate about development in and around our neighborhood a lot of us are not excited about a complex. Most of the neighbors would envision for housing
· Ownership of condominiums
· No more than 3 stories in height
· Gradual sky line transition along 13th street into downtown
If you think this is a great idea for our neighborhood to have so many transients across the road then please read no further but if you are concerned about
· Increase in classroom size at Wilson School
· Foot traffic and pet traffic along our streets and parks (we pay for the upkeep!)
· Electrical Infrastructure i.e. more rolling brown outs. Especially if you are on Saint Anthony’s grid
· Plumbing Infrastructure
· Litter (Pet litter as well)
· Increase of potential crime
· Balconies without covenants
· Retail on Walker without restrictions
Then please join us and sign this petition. If you are against a complex of this size going into our backyards make your voice heard. We are in need of signatures for the Emergency Historic Preservation Meeting January 12, 2012.
We are not downtown and don’t need density we are midtown and need to protect what we and sustained all of these decades. We need all the support that we can get. HPI was created for this very thing! Our founders Watson, Coley, Nesbit all thought of the importance of our neighborhood and wanted to not only protect the interests and historical value of our homes but our boarders too! The South side of 14th, north side 22nd and all the streets along Broadway and Classen Boulevard are the true boarder s of the neighborhood and we must protect our area. We have collected millions in our endowment fund to help protect ourselves and our investments. Let’s face it, the developers wouldn’t be here if it were not for many of us pouring thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars into persevering our homes. We need to make sure the development will be good for the entire neighborhood and corridor between midtown and downtown.
We want to supply HPI a list of names of neighbors in Heritage Hills who are against the Complex. (Our neighbors in Mesta are joining in our efforts as well).
Alicia and Scott Champion
Now, let’s look at yet another email, this one sent out on January 10 by another resident on NW 14, Darci Schafer:
Subject: Re: “The Edge” Please mark your calendars and plan to attend the Downtown Design Review Committee (DDRC) Thursday, January 19 at 9:30am, OKC Municipal Building, 200 N. Walker, 3rd Floor
All concerned neighbors are encouraged to attend the Downtown Design Review Committee (DDRC) Thursday, January 19th at 9:30am, OKC Municipal Building, 200 N. Walker The Downtown Design Review Committee (Betsy Brunsteter, Gigi Faulkner, Mark Grubb, Charles Ainsworth, Richard Tanenbaum, Stan Carroll and Ike Akinwande) will review the design/overall scale and plans for the proposed 252 unit apartment complex *”The Edge.”
The Edge must be approved by the DDRC to become a reality. The meeting begins at 9:30, but the agenda will be posted online closer to the meeting if you want to check the order of business. Their website is www.okc.gov (Click on DDRC.) Parking is challenging there right now, so be prepared. Attendance is of the utmost importance. It is possibly our only chance to have the plans for “The Edge” apartments denied or at least “continued” (delayed). To date, attendance at this meeting is the most important action for concerned neighbors to take.
Any comments or concerns about the potential impact on surrounding neighborhoods may be e-mailed to staff member Scottye.Montgomery@okc.gov who will forward them to the seven-member DDRC.
You may be interested to know the following meetings are also scheduled:
Wednesday, January 11 Meeting of Mesta Park’s Executive Board
Thursday January 12 Special Meeting of HPI, Heritage Hills’ Board
Most of you are receiving this e-mail because of prior attendance and interest. If you are new on the mailing list, this is regarding the issue of the *Edge Apartments that are planned for the old Mercy site on the entire block between 13th and 12th Street between Walker and Dewey. This apartment complex would be a building four and five stories tall with balconies. There would be a minimal lot line (no external green space), 252 units (200 would be 1-bedroom; 10 two-bedroom and 10 three-bedroom), and at least at least 400 cars could be associated with this property.
Concerns include but are not limited to:
Overall scale of the project/compatibility of the design
Traffic impact (400+ cars)
Utility impact (water and electric power grid) (252 units)
3-4 Levels of balconies (covenants)
Project consultation with neighborhoods to the north/lack thereof
The following is a link provided by one of our neighbors. In 2006 OKC consulted with two firms (of Cambridge MA and St. Louis MO) regarding the City’s plan for NW 10th Street between St. Anthony and OU Medical Center. It spoke specifically about the old Mercy site as a “transition zone” and even recommended density (80-120 units) for a residential project. The Edge doubles (252 units) the recommended amount of units. Pages 20-25 are particularly worth reading as they provide solid recommendations and some helpful visuals.
Please feel free to pass this information along. Thank you all for your interest in this matter.
Now this email brings up a report the neighbors have been citing – but is it truly relevant to the discussion or binding in this matter? Note they’re citing pages 20-25, which does indeed address the old Mercy hospital site that is now in contention. This is a study; it is not a zoning, design guideline or statutory document governing this property. It is, in fact, the reflection of efforts by a private group whose meetings have been closed to the public and with whom I’ve had difficulty in the past getting information in regard to efforts to redevelop land under its control at NW 10 and Hudson. They are not breaking the law with this lack of transparency – they are, indeed, a private group that has every right not to share every bit of their business with a pesky reporter such as myself. But that also would seem to diminish the importance of this document as being anything but a guide – one that is now six years old and pre-dated most of the development we’ve seen to date in MidTown. Popular restaurants such as Stella’s (where several of the Heritage Hills protesters met after their meeting Thursday night) were not yet in existence. That stretch of buildings, now occupied by shops and restaurants, were still a blighted mess.
This study does not, as I read it, suggest LIMITS on development and density, but rather shows potential outcomes. It is also eclipsed by much more recent studies on walkability, authored by Jeff Speck, and a downtown housing study authored last year that promote urban density and housing development, especially apartments, in MidTown. All three documents are studies, not binding requirements and limitations on development.
So at this point, we have a developer chosen through an open competition. We now know that Heritage Hills was invited to review and evaluate the competing proposals, and that its neighborhood leader did participate and according their records, he kept his board updated on the development discussions. We also know that the project does not conflict with any zoning or city regulations, other than a 3-foot variance being sought at Thursday’s meeting of the Downtown Design Review Committee for a decorative crown element at the rooftop that will screen various air conditioners, building systems, etc. We also know the study cited by Shafer is six years old and does not impose any limits on development of the site, other than to recommend how best to proceed with possible housing.
In terms of the development’s quality, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. At least one of those commenting that the design is substandard in comments posted here at OKC Central and at NewsOK, I know, is directly tied into one of the three losing development proposals.
For those who might think I’m in any way beholden to Brooks, hit “downtown housing” under categories on this blog and review the scrutiny I gave during the selection process and to the Brooks proposal.
I pick apart apparent mis-truths. It’s what I do.