View Full Version : Summary report from my June 2012 visit to OKC

07-05-2012, 11:53 AM
OKC June 2012 Blog

Just now getting caught up from my furious week in OKC and as I always like to do, I thought I would process my thoughts and share them with the site.

First of all, please accept everything I have to say in the spirit it is intended: Honest observations based on a deep love for what will always be my hometown. I apologize in advance if any of this comes across as overly critical or the rantings of a smug Californian.

With that preface, I will say that I am more excited than ever by what I saw and felt. As it happens, this trip ended the longest period I had every spent away from Oklahoma: almost two full years. So, there was lots to see and take in and I didn't even get to everything I had on my list. It also provided a somewhat more removed and fresh perspective.

(The embedded links below are to other photo/threads where I elaborate more.)

Upon arriving on a Wednesday morning, it was so cool to see the NBA Finals banners in the airport! Wow, what an awesome welcoming sight.

My next impression was immediately after heading out in my rental car and seeing Devon Tower for the first time in person – it is MASSIVE! You know I've seen thousands and thousands of photos but still, I was blown away. When I was last in town it was just coming out of the ground and for the previous 30 years or so there had almost zero change to our skyline. Downtown had always presented a recognizable, unchanging face and it suddenly seemed unfamiliar.

And everywhere you are in town you can see that monster! It looms so large (not only in height but also girth) it seems to be watching you every time you turn around. It has completely changed the way the city feels.

The very first day I drove straight to downtown on the new I-40, which didn't seem as foreign as I had expected. I parked west of downtown (plenty of free, un-metered parking just two blocks from the Myriad Gardens) and walked through the Project 180 mess towards Devon. The grounds, rotunda, Garden Wing, Auditorium and everything else is just so incredibly well done and impressive.

And as I noted on the Devon thread (, I was so happy to find it felt really good and welcoming. Lots of families that had come over from the Myriad Gardens, Nebu is very open and public, prominent public bathrooms and absolutely no feeling that you shouldn't be there – quite the opposite. That is so important to actually making it feel like an asset for the community rather than a fortress exclusively for their employees.

And of course, the Myriad Gardens is just a knock-out. The combination of Devon and the gardens alone makes downtown feel completely different and better in every way. I was actually in the gardens several times during my stay and there were always plenty of people about. It's a place that just feels good and makes you want to walk through and also sit down and just take it in. I chatted with several people as they were doing the same and it was really cool. That simply wouldn't have happened just a couple of years ago.

Seeing the SandRidge complex ( for the first time since demolition and partial reconstruction was another shocker. The demolished buildings closest to Robinson have left a huge gap that didn't feel right and certainly disrupts the urban density. Most know I have no ax to grind with SandRidge and love what they are doing for the most part, but even that huge new metal canopy is set well back from the street and while I know landscaping with help, that area is just too empty. I'm really looking forward to Braniff and the amenities building opening, along with the new tower. I hope that will counteract at least some of the strange openness.

Deep Deuce is really coming along but with most of Level still not occupied, tons of construction in the front of that complex and the Aloft site still a year away from life, I know my next trip will be much more rewarding in terms of interacting with a fully-realized, relatively dense urban neighborhood. I absolutely love the setting at Deep Deuce Grill. Food is fine but I love the building, the inside, the people there, the patio... I think it's my favorite spot in all of OKC.

I also spent a good chunk of time walking up and down 23rd ( I started at Broadway and walked all the way to Western and back, alternating the north/south sides of the street. And it underscored the one over-arching theme I experienced all week in the central city: Still tons of gaps everywhere, even within the sub-districts themselves.

For all that has happened along 23rd, there are still many vacant lots, outrageously neglected buildings and just not enough life. There are a couple of spots clustered together but I still don't like the feel of the strip. Too ramshackle and poorly maintained, not enough activity.

I loved the 23rd Street Courts project. They have created their own little core and it feels fantastic. I had lunch at Bubba's and was completely charmed by the setting, as the bones of the historic little house have been perfectly blended with the restaurant. I loved the fireplace in the front room, the cozy side rooms and the great front porch. Just sitting there eating my sandwich (which was darn good, BTW) I had a big smile on my face. This was part of the New OKC I was hoping to see.

I love the way they have developed some of the surrounding properties and the Gurnsey Park restaurant under construction in the back is going to be a fantastic setting with a tree-covered outdoor area and a split-level interior. Big, big hopes for this place.

Absolutely no signs of life at the Tower Theater, which I suspected but was disappointed to confirm. I walked all around and there hasn't even been any demolition work since the building permit was issued many months ago and a restaurant was announced. Businesses nearby confirmed that nothing is happening there and they didn't seem optimistic about that changing any time soon.

Had dinner at Iguana and that space feels almost as good to me as the DD Grill. Was a lively crowd on a Wednesday night and we sat on the new covered patio and watched the activity on 9th street. Didn't eat at S&B Burgers but loved the way it looked and felt as I walked through. Love this little enclave.

Also really loved seeing all the neon on Automobile Alley ( but still way too many gaps there, too. At least in this area there is nothing super trashy; they just need more of everything: residential, restaurants, businesses and people in general. I know that will come.

LOVED, loved, loved the feel around Plaza Court. 1212 is a great addition and the patio at Louies always seemed lively, as did the surrounding restaurants.

I spent a couple of hours looking through the Sieber ( and the surrounding blend of historic brick buildings and more sleek mid-century properties. Such a cool combination that is really starting to provide a really great vibe and the Midtown Renaissance group can't be praised enough. They have done a simply amazing, high-quality job on everything and it has set an excellent standard. But again, WAY, way too many vacant lots, big gaps and properties that need help. I hope things will continue building concentrically from the Plaza Court area and that seems to be happening.

I was also surprisingly impressed by what Rick Dowell has done in the Midtown Plaza area ( – pictures don't do it justice. Apart from the soon-to-be-expanded parking garage I hate, he's done a great job in terms of quality and feel. Big props to him and I look forward to seeing how Dowell Center evolves.

The area between the central business district and Midtown still feels like there was a small war staged and only a few things survived. I guess that's technically true... Good grief, even with dozens and dozens of projects in this area it still feels so barren and depressing. Yes, it's changing and it will get there, but this is going to be a very long-term issue. I think something like The Edge would go a long way towards filling in the area between 13th and 5th.

Film Row is very, very cool ( They have done an amazing job over there and I spent a lot of time walking around and taking in all interesting architecture. But again, huge gaps everywhere, especially between there and the CBD. It certainly feel strange to have all that beautiful new road and streetscape front what is predominently vacant lots. Lots of fill-in work to be done here as well. (I told you there was a central theme to my impressions!)

As I posted on the Project 180 thread (, until I walked almost every inch of downtown I had no appreciation for the disruptive mess. It was literally impossible to walk from some places to another without completely back-tracking a full block. And of course, nobody is going to do this so I saw many people just walking down the roads, which for the most part are torn up as well. It's criminal what they've done to Main Street in front of Coney Island. My very first day I posted photos of the mess without a single worker in sight; one week later absolutely nothing had been done and there were still no workers around.

Even the entrance to the downtown library was under construction! When you combine all this with SandRidge, it's completely overwhelming. I know construction is a great sign and I also know most of this will be done in about another year. But if I worked downtown I would be hating life right now.

Love the 18th Street Studio project ( tudios&page=11&do=comments#post548718)and was impressed with the progress in the Plaza District -- so much potential.

The support for the Thunder was overwhelming as well! I went into many buildings, including some in the 'burbs, and there were Thunder t-shirts, posters, signs and talk EVERYWHERE! It far surpassed even my grandest expectations and I was so happy to see this amazing, unifying experience. It's simply priceless, and not just for the external PR.

I always stay with friends and family that live pretty far out, so I get a good look at the out-lying areas as well. The endless sprawl never fails to make me a little ill... And please keep in mind, I am in no way condemning anyone that chooses to live in the suburbs with a beautiful, house, yard and schools. It's just an almost irreversible, massive failure of city planning and I'll leave it at that.

In summary, I was thrilled to see all the progress in person, projects both large and small. There is still way too much open space and lack of density separating little nodes of activity and I think this is where the streetcar will be massively important: It will help to start knitting these areas together through the inevitable in-fill development that will follow.

Hopefully it won't be another two years before my next visit but if it is, here's what I would hope to see:

Deep Deuce thriving in every way an urban neighborhood should.
Midtown starting to get to the same place.
At least one other of the districts making similar strides.
Most the downtown infrastructure completed.
Another major downtown office building underway.
Resolution to the Stage Center mess.
The new I-40 completely finished.
Good progress on most the MAPS 3 projects.
The Thunder back in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year and a community that loves them every bit as much as they do now. :)

07-05-2012, 01:22 PM
thanks for the thoughts pete

07-05-2012, 09:20 PM
Pete, I think you nailed it pretty well. I spend a lot of time in the areas that you mentioned and notice pretty much the same things you did. I am sure I must have seen you walking around at some point in your trip but I would not recognize you if I saw you. Next time you come you are invited to come to my office and take a (somewhat) bird's eye view of Midtown. Hopefully by then there will be more infill. I love to sit at Deup Deuce Grill and Iguana just like you enjoyed. One of my other favorite places to sit is at Kaisers and watch the activity at the traffic circle. I have never once witnessed an accident there or seen anyone get run over walking across the street. In fact, that is probably the easiest place to cross a street in town in my experience. But walking south of there to the Civic Center is not a very pleasant experience. I have met several people who have walked from an event at the CC to 10th street to get something to eat dressed pretty nicely who wondered what they had gotten themselves into. But, if you just think back to 5 years, or 10 years ago we have come a long way. We just still have a long way to go.

08-02-2012, 07:50 PM
OKC June 2012 Blog

Hopefully it won't be another two years before my next visit but if it is, here's what I would hope to see:

Deep Deuce thriving in every way an urban neighborhood should.
Midtown starting to get to the same place.
At least one other of the districts making similar strides.
Most the downtown infrastructure completed.
Another major downtown office building underway.
Resolution to the Stage Center mess.
The new I-40 completely finished.
Good progress on most the MAPS 3 projects.
The Thunder back in the NBA Finals for the third consecutive year and a community that loves them every bit as much as they do now. :)

Pete - I think you'll notice just as much construction in your next visit as you did this visit. I think you'll be satisfied with Deep Deuce and Midtown, and I believe Film Row will be that neighborhood to step up.. I have no ability to predict the Stage Center mess, but I believe you will be disappointed in hoping for visible M3 progress. I also think the streets will be torn up all over again for the streetcar when you visit.

I am curious to hear your thoughts on Bricktown and where it is at this point.. how do you see all of these ares tying together (spanning the distance from C2S to Midtown).

If you want good eateries with amazing urban views, you should check out the Wedge on NE 1st next time and/or the Hideaway on AA. I was surprised that Automobile Alley was part of the recurring theme of needing infill, because I myself don't notice vacant spots in AA as much as elsewhere. Though that's changed with the demolition of the Hale Photo Bldg...

08-03-2012, 08:35 AM
I did go into Bricktown and watched a Thunder game at the Bricktown Brewery and loved the vibe and the crowd. But there has been no significant new development in that district in the last two years, so I didn't notice much change. I personally think most people that live in OKC are way too critical of this district and it's very nice to be able to go downtown and always see that much life, and it's almost all due to BT.

I believe that the East Bricktown development along with many more people living in Deep Deuce will turn the tide a little in BT where we'll hopefully start to see a few more gathering spots for the "locals".

As far as AA, it's still not a district where you want to park your car and walk around. There are things worth seeing and doing, but it hasn't all come together as a true urban district as of yet. There are also too many gaps between the CBD and most the businesses but hopefully SandRidge will cure that in the near future.

I really like getting out and walking Deep Deuce, even with the big holes in urban farbic. It just feels like a neighborhood and there always people out and about.

I love Film Row but it's going to need some substantial residential development before it takes the next step. But I agree, it has crazy potential.

Midtown is getting there, at least the area around the roundabout. It just a very large area and way too separated from the CBD by tons and tons of vacant lots. Deep Deuce feels much more connected and I have eaten at that Wedge location before and really loved it.

I realize that Maps 3 and the streetcar project mean there will be significant construction downtown for years to come, but it will be in certain areas rather than all over as things are now. Also, with the Devon/Colcord/MBG projects pretty much done and the SandRidge complex substantially complete in the next couple of years, you will have two previously completely dead areas of the CBD finished and teaming with tons of new workers, restaurants and beautiful spaces.

That's significant because big chunks of downtown will feel somewhat finished to offset the on-going construction.

08-03-2012, 08:55 AM
I think if Buy 4 Less could be convinced to build an Uptown Market (like the one in Edmond) in Deep Deuce or East Bricktown, it would be wildly successful. It would also probably spur a residential housing boom unlike anything we have seen yet. I think another one in the western C2S/Farmers Market area would eventually be viable. I like the idea of Buy 4 Less doing it because they are a local company (correct?), have the ability to offer sufficient volume and variety for large populations, and the Uptown concept fits urban areas perfectly even though the first one is about as suburban as it can be.

08-03-2012, 10:48 AM
Unfortunately, retailers tend to follow strict demographics, particularly population and incomes within a 1-, 3- and 5-mile radius. So, downtown is still really a tough sell in many ways.

I think we'll continue to see more local retailers in the central core and once we reach more of a critical mass the others will follow. But I still think we are years away from that happening.

08-07-2012, 02:56 PM
OKC is making major strides is becoming a better city, but we still lag behind other cities in terms of development to set us apart from other cities on our tail. I have noticed there are certain things about a city that will set you apart from trailing cities, and put you in big city status:

1. Light Rail
2. Downtown High-Rise Condo Development
3. Upscale Downtown Retail Options
4. Professional Sports Franchise

08-07-2012, 03:01 PM
Yes, but the pace at which Okc is making it's strides is what impresses me the most.

08-07-2012, 03:04 PM

I agree.

It's all about momentum and I posted about two years ago I thought a tipping point had been reached and I stand by that.

Things seem to be rolling down slope now and picking up steam.

08-07-2012, 03:21 PM
If you really look at it, our development is very slow compared to cities like Salt Lake City, Nashville, Charlotte, and Austin. But its not our fault, we were knocked out cold in the 80's, but we are just now starting to get back up, and picked up where we left off. And I am just not using high rise development as a comparison, but even things like proper infrastructure, public transportation, high paying job creation, population growth, etc...

08-07-2012, 03:27 PM
But I like Oklahoma City the way it is, I don't want it to become the next Austin, Charlotte, or Atlanta. I think a comfortable population for OKC to be able to contain and maintain would be 700,000 for the city, and 1.5 for the metro, anything after that, we would start getting too crowded, and won't be able manage effectively, but this ain't SimCity, so I don't have any control over it, lol...

08-07-2012, 04:27 PM
Why not put a grocery store in the black triangle below? It doesn't necessarily need parking because it's a downtown store and it doesn't need to be the size of a Wal-Mart neighborhood market or a Super Target.
And even if the grocery had to be on a second story with those carts that go up between escalators then that would make even more room for street level retail in the area besides the grocery portion.