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01-02-2007, 12:39 PM
Year of healing for downtown
Urban Renewal gaps close as condo, retail development barrels ahead

By Steve Lackmeyer
Business Writer

Scars that separated sections of downtown Oklahoma City, created by failed Urban Renewal efforts, began to heal in 2006 as construction began on a half dozen housing developments.
The year began with questions as to whether one of the more ambitious projects, Legacy at Arts Quarter, would end up another unrealized Urban Renewal effort. After three years of delays, Urban Renewal commissioners were threatening to pull the plug on the project and gave developer Mike Henderson a Dec. 22, 2006 deadline to "remedy the default in his contract.”

A month later, construction crews were on the corner of NW 4 and Walker. A large undeveloped lot, cleared by Urban Renewal a quarter century ago, is now an imposing five-story complex that will add 303 apartments and a block of ground-floor retail space. The development also closes one of the bigger scars that separated the Arts District from MidTown and the Central Business District.

Yet another scar that separated the Oklahoma Health Center from downtown began to close as three competing developers started work on housing in Deep Deuce and the Flat Iron District.

At year end, three stories are up at NE 4 and Stiles, where developer Grant Humphreys is building the Block 42 condominium complex. Across the street, the foundation is underway for the Central Avenues. One block south, at NE 2, crews are doing site work for The Hill. And the vast empty surface parking lots that once belonged to Kerr McGee along Oklahoma Avenue have been replaced with park land that will be part of the Triangle development.

Along NE 3, walls are up for the first 15 brownstones that will be part of the Triangle's Maywood Park neighborhood.

And a longtime dream in Bricktown finally was coming true as the first of five floors was up at The Centennial — representing the first major housing development in the entertainment district.

Richard Tanenbaum previously converted a former Montgomery Wards department store (last used as offices) into The Mongomery, an upscale apartment building. He launched a similar project with the 17-story Park Harvey Building. Work still is under way to convert the property into 162 apartments.

A similar conversion was being planned by architect Anthony McDermid for vacant office buildings on the Kerr-McGee campus downtown. But the deal fell apart when the company was acquired by Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum, and the two sides are headed to court.

Smaller private housing projects sprang up across downtown, ranging from a modern contemporary home built at NE 7 and Oklahoma to older buildings in Deep Deuce and Bricktown being converted into small apartments.

Work also began along West Sheridan as developer Chip Fudge and architect David Wanzer attempted to create the next downtown renaissance story by conjuring up images of the area's history as Film Row. Early plans include renovations of decades-old buildings into housing, offices and retail.

Yet another downtown area district was already on its way to just that mix. Developer Greg Banta finished property acquisition by mid-2006, and began an aggressive renovation plan that saw the reopening of the distirct's landmark Plaza Court Building and repairs to dozens of neglected buildings along NW 10, Walker Avenue and Francis Avenue.

Banta's development, combined with expansion of the St. Anthony Hospital campus, began to close the gap on downtown's west fringe between MidTown and the Arts District.

Mayor Mick Cornett convened a group to draft a plan for downtown's next big hole — the the south fringe of downtown that will be exposed by the relocation of Interstate 40. Ideas included creation of a large "central park” and expansion of the convention center.

06-17-2008, 09:05 AM
There's no dust gathering in downtown

By Steve Lackmeyer
Business Writer

Sometimes it's not the big grand openings or $20 million development announcements, but rather all the bits and pieces that create a picture of just how vibrant downtown Oklahoma City is these days.

Soundbites in the Park ending?
•Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. is going to take another shot at ending its annual Soundbites in the Park with a special happy hour Friday. The festivities at Kerr Park will run from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. with a performance by the Groove Merchants and food and beer bar provided the Skirvin Hilton hotel. A similar setup was planned last year, but was canceled by rain. Organizers swear they will have clear skies this time.
I can only imagine what architect Rand Elliott is planning for the park. He was hired last year by SandRidge Energy and Chesapeake Energy Corp. to design an overhaul – and those plans are expected to come out this summer.

Chamber's plans await panel's decision
•It's not quite a done deal. The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, which unveiled its plans for a headquarters to be built at NW 4 and Broadway, must deliver those same designs today to the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. The authority's board of commissioners will then begin deliberation of the chamber's proposal at an open meeting 10 a.m. Wednesday. The board meets in the Urban Renewal board room on the 24th floor of City Place, 204 N Robinson Ave.

Film Row brings in crowd
•I'm told by Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. that a packed crowd attended a weekend movie screening along downtown's Film Row — the newest site added to the list of venues for the annual deadCenter Film Festival.
On a recent visit with developer Chip Fudge, I learned that an update on improvements to the area should be forthcoming.

More beds expected for guests?
•At least three hotel deals are being worked in Bricktown. They are in addition to the Hampton Inn being built next to the Bricktown parking garage on Sheridan Avenue and a Holiday Inn Express planned for the corner of Oklahoma Avenue and Main Street.
I've also learned that a couple of executives from at least two different companies in town for the American Hotel and Lodging Association conference were shopping deals in Bricktown.

Irish pub is shining in MidTown
•James E. McNellie's Public House is now open at MidTown's Plaza Court Building at the intersection of NW 10 and Walker Avenue. The Irish pub and restaurant was filled with customers noontime Monday.

Will there be free parking?
•Five years ago finding a parking spot in MidTown was easy. These days, those spots are filling up fast at peak times, especially at the reopened Plaza Court Building. But unlike Bricktown, most of the parking is owned by two parties intent on filling up empty buildings. And those parties, St. Anthony Hospital and Greg Banta, are showing no interest in charging for parking.

Automobile Alley adds Iguana Grill
•Automobile Alley will get another restaurant later this month when the Iguana Grill, previously planned for 1015 N Broadway, opens at 9 NW 9 (just around the corner from NW 9 and Broadway).

06-17-2008, 10:17 AM
one of the more ambitious projects, Legacy at Arts Quarter,

Ambitious? That's overplaying it to say the least. Well, maybe the renderings were too ambitious for the developers, but even if they had done what they said they were going to do, it would still would have been a stretch to call it ambitious. I really think this kind of hyperbole holds us back, because it sends the message that our standards are still pretty low... but, I don't know, mabye they still are.

06-17-2008, 12:24 PM
Perhaps what is being called ambitious is the overall attempt to fill a void that gnawed at the fabric of the city for too long. The scope and complexity of the project were not ambitious. The design standards were not ambitious. I would compare this situation to that of the old Mercy Hospital site in Midtown. Given the number of failed attempts over a 35 year span to redevelop the Mercy property, any successful project could reasonably be called ambitious because it will have overcome obstacles that have thwarted others.

06-17-2008, 12:39 PM
Sometimes it's not the big grand openings or $20 million development announcements, but rather all the bits and pieces that create a picture of just how vibrant downtown Oklahoma City is these days.

So very true!

As I posted on another thread, Plaza Court was thriving last Thursday afternoon and this was before McNellie's opened. They need to get the Y people (and some others) to park in the structure in the back, otherwise the businesses on the ground floor are not going to have much parking in front of their locations.

I've said it many times but I think the resurgence of Midtown will really be the turning point for Central OKC. Bricktown and the CBD developments are great, but Midtown is actually a *neighborhood* and I think in the longer term that area will be responsible for bringing large groups of people -- of all types and incomes -- back to the central city. And that in turn, will drive even more projects in the more commercialized areas.

06-17-2008, 05:57 PM
The Iguana Grill building is very cool and has a lot of character. The only drawback is that it's not very visible. But it's right around the corner from Java Dave's and Coffee Slingers and that area has a lot of potential to become a nice new restaurant row.

07-02-2008, 09:26 AM
The walkway from Maywood Park to Bricktown is being constructed. They've got a sidewalk, lights and landscaping, and I just noticed they were clearing all the debris from the back of the walkway. I would guess there will have to be stairs down, and perhaps the debris clearing was to precede construction of them.