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.
I’ve been meaning to write about this building, built in 1911 according to assessor’s records. It appeared to be vacant last time I drove by. We have a handful of these properties downtown – full of potential, but in the hands of owners who don’t seem to realize what they have, or have grandiose ideas on how much to demand from a buyer. Not sure if that was the case with this particular building … but it’s apparent loss is a shame.
Now, if the news report is correct, it’s going to be another empty lot. Wonderful, just wonderful. Lesson to others…. dirt sells for much less money.
I have suspicions about which marketing/advertising firm is behind these 5320 signs. Let’s cut to the chase: signs like the ones shown in this photo ARE ILLEGAL. And I’m hearing from a lot of folks downtown who are none too amused about what they see as nothing more than litter in their neighborhood.
At some point, with all the money being spent on this campaign (which employs some of the oldest, most tired tricks in the book), names will come out. And to my readers, I will make this pledge: I will endeavor to not just provide the name and contact info of the client, but I will also provide the name and contact info for the folks who thought placing ILLEGAL paper signs along a public pocket park. And yes, I did frame this photo in a way to also show the OKC Beautiful sign hovering above it all.
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.
It’s been awhile since we’ve hit up the most simple form of journalism there is: a situation captured so well by a single photo that sending the photo with the question “Why?” pretty much gets to the heart of the matter. And so we have our latest “why?” which I’ll be sending to Jim Cowan, director of the Bricktown Association (for one more week) and planning director Russell Claus.
Rock Star Energy Drinks seems to think it’s OK to hang up illegal advertisements like the one above in front of the Sheraton Hotel and below along Main Street, across from Stage Center.
And since they seem to want us to know more about their product, I figured I’d help out with the following links:
- Misleading ingredient labels and potentially deadly? Read here.
- Are energy drinks bad news for athletes? Read here.
- “It tasted terrible.” Read here.
- Severe stomach pain. Read here.
And finally…. “Caffeine-Stoked Energy Drinks Worry Doctors,”:
A University of Wisconsin study of 14 students found that two energy drink ingredients, caffeine and taurine, didn’t improve short-term memory but led to slower heart rates and higher blood pressure. Since some energy drink ingredients generally speed up heart rates, the researchers could only speculate on the cause.
Carol Ann Rinzler, author of “Nutrition for Dummies,” examined the labels of the top three energy drinks.
“The labels simply don’t deliver all the facts,” she said. “For example, while all list caffeine as an ingredient, and most tell you exactly how much caffeine is in the drink, they also list guarana, a caffeine source, as a separate ingredient but don’t tell how much caffeine one gets from the guarana.”
Rinzler said energy drinks also deliver a huge hit of sugar.
“Drink more than one and you get lots of sugar — 14 teaspoons in two cans, 21 teaspoons in three,” she said. Add in megadoses of some vitamins; unnecessary nutrients (taurine) and more caffeine than plain sodas and you get “a fast up-and-down sugar high and a really rough caffeine buzz,” she said. “And drinking two or three cans a day for a period of weeks or months might trigger some side effects from the vitamin megadoses.”
The Oklahoma City Council will meet with trustees of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority Tuesday. And a lot of folks downtown will be watching and listening.
- The Bricktown Association, which is asking that the Oklahoma Spirit Trolleys actually be a part of the solution to the district’s parking challenges.
- Urban Neighbors, the downtown residents association which feels the trolleys are not set up to encourage people to leave their cars at their downtown abodes.
As I’ve mentioned before, the Oklahoma Spirit trolleys have been quietly and consistently demoted as an afterthought by COTPA, even as it presumed that its failure to adequately run a a downtown circulator didn’t preclude it from attempting a river boat transit service that duplicated a rarely-used trolley link between downtown and the I-40/Meridian Avenue hotel corridor.
The hours were cut. The routes were cut. Wait times were extended. Even though COTPA officials were asked early on about providing signage outside the trolleys to better inform people about stops on a trolley’s route, they made no effort to do so (such signs are used on similar trolleys with great success in San Antonio).
The names of the people involved in this effort a decade ago are the same names making decisions today. Rick Cain. Larry Hopper. The only one no longer in the mix is former director Randy Hume, who resigned following a budgeting error that cost the city a couple million or so from the feds.
So, what should be done to address the concerns of the Bricktown Association and Urban Neighbors?
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?
Former MetroTransit director Randy Hume, back when trolleys were shinny and new, and could be counted on to hit pretty much every corner of downtown every 10 minutes (and five minutes during the lunch hour). Sure, the map wasn’t easy to follow, but compare it to what’s out there today (if you can find it on COTPA’s web site).
Steve Newlon, a board member with Urban Neighbors, suggested we go a bit more in-depth on the blog with the group’s report on public transit. I couldn’t agree more. So let’s take a look at their actual report:
TASK- The UN Transportation Subcommittee has reviewed the Public Transportation options in the Downtown area. This review of current transportation ability was stimulated by concerns regarding the success and programming of the existing system.
ASSESMENT- Urban Neighbors has solicited input from its membership of downtown residents and workers as well as tourists and the general public. We have engaged in a fruitful dialogue with Metro Transit and we have reviewed available information and opinions to analyze the current situation.
FINDINGS- The subcommittee realizes that the current available transit service is faced with many challenges. The downtown areas use has changed dramatically over the past decade with new potential transit users and trip needs. The existing transit system is-
1. Poorly understood by the General Public (my comment: Urban Neighbors is being kind. How much time and money has been invested into educating the public about the Oklahoma Spirit trolleys compared to what has been spent on the new river cruisers?)
2. Faces low ridership on key routes (ah, but why? When the trolleys started, they had much better ridership. Numbers dropped as MetroTransit lengthened wait times, trimmed service and lengthened routes? Coincidence?)
3. Timings and actual arrivals at stops are inconsistent (Um, yeah)
4. Stops are poorly identified (Um, yeah)
5. Stops feature limited information (Route maps, schedule times and
actual arrivals) (Um, yeah)
6. Hours of service are limited and poorly advertised (um, yeah)
7. Onboard stop information is inconsistent or not available (um, yeah)
8. Existing system is not configured for 2008 and future ridership demographics in 2008 and the future (um, yeah)
(Come on folks, is all you’ve got? Other complaints I’ve heard include the “friendliness” of the drivers and the upkeep of the trolleys).
The primary existing downtown service is provided by the “trolley-like” bus vehicles funded through the MAPS I initiative. Some parts of this service have been discontinued due to low ridership or funding pressures since its inception. Some operational funding has been redirected from downtown to other areas at various times over the 10 years of operation. The existing system is poorly understood by the general public.
This confusion has caused poor ridership on routes that should exhibit higher ridership. Existing and new riders are often challenged by the inconsistent service delivery. In our assessment period, we received many complaints regarding late or no arrivals. While several stops are clearly identified at the Ford
Center, OKC National Memorial, and Bricktown, most stops are not clearly obvious.
Many stops appear undistinguishable from standard bus stops unless directly read by pedestrian traffic. These “regular” stops feature only limited signage and do not display running time, actual arrival time, and projected arrival time. Actual riders of the system have responded that the information regarding upcoming stops and or points of interest are not consistently conveyed by onboard signage or audible announcement.
(Interesting note here: way, way back when, back when the trolleys were launched a decade ago, I asked then MetroTransit director Randy Hume if they had thought about using exterior trolley signs like those used by similar shuttles in San Antonio that clearly identified major attractions along the route. Randy told me then they’d “think about it.” Here’s another question: how much would a half dozen or so signs cost compared to what’s being spent on advertising for the river cruisers? Yes, I’ll keep bringing up this comparison because the river cruisers were launched as a form of public transit. Should a city be ensuring existing transit is being well run and funded before launching into an entirely new and untested form of public transit?)
The most challenging aspect of the current system is that it does not efficiently serve the needs of the growing and diversified downtown community. Existing routes and stops are primarily configured for tourism. (Here’s another question: was the west route, the Orange route, based on need or political interests? Before the River Cruisers started up, the Orange Route was averaging 11 passengers a day).
New citizen demographics and needs have evolved with new residential, office, health care and medical research development. Diversified business growth, new neighborhood corridors, and continued entertainment development lead to increased demand for Public Transportation, especially as fuel costs rise.
1. Conduct detailed analysis to establish new routes
2. Determine reprogramming operational costs
3. Reprogram system routes
4. Rehabilitate existing vehicles
5. Design and install distinctive stop locations
6. Improve and expand hours of service
7. Use current technology to improve user information of scheduled and actual arrivals
8. Embark on comprehensive marketing and information campaign
9. Improve onboard experience with automated and consistent stop announcements
10. New infrastructure should be designed for easy migration to a modern, ecological, customer friendly transit system The Transportation Subcommittee recommends that a detailed analysis should be conducted of potential new routes.
Public and private input must be solicited from business, residential, development, entertainment, and tourism stakeholders. The input gathered should identify routes that service these various demographics, in order to maintain good ridership levels during all operational hours.
Certain specific demographics may entice more direct routes, but stability and consistent ridership will help maintain the health of the system. Also, a diverse and eclectic ridership would justify a broadened daily operational period. Upon considering the data collected from stakeholders and available statistics, an optimal transit routing solution must be priced out. The system should be reprogrammed to the level of funds available and desired for further economic development.
The existing operational “trolley-like” vehicles should be rehabilitated cosmetically and functionally for their remaining three years before they are life-expired. They should be reprogrammed with new onboard features for their prospective new uses. Bins, shelving, cargo nets, and other storage amenities should be incorporated to assist with groceries and other physical goods.
Current technology should be incorporated for automated GPS activated audible and visual indicators regarding upcoming stops and tourist interest. The vehicle routes should be more clearly identified via vehicle colors or the reinstatement of the colored flag bumper indicators. Such enhancements will distinguish vehicles for pedestrian interaction. Distinctive, downtown-specific stop designators should be designed to incorporate operational information.
These designators should also include current technology with GPS displays or audible signal to indicate the actual arrival time of a vehicle. Such designators could also incorporate kiosk features with additional relevant information. They should also be designed for authorized removal and transfer to new locations for future system upgrades or re-alignment. A comprehensive public information and marketing campaign must be implemented to increase awareness and ridership of the reprogrammed system. Such marketing will reinforce the accessibility and utility of the system to all potential user demographics. In addition, the ridership experience should be improved with vehicle operators that are trained in enhanced customer service.
The personal interface between “trolley” operators and riders should follow the “Downtown Ambassador” model. Vehicle operators should be helpful in assisting customers with diverse knowledge of downtown, vehicle stops, points of interest, and available amenities. They should also assist downtown residents who have special needs including the proper stowage of physical items.
OTHER FINDINGS- The Urban Neighbors Transportation Subcommittee noted in its initial surveys and interaction with potential users that increased fares to cover enhanced services would be acceptable. The subcommittee emphasizes that the existing “trolley-like” bus vehicles have a limited life expectancy and encourages the benefits and experience of a re-programmed system to be migrated over to permanent future solutions. There is great desire for a modern transportation solution that can permanently service the downtown and central city where density levels increasingly significantly.
The success of improvements to the existing system should assist in the future development of transportation in all areas of the Oklahoma City metroplex.
(Final note: Don’t expect Urban Neighbors to be the only group to weigh in on the trolleys. Bricktown is next).