Let’s revisit the planned development of The Edge apartments at NW 13 and Walker in MidTown. The site was previously the old Mercy hospital, a six-story complex that stood boarded up and blighted across the street from Heritage Hills for almost three decades.
Urban Renewal has had three shots at developing this site, starting with an apartment complex approved in the late 1990s that was to be built by Nicholas Preftakes. Not once while covering this story did I hear any complaints from Heritage Hills about the prospect of apartments across the street, the development’s impact on traffic, noise, crime or the electric grid.
The development fell apart when Preftakes wanted additional properties to be acquired for the project.
Then, in 2006, Chuck Wiggin, himself a Heritage Hills resident, pitched a 109-unit development of for-sale condominiums. The development, approved by Urban Renewal, was to consist of four buildings, four- to eight stories high. Again, not once did I hear of any objections voiced by Heritage Hills. The development fell apart when the condominium market crashed.
So fast forward to 2010; another competition is held by Urban Renewal. A very public bidding process is overseen, with aspects of each bidder’s project reported repeatedly by The Oklahoman, Journal Record and the Oklahoma Gazette. The development also was covered by television.
The winner of the competition, Gary Books, pitched a complex that consists of 252 units, of which 163 are one-bedroom apartments, 79 are two-bedroom apartments, and 10 are three-bedroom apartments.
Rent for the smallest units starts at $1,000 a month and goes up from there.
A lot of comments are suddenly coming out of Heritage Hills about this project. I gave a critical eye to Brooks’ proposal when these bids first came in, and regular readers of OKC Central will recall I pointed out several cases where the evaluation conducted by Urban Renewal staff was flawed. I will use the same critical eye in examining arguments by Heritage Hills against The Edge.
While the story is still in the works, let’s kill another rumor going around in the neighborhood: that this will be a HUD Section 8 complex. That is entirely false. The Edge will be financed through the same HUD financing program that was used for the Sieber Hotel Apartments. It’s also the same financing mechanism that Heritage Hills resident and competing developer Chuck Wiggin was proposing for his project.
I’ve always had an affinity for the old diner at 1220 N Hudson across from the Sieber. Maybe because of it’s odd size, or it’s age, or simply because Oklahoma City doesn’t have a lot of these quirky little diners left. But just the idea of such a restaurant being around in 2011 appeals to me. Sadly, this building hasn’t had a lot of success with good restaurants. Last year most of what remained of the original diner lay out with the old fashioned coffee bar counter was removed by a Greek restaurant that came and went in just a matter of months.
To be truthful, I tried the restaurant once and never returned. The food wasn’t that good, and if I want to good gyro, the Peacock is just a few minutes down the road at Reno and Walker.
The latest restaurant to open, however, is a different story. The food is good, the owners, Bang Bui and Quyen Le, are very nice, and the place feels … comfortable and happy.
As with many first time restaurant operators, the concept needs work. Their Asian food is fantastic (joined by a handful of friends, we’ve tried out several of the dishes and they were all great). But what is a bit odd is to date the owners have shied away from the Asian food that otherwise would make them fairly unique in an area that has plenty of pizza and burger joints, but not a lot of Asian food. The name itself, “Foodies Express,” doesn’t give a great idea as to what the restaurant is, and the sign out front oddly promotes “Asian Gyros & Grill.”
I asked Bui and Le about this this odd choice, and they indicated they had been told the previous restaurant “sold a lot” of gyros (I’m not so sure of that). But they are adjusting their menu and hours, and seem to be refocusing on their Asian food. Now, I’m not a restaurant reviewer. But for MidTown to re-emerge as a truly mixed downtown neighborhood, it will need places like this – little restaurants where one can order pot stickers and teriyaki chicken to go at 8 p.m. without going out to NW 23 and Classen and beyond. It’s a little spot where a hot bowl of egg drop soup is perfect on a cold autumn day.
Foodies Express is a work in progress – but it’s good to see a young couple like this taking their best shot at helping make MidTown the next great downtown neighborhood.
News from Kaisers:
On October 22, 2011 Kaiser’s American Bistro will be hosting its first annual Sock Hop in celebration of the one year anniversary of an Oklahoma landmark.
In October 2010, Kaiser’s resumed operations under restaurant owners Shaun Fiaccone and Kim Dansereau. The two have made the preservation of the history of Kaiser’s a top priority in their business.
Kaiser’s was founded in 1910 on 7th and Hudson. Construction began at its current location on 10th and Walker in 1917 and finished 1918. The building as it is known today was completed in 1928.
Saturday’s Sock Hop will include live music from thespyfm’s Juke Joint Jenni, Elvis impersonator Brian Dunning, a classic car show, and prizes sponsored by COOP Ale Works, The Lost Ogle, and thespyfm. The event is from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m. and is 21 and up to enter.
“Kaisers is an integral component of Oklahoma City,” said Shawn Fiaccone, owner. “It represents our collective heritage–who we were then, who we are now and who we will be in the years to come. The building represents our enduring spirit as well as our commitment to the strong core values of servitude. Kaisers is and will continue to be a place for our residents to converge, eat, drink and enjoy.”
A couple weeks back I wrote about some interesting design twists being taken as part of the MidTown Renaissance development being led by Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming. I was especially taken by plans to create this public courtyard space in the alleyway between the Guardian Garage building (which is set to be converted to retail and housing) and the Packard Building (which is to be converted to retail and offices).
It’s an amazing transformation taking place, considering that for years the building at NW 10 and Robinson, being rechristened by its historic name of Packard Building, looked like this:
Over the years I’ve tried to find photos showing what the Packard Building looked like over the years, but with little success. Go figure I’d find a treasure trove of photos looking for images of the old First Christian Church across the street (of which I again had little success).
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?
At OKC Talk, there is a discussion about Deep Deuce and MidTown. The basic gist is an excitement over how Deep Deuce is becoming a truly walkable, mixed-use downtown neighborhood, while the same folks are disappointed about how much empty and undeveloped land persists in MidTown.
Now, for some perspective with the help of some photos. Remember, Deep Deuce development got started in 2000. MidTown development got started in 2006. Bricktown, by the way, was started way back in 1979.
The original plans – click on image to enlarge
I posted this in 2008. In light of recent discussions over the decision by the Urban Renewal Authority to award development of the MidTown Mercy site to Legacy apartments developers Gary Brooks and Mike Henderson, I am reposting this blog post:
From time to time I hear grumbling about the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority and whether it really holds developers to the plans that get them selected against other competitors.
What’s wonderful about The Oklahoman’s archives is we can see for ourselves whether there is any validity to this complaint.
Today we start this new series with a look at developer Mike Henderson’s original designs and compare them to what was built. I pick Legacy at Arts Central because it by far the one most mentioned by critics.
So now we know – Gary Brooks and Mike Henderson will be the next to take a shot a developing the highly coveted, but elusive Mercy site in MidTown. Time to step back and take a full view of it all. First, let’s take a look at initial renderings.
Now this is where things get interesting. After hearing initial critiques from Urban Renewal Commissioners and seeing proposals by competitors, Gary Brooks did what he needed to do to win the deal. He removed the “carriage” entry (similar to the one at Legacy) from the Walker side of the complex, moved the leasing office and club house to the front along Walker, and changed the ground floor apartments along Walker to retail.
So we go from this facade facing Walker…
To this one (don’t get too caught up in the difference in rendering quality):
There were also concerns about the appearance of the garage facing Dewey Avenue, across from the Unitarian Church and Villa Theresa school. This was the original design:
And this is the revised rendering:
Downtown on the Range blogger and urban planning student Nick Roberts has compiled his own “grid” analysis of the MidTown Mercy hospital site proposals. He has a very different take on “experience.”
The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority board met today. Director JoeVan Bullard gave a brief run-down of the committee evaluation of the bids to develop the old Mercy Hospital site in MidTown. He noted the committee concluded none of the proposals were perfect. He went on to say, however, that “two” of the proposals had far more pros than cons.
As noted on this blog, if a grid were done on those pros and cons, it would have quite a few gaps for four of the five proposals.
Bullard advised the board they will need to reserve quite a bit of time to hear the proposals, and asked if they wanted to hear two or three of them. He went on to say that to hear three proposals they would need about three hours.
New chairman Larry Nichols countered the board needed to “do the right thing” and hear all the proposals. Bullard reminded the board the Home Creations proposal did not match up with the request for proposals. Nichols responded that Home Creations should be told as much, and if they want to make modifications and still do a presentation, they are welcome to do so.
The presentations will be heard sometime next month with the exact date and time yet to be determined.