Continuing the national trend here. The Philtower building is definiely something Tulsa should be proud of. It's a step in the right direction.
I personally think this is the key to getting traffic downtown. Remember, retail follows rooftops.
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"Lofty ambitions: Developers are taking downtown Tulsa living to new heights as building conversions regain momentum
by John Dobberstein
The Journal Record
11/18/2005


TULSA - Tulsa appears to be cashing in on the popularity of loft apartments, symbols of urban living that have spread here from larger cities.
Renovating old industrial space into chic dwellings can be prohibitively expensive, but with the help of tax credits and grants, developers in Tulsa are bringing affordable lofts into the marketplace. And there are more projects on the drawing board.

"It's a national trend. It started in larger markets and now it's starting to become popular in secondary markets like Tulsa and Oklahoma City," said Darren Currin, vice president and research director at OKC Property Research LLC in Bethany.

He said the lofts are drawing mostly wealthy professionals looking for a second residence near work, as well as some young, single professionals.

"Lots of times, large blocks of vacant space are too antiquated for today's office tenants," said Currin. "Conversion is a great way to fill up the building. But it does take a lot of money, though. That's the down side. The real key is how many can both cities support?"

Some of the high-profile projects in Tulsa involve the Philtower and Tribune buildings, two city landmarks saved from the wrecking ball.

The Tribune Lofts, 20 E. Archer Ave., was one of the first loft projects completed in Oklahoma. The developers, American Residential Group of Tulsa, received $4 million from the city's third-penny sales tax to help absorb the risk of a housing project with no proven market.

The Tribune Lofts, which opened in the late 1990s, include 35 units in the city's Brady Arts District. ARG is working on a second phase for the Tribune Lofts with 45 newly constructed units. ARG hopes to snare some of the $9 million set aside for residential development through the Vision 2025 countywide revitalization effort.

Steve Ganzkow, a partner in ARG, said he doesn't see just one type of person staying in the lofts. They are empty-nesters, couples with no children, or wealthy business people who want a second home. He hasn't seen many families with children.

"They're older and more affluent than I thought they would ever be. I'm just amazed at the variety, and where they've come from," Ganzkow said. "We think there is a tremendous interest in loft living, or urban lifestyles. The issue is how can you bring a product to the marketplace on a cost-effective basis? The demand is definitely there."

Some momentum in marketing urban dwellings dwindled between 2001 and 2003, he said, when thousands of high-paying jobs in the Tulsa metro area were lost. Some of the workers given the pink-slip were from big cities like Dallas, Houston or Chicago and were prime candidates for lofts.

"We're just starting to get the momentum back in the last six months," Ganzkow said.

Another problem, he said, is the lack of retail in downtown Tulsa, including grocery stores.

"So what we really need is continuation of more residential, so that we will spur more entertainment, restaurants and nice places to come hang out," Ganzkow said. "They want streetscape, they want to look at nice things, they want weekend functions. We need to create neighborhoods for them."

A $3.2 million loft conversion at the Philtower Building, 427 S. Boston Ave., includes 26 units and was also helped along with a $1 million distribution from the city's third-penny tax. Floors 12 through 20 of the 24-story tower are being converted into lofts, some with panoramic views of the city.

Seventy percent of the apartments are leased already. The Philtower's management company, River City Development, was able to save money by doing much of the construction work internally, with subcontracting for electrical and plumbing.

"We had a half-empty building, and we thought we could make some good use of it," said Richard Winton, River City's project manager. "We thought we would have to be totally finished before it filled up, but it looks like we will have them all leased while we're still building."

There are more efforts under way in Tulsa to build lofts. One set of buildings referred to on the Web site tulsalofts.com is the May Room Lofts, which are "constantly under development" and looking for a developer to bring the right blend of commercial and residential. "Formerly buildings of ill repute, the buildings are fabulous spaces . It is tough to find buildings with a better footprint for live-work," the Web site reads.

Even Houston-based Metropolitan Design Group Inc. plans to build seven new lofts at 1418 and 1420 S. Troost Ave. Most will have a skyline view, and they come with an optional hot tub on the third-floor deck.

A key question, Currin said, is how many lofts the Tulsa market can support. Downtown housing is a niche and not everyone can afford the rent, he said.

"When you see several hundreds or a thousand units come on line, will the demand be there?" Currin asked.

But Currin doesn't deny the potential for lofts to breathe life into two struggling downtowns. Their presence has already trimmed the downtown office vacancy rate, he said.

"A few years ago, the cities' (downtowns) died at 6 o'clock at night," Currin said. "Now when you add entertainment and housing options, you get more of a 24/7 environment."