View Full Version : Automobile Alley article

12-17-2008, 08:33 AM
Broadway becomes downtown retail hub
Published: December 17, 2008

Neon signs are popping up all along Automobile Alley, shown Tuesday, as Broadway is transformed into downtown’s retail corridor.

Broadway — once a dilapidated urban stretch of empty and boarded up buildings — is quickly becoming the retail hub of a resurging downtown Oklahoma City.

In just the past two years alone, the corridor known as Automobile Alley has become home to Red Prime Steakhouse, Coffee Slingers, Cricket Communications, Schlegel Bicycles, First Fidelity Bank and Bicycle Alley.

Add to that mix a dry cleaner, office supply store, an art gallery, a music store, a screen printing shop and a couple dozen residential lofts.

Offering atmosphere
For David Lack, such a mix made Broadway his top pick for opening his store, Broadway Wine Merchants.
"With all that’s going on downtown, with all the renovations, we thought it was time for another option for a wine shop,” said Lack, who is very aware that liquor retailing giant Byron’s is just north of downtown.

"We’re just trying to offer a little different atmosphere, top notch service, more knowledge, a different shopping experience,” Lack said. "All the residential development coming in downtown was part of our decision to put the store in, as well as the NBA coming to town. The way downtown Oklahoma City is going, it’s thriving. And either you get in now or you might miss out.”

Lack said he jumped at the opportunity to move into the first floor of the European Motors building, 824 N Broadway, when the space recently was vacated by the leasing office for the Block 42 condominiums. He loved the high ceilings, the corner lot and the large windows. He also kept the wood floor installed as part of a showroom for the condominiums.

Joining Lack on Broadway is OhSo Blush, a florist that opened a block south.

Steve Schlegel, owner of Schlegel Bicycles, 900 N Broadway, said he’s not surprised by the influx of retailers.

"We love it down here,” Schlegel said. "It’s met our expectations in every way.”

Targeting customers
Schlegel said when he first opened about two years ago, he targeted customers from throughout the city.

"Downtown was the central location,” Schlegel said. "We beat the rush, but now I’m seeing more interest. I really envision this being a neat little market where you have a lot of little shops known for quality and selection.”

Continuing trend
Alison Oshel, a retail analyst with the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said she is expecting Broadway retail development to continue.
"Automobile Alley is one of the few districts downtown that has the high ceilings and the transparent glass that allows you to do displays,” Oshel said.

"It’s a natural fit. And they’ve done a wonderful job at mixing up the products.

"But it’s taken some owners to provide the capital investment. There had to be a dream and belief it could happen.”

12-17-2008, 09:35 AM
What would help retail visibility and pedestrican traffic is traffic lights at every intersection.

12-17-2008, 12:07 PM
Yeah and they need to not be the modern day grayish stoplights. They need to be built like the Centennial Clocks, painted black with gold leafings at the top or something. Lights that add a little more character to this particular stretch of downtown.

12-17-2008, 12:31 PM
Main St. in Stillwater has the pole-mounted lights on the corners of the intersections. I really like those.

12-17-2008, 12:33 PM
Now we just need to get more people living on this corridor.

12-17-2008, 12:34 PM
I live in Dallas and don't get back to Oklahoma all that often. But I was home for Thanksgiving and went with my brother down to Iguana lounge (I had NO idea that it had even closed OR reopened) and was COMPLETELY surprised at what had happened to Automobile Alley. Three years ago when I moved away it was just an undefined collection of interesting but rundown old buildings. But what I saw last month was a neighborhood actually worth spending time in. What a pleasant surprise!

12-17-2008, 01:09 PM
I think you would need to balance traffic calming with percieved ease of transit. When I was involved with Automobile Alley (my favorite time as a downtowner), we discussed this very issue (stoplights, traffic calming) often. While I think everyone agrees that Automobile Alley can (and needs to) shift to a more pedestrian orientation, there is something to be said for not totally discouraging automobile traffic.

If there were stoplights at EVERY intersection, people would find alternate routes and the high visibility factor that AA enjoys as "the front door to downtown" could be compromised.

There's no question, though, that Automobile Alley needs to continue to evolve from raceway to pedestrian-friendly.

12-17-2008, 01:11 PM
What about some kind of center median with alternating parallel parking and left turn lanes? Nothing calms traffic like more on-street parking.

12-17-2008, 01:46 PM
A center median was discussed as part of the 1999 streetscape in Automobile Alley, but the budget wouldn't allow for it at the time. Curb extensions were also discussed. I think either (not both, of course) would be a good addition there, but some may disagree. One of the reasons we requested the removal of the (unused) parking meters was to encourage street parking, in part because of its traffic calming effect.

At the time, there was some disagreement on whether the street would be better served by a median or by the distinct stamped-concrete medallions in the intersections, which came out of Mayor Norick's post-bombing brainstorming team sessions, which also led to the formation of the Automobile Alley Main Street program. The Automobile Alley folks held firm on the stamped intersections, which in retrospect truly created a brand for the district. Automobile Alley had very little if any identity in the public consciousness before those intersections were installed.

I still stay in touch with my two predecessors as the director of the AA Main Street Program (both became good friends of mine during their tenures, and I worked closely with them while serving on the board). Jay, who was my immediate predecessor, now works out of state. When we hired him from Irving, Texas, he came up here, looked at the proposed streetscape and argued to change it. He was less than enthused about the stamped intersections. He was in town on business a number of weeks back and I put him up during his visit. He shared with me that he had recently sent Meg Salyer (a strong advocate of the intersections) an e-mail totally eating crow on the subject, and admitting how much the intersections added to the neighborhood and its identity.

With all of that said, we always talked about the possibility that AA would evolve to the point where a median or curb extensions would be an important element to consider in future plans. Maybe that time is approaching.

12-17-2008, 01:55 PM
^I appreciate you explaining the history. I do like the intersections and agree they give it an identity. It would be nice to see the traffic calming improvements you guys recommended awhile ago already implemented. What about creating angular parking on the side and getting rid of the middle turn lanes? Making it only four total lanes to cross.

12-17-2008, 02:03 PM
That was also discussed. I think it was decided that angled parking might create a hazard with people blindly backing into a street that was historically a raceway. You also have to understand that the traffic engineering school of thought in OKC was somewhat different back then. The City is slowly embracing a more urban, pedestrian-friendly approach, at least for downtown. It makes sense that issues like these will be re-addressed at some point.

Though I still have the great friends I made in Automobile Alley, look back on my involvement with extreme fondness, and will always have a passion for the district, like you I'm just an interested spectator at this point.

12-17-2008, 02:21 PM
If there were stoplights at EVERY intersection, people would find alternate routes and the high visibility factor that AA enjoys as "the front door to downtown" could be compromised.

I think maybe he was referring to just the intersections that currently have stop signs, as opposed to putting a light at every single block. Even if he wasn't, perhaps that would be a good compromise.

I'd also like to see landscaped "bulbs" at the corners protecting the parallel parking and allowing for more landscaping, especially trees, as well as public art.

12-17-2008, 02:34 PM
The only problem with that is that there currently aren't any stop signs along Broadway. Right? They only exist on all of the east-west cross streets.

The "bulbs" you mentioned are what I was referring to when I said "curb extensions." I've seen some applications where those work really nicely. Frankly, I think those would find more favor with the folks along Broadway than a median would. One of the things that is a part of the Automobile Alley lore is that Broadway is so wide (100') so that a full team of horses could turn around in the middle of the street, when OKC was in its infancy.

I don't know how true that is, but the symbolism and connections to history definitely are things I believe they would seek to protect. The imagery of the wagon team turning around in the middle of the street is a part of the inspiration for the circle intersections, in fact. Other inspirations were of course the automobile sales industry, which developed the neighborhood's current built environment (lots of round elements in cars, like tires and steering wheels), and the full-circle vision of the district moving from vibrant center of commerce to mostly abandoned and weed infested, then bomb-ravaged, to once again becoming a vibrant part of the city. Maybe that's a little corny, but it's also compelling.

12-17-2008, 03:51 PM
I guess you are right about the stop signs, except for 10th, which already has a light.

I definitely would prefer the curb extensions to a median.

12-17-2008, 08:33 PM
How about a traffic circle, at Broadway and 5th and/or Broadway and 10th (to provide a mirror to the one on the other side of town [in Midtown])?

This/these traffic circle(s) would be smaller than the Midtown one, thus allowing transit to still use the street, but definitely slowing down auto traffic and therefore encouraging pedestrianism since drivers would have to look around them when circling.

I would like to see the circle(s) with a large fountain (or one with fountain and one with a statue if we're doing two). This could be a focal point for AAlley district and therefore should incorporate some sort of neon/historic theme like the rest of the district. Just imagine the tourists stopping by for pictures, helping CREATE the vibe of the neighbourhood.

I also like the idea of vintage traffic signals. We could do both in fact. It would certainly add character and charm and would be unique to a major city IMO, thereby further puttling OKC on the map.

As for residents, I definitely agree that we need residential in the area. Could the developers add further to the upstairs of the buildings making more lofts and condos? Could the city also encourage a few high density URBAN developments (building some new buildings in the process), thereby creating a 24/7 vibe.

One thing's for sure, sooner rather than later - AAlley needs to create a mainstreet type of organization to market itself and provide governance. AAlley needs commercials in the city/state promoting it's status as downtown's premier retail and upscale dining destination.

DowntownOKC should also take the lead, promoting downtown as more than JUST Bricktown - but also promoting AAlley's retail and upscale dining attractions, Art's District's museums and Fine Arts, MidTown's local fare, OKC Town Center, Deep Deuce's hip vibe, the CBD's White Collar Executive/Go-Go lifestyle, and (of course) Bricktown. We need to get the word out, that downtown OKC is more than just Bricktown and a hand ful of skyscrapers. This needs to be reflected on television ads AND tourist magazines (in the hotels).

12-17-2008, 10:44 PM
I don't think there is room for traffic circles at those intersections.

12-18-2008, 08:51 AM
HOT ROD, AA has a main street type organization, it's been there for years and was the first one downtown, the AA association is what jumpstarted alot of downtown organizations and momentum. Meg Salyer and her husband Chris were instrumental in the early days of forming AA and getting downtown momentum going. Now as you should know, she is the new Ward 6 (includes most downtown) councilperson.

12-18-2008, 12:44 PM
Automobile Alley actually HAD an honest-to-goodness Main Street program from 1996-2000. Strictly based on numbers (which is in large part how the Oklahoma Main Street Program measures success), the Automobile Alley district rapidly became the most successful Main Street Program in the history of Oklahoma Main Street, which is arguably one of the top two or three state programs in the U.S.

Between 1996 and 2000, Automobile Alley saw more than $35 million in public and private reinvestment. I don't know where that number would stand today, but it would be significantly higher.

The success doesn't take anything away from dozens of Oklahoma small town Main Streets past and present, most of whom have had far less to work with, and perhaps proportionately have done even more.. Automobile Alley was just a different animal. Part of the success came from City of OKC investment, and much of that came from the Murrah District Revitalization Fund, overseen by the City's current Director of Planning, Russell Claus.

The decision to pursue the program came from the "Team 2" meetings in 1995. Basically, after the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building, Mayor Norick assembled groups - stakeholders, consultants and the like - to make recommendations regarding recovery for downtown. Automobile Alley was the hardest-hit contiguous district in all of downtown, not to mention it was suffering from decades of extreme blight. Team 2 was the group tasked with AA and north downtown.

Team 2 recommended making a request for Main Street status to the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, which oversees Main Street. The application was overwhelmingly approved.

The reason AA no longer has Main Street status is because they strongly supported the original downtown Oklahoma City Business Improvement District, which called for staff functions from various downtown organizations to be consolidated under one roof. This one roof was formed with the creation of Downtown Oklahoma City Incorporated. Main Street has a minimum staff requirement for members, and outsourcing that function to DOKC was a deal breaker, so AA and the Main Street Program amicably parted ways, with fond memories of each other.

In the interest of full disclosure, this is when the job I held at the time, as Automobile Alley's director, merged into the newly-formed DOKC and I became the first Marketing Director of that organization, a job I held for a short time, now ably filled by my friend and your posting buddy Kim Searls.

The Automobile Alley board and volunteer base has continued to stay very active to this day, however. They host the now-legendary Chocolate Decadence event every February. They work on special projects, including the usage of funds from a special projects assessment they added to their base BID tax. They contract PR and event people when needed. They have an extremely impressive board of directors. They have become a model in many ways for most other downtown organizations. Their biggest champion, Meg Salyer, just became a city council member. Serioiusly, I really think they're doing just fine as is.

Also, it remains to be seen in what direction the soon-to-be-named (extremely promising, from everyting I have heard) director of DOKC takes that organization, but I'm guessing it will only become re-energized and more effective. At least at the present time, I think the communications functions of an area like Automobile Alley can be very well served out of an active, highly-efficient DOKC office.

12-18-2008, 12:55 PM
Sorry for the long post, but it seemed like a few might be interested in some history on Automobile Alley. Also, Hot Rod, I disagree with your assessment that DOKC, or the Chamber or CVB or whoever else promotes downtown promotes it as ONLY Bricktown. I think there currently is a very healthy dose of Ford Center, visual/performing arts (think Art Museum, National Memorial and others thrown in when downtown is marketed to visitors.

Remember though, until recently Automobile Alley was not visitor or retail oriented in any way, and Bricktown has for years been the premier entertainment district in the state of Oklahoma. But I think as Automobile Alley continues to emerge, you will start seeing, for instance, interiors of Red Prime or Iguana or Schlegel start to work strongly into the mix. The same holds true for Midtown. As far as I'm concerned, the more the merrier. Downtown is downtown, and these days downtown is a pretty easy sell.

12-18-2008, 02:45 PM
Hi guys. I don't doubt nor dispute that AA has a Mainstreet, I can definitely tell the last time I was in the city - AAlley looked great!!

But, I think the Mainstreet needs to advertise the district better - that's basically what Im recommending. :)