Urban Renewal director JoeVan Bullard is taking issue with the suggestion that the report on the old Mercy Hospital site leaves questions about the criteria used and whether the projects were evaluated on an equal basis.
More often than not, a grid that sets out how each proposal fares with each criteria is used for such analysis (and one is being used in the site selection for a new convention center).
So let’s try and take the information available and see for ourselves whether the same criteria is being used with each project.
The report begins with an extensive explanation on how the use of HUD financing can slow a project. And yet this criteria seems to only be used on the proposal submitted by Marva Ellard, and is not mentioned on any of the other proposals.
So, let’s submit just three categories to the grid:
1. HUD FINANCING AS A POSSIBLE DELAY IN STARTING PROJECT:
Ellard: HUD financing, cited as a con with statement: “redeveloper’s availability to timely execute.”
Henderson/Brooks: HUD financing, no such mention
Wiggin: HUD financing, no such mention
Tanenbaum: Not relying on HUD financing, not listed as a “pro.”
Home Creations: Unclear.
Ellard: Cited as con, “large commercial space: 49,450 sf,” does not explain that the proposal suggests much of the commercial space is designed to be “flexible” and could be turned into additional apartments.
Wiggin: Cited as a pro, “Commercial space: 24,000 sf”
Henderson/Brooks: Cited as a con, no retail space along Walker.
Tanenbaum: Cited as a con, no retail space along Walker.
Home Creations: Cited as a con, “Commercial space: 36,000 sf to 68,000 sf”
3. EXPERIENCE (Now this is an interesting criteria. Are we to assume this means “outsiders, you’re not welcome to play in this game?”)
Ellard: No comment made on Ellard’s development of the Sieber Hotel Apartments or involvement with The Hill, an Urban Renewal housing project in Deep Deuce.
Wiggin: Cited as a pro, “Familiar with OCURA procedures, successful developer.”
Henderson/Brooks: Cited as a pro, “Familiar with OCURA procedures, successful developer.” No mention is made on the team’s difficulties meeting deadlines, deviations from original proposal on last Urban Renewal project, the Legacy at Arts Quarter.
Tanenbaum: Cited as a pro, “Experienced developer with proven success record” Doesn’t make clear this is Tanenbaum’s first attempt at an Urban Renewal project.
Home Creations: No comment made on experience; the developer has decades of experience building homes in the Metro, but has not previously attempted an Urban Renewal project.
Now, what follows are criteria used to favor Henderson/Brooks that are not mentioned as a pro or con with the other proposals:
- Good exterior elevation variances for historic appearances
- Roof top amenities of dog park and community patio
- Good parking structure aesthetics
- Flexible open living floor plans
- Attractive street level unit entrances
The Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority is taking its third shot at trying to find the right development mix for the old Mercy Hospital site at NW 13 and Walker in MidTown.
On the second go-around I noted the following bit of intrigue:
Urban Renewal commissioners have as a guide a citizen’s review report that recommends Overholser Greens, praising it for complementing Heritage Hills neighborhood to the north and criticizing Mercy Park because it includes apartments and retail.
But a look at the membership of the citizen’s committee shows that while it includes a longtime resident of Heritage Hills, it doesn’t include anyone from MidTown.
The Mercy site is in MidTown — not Heritage Hills.
Greg Banta, who is developing more than 30 properties in MidTown and is one of the district’s most influential voices, isn’t taking sides and was not invited to participate in the review.
But he questions the citizen group’s comments against retail. He wonders — isn’t mixed retail what urban development is all about?
What followed the next four years shows such concerns were well-placed. Chuck Wiggin won the development bid even as Urban Renewal commissioners were being warned that his model of high dollar condos – the one favored by the Heritage Hills crowd – was about to crash. The mix of apartments and retail pitched by his unsuccessful competitor, Marva Ellard, is now being sought out as the goal with this latest effort to redevelop the site.
So now the Urban Renewal Authority will be meeting at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to possibly decide which of the five current proposals they will want to hear – essentially by doing so they will be narrowing the list down to a group of finalists no matter how much they might deny it.
So the the report that was sent to commissioners on Friday will weigh quite a bit on who they might choose to advance to the final round.
I’m calling this report out. I am questioning whether this report was either badly written or written with the purpose of steering selection to one developer over the others.
Consider what some might say are blatant contradictions:
- The proposal by Marva Ellard is cited for being “suburban” in its footprint, and yet the proposal by Chuck Wiggin, which is almost identical to Ellard’s, is praised for being “urban.”
- Wiggin and yet another team, Mike Henderson and Gary Brooks, are given credit for their experience with Urban Renewal on previous projects, and yet there is no mention of how either team failed to meet deadlines on their previous projects, and Ellard is not given credit for her experience as part of the original team with The Hill in Deep Deuce.
- The exterior elevation on Wiggin’s proposal is knocked for looking “institutional.” Yet it features a retail mix on the first floor, and from my view, it was remarkably similar in scale to the much praised exterior elevation for the Henderson/Brooks proposal. There is also no mention in the report about how drawings submitted by Henderson and Brooks for their last Urban Renewal project, Legacy at Arts Quarter, were dramatically altered by the time the project was actually built. Did the committee not discuss this at all? If it wasn’t, why not? And if it was, why not include that in the evaluation of the Henderson/Brooks proposal?
- Another “huh” moment occurs with the following critical comment on Ellard: “redeveloper’s availability to timely execute.” Really? Really? From what I saw, there is no difference in the scheduling and financing of these projects between Ellard, Henderson/Brooks and Wiggin. They all rely on HUD financing, which they all will have to apply for and go through the red tape of waiting for approval. Ellard and Henderson/Brooks have experience working with HUD (there is no indication of any experience for Wiggin). If any of the developers have an advantage in this category, it’s Tanenbaum, who has $20 million in financing READY and is most likely of any of this group to start construction this year.
- Ellard’s inclusion of retail space is listed as a “con” in the report, and yet it’s listed as a “pro” for Wiggin. Yet another “HUH?”
There’s more contradictions, I’m sure. I asked Urban Renewal director JoeVan Bullard to let me attend the committee discussion. I was denied the request on the basis of the old excuse of needing to foster a “free and open discussion” and that I’d get in the way of that. I’ve known Bullard for many years, I’ve known him to be an honest and hard-working civil servant. But this report makes me question – are there other reasons for not wanting “Lackmeyer in the room”?
Does this report really reflect the discussions of the committee, which consisted of Assistant City Manager Cathy O’Connor, Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. President Jane Jenkins, University of Oklahoma architecture professor Bob Goines, Oklahoma City Planning Director Russell Claus, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber economic development Vice President Robin Roberts-Kreiger, former Urban Renewal executive Dave Jones, St. Anthony Hospital President Joe Hodges, and Heritage Hills Association President Steve Jacobi.
Read the “committee report” and ask – is this written as an honest, fair evaluation of all proposals, or is it skewed toward one developer?
OCURA MERCY RFP REVIEW
Review Committee: 01 April 2011
Terry Taylor Joe Hodges Russell Claus
Catherine O’Connor Robert Goins David Jones
Robin Roberts-Krieger Jane Jenkins Steve Jacobi
Committee member’s advocated principles, observations, and considerations to be applied for the potential redevelopment of the Mercy site are;
The important key elements in the redevelopment of the OCURA Mercy site should be accomplished through thoughtful negotiations that focus on an original, attractive, unique quality project of urban durability and sustainability which enhances and compliments the adjacent neighborhoods and becomes a “cornerstone” for additional Midtown redevelopment.
Architectural design integrity is essential for this “special” site.
A “back door” appearance on any side of the project should be avoided.
The project should have a residential quality appearance, establishing a defined and recognizable image that contributes to the protection of the Heritage Hills and Mesta Park neighborhoods.
Establishing a theme corner at NW 12th and Walker to encourage the continued retail\commercial redevelopment of Walker from the existing retail node concentrated at Walker and NW 10th needs to be explored.
Project design\layout should encourage and promote the continued redevelopment of NW 12th.
“Green” features and amenities should be incorporated throughout the entire project including “rooftop” venues adjacent to NW 12th.
Vehicular access from NW 13th is not desirable and should not be permitted.
Use of HUD financing (221(d)4) can be tedious and lengthy, which could slow the commencement of construction. Unfortunately, based on current market conditions HUD assisted funding appears to be the only source available other than private equity. However, founding a successful sustainable exclusive urban development should be the foremost consideration for this exclusive site.
OCURA MERCY SITE
April 01, 2011 Page 2
The Committee’s following general observations were derived from the Redeveloper’s proposal.
Connection at Midtown (Tanenbaum)
Unit sizes; 475 sf to 980 sf
Monthly rental; $1.18/sf to $1.38/sf
Suburban apartment appearance
Setback from property line
Compacted common area\space close to units
Parking access from NW 13th
Low equity investment
Durability and quality concerns due to low construction costs
No “character” on NW 12th
No commercial component on Walker
Good density of 268 units (97 units/acre)
Multi floor plans
Good access from parking structure levels to units
Good green landscape usage
Short construction period
Experienced developer with proven success record
The Marquette on Walker Option (Ellard)
Unit sizes; 697 sf to 1,553 sf
Monthly rental; $1.33/sf to $1.40/sf
Suburban appearance with divided structures
Low density of 150 units (54 units/acre)
Vehicle access from NW 13th, NW 12th, Walker and Dewey
Large commercial component on NW 13th, Walker and NW 12th
Large Commercial space: 49,450 sf
Redeveloper’s availability to timely execute
Good “green” elements (LEED)
Pedestrian entrances on all streets
Quality and durable project experience
Recognizes historical importance
Available parking for neighbors; church and school
OCURA MERCY SITE
April 01, 2011 Page 3
Edge at Midtown (Brooks-Henderson)
Unit sizes; 683 sf to 1,442 sf
Monthly rental; $.97/sf to $1.12/sf
Setback from property line
No commercial component on Walker
Visitor vehicle access from Walker not compatible with pedestrian usage
Good site plan
Good density of 250 units (91units/acre)
Good exterior elevation variances for historic appearances
Roof top amenities of dog park and community patio
Good parking structure aesthetics
Good location of parking structure with Dewey access
Direct access from parking structure levels to units
Interacts with NW 12th
Flexible open living floor plans
Attractive street level unit entrances
Available parking for neighbors; church and school
Experienced with OCURA procedures and established success record
Mercy Site Redevelopment (Wiggin-Huffman)
Unit sizes; 500 sf to 1,500 sf)
Monthly rental; $1.25/sf
Exterior elevation lacks urban character, very “institutional”.
3 bedroom units; 56
Expensive project: construction, A&E, marketing, etc.
Good site plan
Quality and urban durability reflected in high project costs
Acceptable density of 200 units (73 units/acre)
Street level interaction on NW 12th
Direct access from parking structure levels to units
Parking not visible from streets, NW 12th access
Interacts with pedestrians
Focal point established at Walker/NW 12th
Good building heights at NW 13th and increased at NW 12th
Familiar with OCURA procedures, successful developer
Commercial component on Walker and NW 12th
Commercial space: 24,000 sf
OCURA MERCY SITE
April 01, 2011 Page 4
Old Mercy Site (J&M Farzaneh)
Unit size; 1,200 sf
Monthly rental; unknown
Low density of 80 to 160 units (29 to 58 units/acre)
Garage &/or surface parking, Dewey access
Large commercial component on NW 13th, NW 12th, Dewey and Walker
Commercial space: 36,000 sf to 68,000 sf
The Committee thought none of the submittals were “perfect” and encourages the Authority to exercise rigorous supervision and control over the final design of the project and subsequent development.
The Committee acknowledges is it difficult to determine the “true numbers and design quality characteristics” based on preliminary concepts. The overall strength of the proposal, related experience of the developer, general vision of the redevelopment project, ability to perform in a reasonable time frame, and preliminary fiscal resources described in the proposal can be important criteria in arriving at conclusions.
The Committee members would also like to acknowledge their appreciation and opportunity for being invited to serve on the OCURA review committee. Should any additional information or assistance be desired, the Committee will be happy to respond.
(SING TO THE TUNE OF SESAME STREET’S “ONE OF THESE THINGS”): One of these things is almost identical to the other, one of these things has got me very curious, can you tell me which thing isn’t just like the other, before I finish this song …
To quote the annoying voice feature on the Apple computers up in the photography room with every typo committed by the photographers (and trust me, they happen frequently): “CURIOUS.”
On Friday a panel selected by the Urban Renewal Authority will evaluate the five proposals for the site and potentially select three to pitch their plans to the board (this likely would translate into a de facto selection of three finalists. Technically the meeting amounts to being a staff work session – exempt from the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act. But I plead my case with Urban Renewal director JoeVan Bullard to let me sit in on the discussion. No go. I promised to sit quietly in the corner. No go. I promised to keep my phone setting at “vibrate.” No go. I was about to offer to bring free donuts for everyone – but then Bullard pulled the card all government employees are taught on their first day on the job: “it’s important for the people in the room to feel free to have an exchange of opinions and ideas, blah, blah, blah.”
Fine. No free donuts from me.
So let’s do the next best thing is guess what issues might be discussed, and how each project might fare.
Let’s start with the narrowing of the list from five to three. The guys with Home Creations have a good track record, and are the sort of suburban developers downtown would love to attract. But their proposal is unlike any I’ve seen in response to an Urban Renewal project. Two phases? Nope, commissioners don’t like that. Offices? Commissioners have been out of the office development business for the past quarter century. The number of units and investment is also far less than that proposed by the competition.
Don’t be surprised if Home Creations is the first to be thrown out. And don’t be surprised if the downtown leadership and development community quickly contact these folks and show them other opportunities that might be a better fit for their ambitions.
If such a scenario unfolds, that leaves four.
I’m going to tell you what everybody on the inside of this deal has agreed on since the proposals were unsealed: the Edge proposal pitched by Gary Brooks and Mike Henderson is considered to hold the lead spot. They’ve successfully built respected apartment complexes throughout the metro and it’s assumed financing won’t be a problem. The proposal this time around has lots of density (though I messed up in previously reporting that it includes retail) and has a low tax increment financing request in comparison to the others.
But that’s not to say they will win this competition – they have a mixed history on the Legacy at Arts Quarter project down the street. It achieved an unprecedented residential density in the history of Urban Renewal. But most observers agree the final product fell far short of the project’s initial proposed design, and Henderson was about to run out of contract extensions by the time construction started.
After talking to several folks seasoned in this sort of thing, it’s generally agreed that the proposal by Marva Ellard is also likely to make the finalists cut. Her project also has quite a bit of density and she earned respect the hard way by redeveloping the Sieber Hotel apartments, which enjoys full occupancy. Her portfolio is shorter than Brooks and Henderson, though it should be noted she also was originally partners with Bill Canfield in winning development of The Hill in Deep Deuce. Ellard also asks for more TIF money than that requested by Brooks and Henderson.
So that leaves us with two guys playing duck, duck, goose and only one chair left. And that’s where things get … complicated.
MORE TO COME
As with Marva Ellard and Chuck Wiggin, this third proposal is submitted by folks with extensive experience with Urban Renewal. Mike Henderson and Gary Brooks developed Legacy at Arts Quarter, and it appears as if Henderson might have gotten a bit bored during his “retirement.”
NOTE: When I did my original reporting Wednesday, I had some massive binders to go through for each proposal. There was no one page that had all the standard needed information for my story, so each binder took about 30 to 45 minutes to sort through.
That said, one important correction: The Edge, which is proposed by Brooks and Henderson, will not include any mix of retail as featured by the Ellard and Wiggin.
First, let’s look at more renderings and site plans for Marva Ellard’s proposal:Mercy Redevelopers 030711 (2)
You know that rumor you’ve been hearing about the MidTown Deli turning into another Louie’s? Yep, it’s apparently true.
Yeah, as you can imagine, I hear that sometimes. And I start off by listening.
This time, the complaint was voiced by a member of the Downtown Design Review Committee. He noted that with the Palo Duro project they were only holding to what the ordinance allows them to dictate.
I’m not arguing that point at all. But other design review committees have found a way to use, how shall we refer to it?… Peer Pressure.
Think about it. When McDonalds wanted to build a restaurant in Bricktown, they only had a compliance problem with the the footprint of the building, not the exterior design itself. The design committee knew they couldn’t really dictate the exterior design in that part of the district, and yet they demanded and urged McDonalds to do better. They used their bully pulpit to tell the community that McDonalds was trying to settle for a franchise design for this historic district. McDonalds got the message and changed their designs. They worked with city staff and architects on the committee to come up with a design that most felt was much more appropriate for the old warehouse district.
We’ve seen this done on other projects as well, and with other urban design districts.
So what do you think? Should a design committee only concern itself with what does or does not comply with the letter of the law? Or should they try to influence property owners to come up with better designs when the designs they submit are judged to be detrimental to the community?
Palo Duro is an architectural jewel in MidTown, and by all accounts it is a well run special needs home that is an asset to the community. So one can imagine that area residents were quite happy when they were told the Neighborhood Services Organization was going to build a complimentary special needs home on an ugly, empty lot next door – a building that would like this:
Imagine how residents feel today now construction has started and they’ve learned the design has been changed to look like this:
Yeah, neighbors are not happy. But the same Downtown Design Review Committee that approved the chamber headquarters design and demolition of buildings along NW 10 to make way for surface parking, also gave its blessing to this design that neighbors say looks like a cheap motel.
Yep. It’s a done deal.
Members of the Downtown Design Review Committee are: Chair Betsy Brunsteter, Anthony McDermid, Chuck Ainsworth, Jim Loftis, Dick Tanenbaum, GiGi Faulkner and Mark Grubbs. They are appointed by Mayor Mick Cornett.
In my next post I’ll delve into how this committee interprets its responsibility compared to the older, more established Bricktown Urban Design Committee.