Wednesday, October 28, 2009

3 really cool pedestrian bridges

I've been really OKC-focused lately, with all of the MAPS 3 discussion heating up. How about if I take a step back and showcase some really cool architecture from elsewhere, and of course it will be relevant to the case of OKC. For this post, here are 3 really cool pedestrian bridges.

This is one that the City of Calgary is building across the Bow River. The bridge, designed by world-famous architect Santiago Calatrava, will be dubbed the Peace Bridge. It will cost $24 million, which is significantly higher than OKC's proposed SkyDance Bridge--granted you'd spend more on infrastructure in a downtown that already has 30,000 residents and 120,000 workers (and expecting to add 40,000 more residents and 60,000 in the next two decades). And I'm not really sure if Santiago Calatrava is who you go to when you want a really cool design on a shoestring budget.

And now this one is cool. This is the formerly proposed pedestrian bridge crossing the River Clyde in Glasgow. For this design the City of Glasgow opened the process up to an international design competition, and this was the best design, chosen in 2003. The project was shelved in '06 amidst the onset of the global recession. The project would have cost an estimated £22 million (pounds).

Marina Bay Pedestrian Bridge, linking Singapore's central business district to an entertainment complex. Sort of a cool double-helix design, possibly inspired by a DNA molecule.

MidFirst rumors

Well rumors are now spreading like wildfire that MidFirst Bank is building a new 16 st tower at I-44 and Broadway, between Broadway and Chesapeake. It's not surprising considering that MidFirst has largely outgrown its 5-story office complex at the same site that they've occupied for years. The tower is designed by the Small Group, and these designs are from their website. Small also designed the Bricktown Substation and was also behind the inadequate design for the proposed Bricktown Fire Station.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Eau contraire

Last week I jubilantly typed out coverage of the Chamber's Breakthrough Luncheon series that will be the PR movement for MAPS 3, or so far, has been. I was pleased that now it appeared they were doing a real PR campaign that involved interaction with the citizens. I just stumbled across it while I was on the Chamber's website. What I didn't realize was that the cost to attend was $35 per plate.

That's ridiculous. Voters have a right to be involved in the process without being forced to commit to $35 per plate at a luncheon. That's not being inclusive of EVERYBODY in the city--all 560,000 proud Oklahoma Citians. That's only including the movers and shakers of downtown, which are already going to support the initiative anyway.

The Chamber and the City should be ashamed of the PR campaign so far and the public involvement behind the MAPS 3 push. What I wrote about, praising it as an informative meeting, I take back. Until we see a real MAPS 3 call for citizen involvement, this is just become a sad joke in my opinion.

Yes I still support MAPS 3. Yes I want it to pass. Yes I want the best for OKC. But this thing will not pass and OKC will not get the best if the Chamber and City don't get their act together, and quick.

Stop making me sick, City Council.

Results in: Big League City

The results are in and OKC has shot way up in the Sporting News' rankings of the best sports cities. Oklahoma, as a state, has fared pretty well. OKC ranked #37 (ranking 42 spots higher than last year), and if that doesn't sound impressive, how about the two cities that surround us in the rankings: #36 Toronto, #38 Austin. To be sure, Norman is factored in with OKC this time, just as Boulder is factored in with Denver. Elsewhere in the state, Stillwater came in second at #60, and Tulsa followed at #82. Out of the Big 12's "pure college towns" only Columbia, MO ranked ahead of Stillwater at #56. Lawrence was #61, Lubbock was #63, Lincoln was #72, Waco was #85, College Station was #86, Manhattan was #91, Ames was #114. The best sports city in the nation was Pittsburgh, coming off of another Steelers Super Bowl.

Photo borrowed from Doug Loudenback. Check out his NBA-in-OKC coverage here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

MAPS promotion

Finally some promotion. Last Thursday the OKC Chamber had a large luncheon at the Downtown Sheraton ballroom to promote MAPS. Several speakers came up, explained MAPS 3, pushing for the Dec. 8th vote. Mayor Mick spoke arguing for the reasons behind MAPS 3. A world rowing champion spoke about what the whitewater facility would do for OKC. And a convention industry expert spoke about the need for the convention center. Watch for yourself here on the live stream (it was once live).

Important new points that Mayor Mick expanded on:
  1. They definitely seem to consider consider the idea website the "citizen feedback" part of the project.
  2. There WOULD be a Citizen Oversight Committee, which had been a major point of contention among MAPS critics who have been dismayed that the citizen involvement behind the project.
  3. Cornett argued that the conv center was just an arena with meeting rooms built around it, and is smaller than Tulsa, Wichita, Omaha, and other cities..and told ppl that the best economic development is a dollar earned somewhere else that gets spent in OKC (conv business).
  4. They will continue to revisit the site, but they will put priority to sites that have the best proximity to existing hotels and Bricktown.
  5. New slogan for the river that rhymes: "We used to mow it, now we row it."
  6. The 2004 hotel/motel tax successfully been bonded out for all the horse facilities, but not the expo center.
  7. Cornett says that there will be multiple future events to promote the initiative as well, in the future.
  8. The city would own the white water facility, but there would probably be an RFP for an operator. The cashflow would be sufficient to pay for the operations, same as with the Bricktown Ballpark and the Ford Center.
  9. Cornett mentioned that the streetcar system would, at 5-6 miles long, be the longest streetcar system in the nation. (Not sure about that one.)
There will be another Breakthrough luncheon on Oct. 29th in the Petroleum Club focused around the new downtown park. Margaret Mary Jones with Hargreaves will be there to talk about the new park that she designed and how it will be a unique opportunity for OKC, Oklahoma, and really a unique place in the world. Supposedly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

SoSA is Free

One area of downtown that has done a remarkable job bucking the sorry-bad-economy-no-development trend is SoSA. The funny thing about SoSA is that nobody even knew what the hell it was 2 years ago. Last year architects Brian Fitzsimmons and Dennis Wells had a show down with preservationalist Randy Floyd over a proposed contemporary house modeled after the California case study houses of the 30s -- Floyd argued it was out of place in the "Cottage District" and did her best to get the project turned down. Wells' response wasn't "OH but please let out project through, we promise we'll fit in."

Instead the architects made a stand against what they felt was a bullshit image in the first place of the "Cottage District." Wells and Fitzsimmons utlimately won their case because the truth is that the area formerly known as the "Cottage District" has little meaningful historic fabric left in tack. It's also perfectly positioned, wedged between the county jail and St. Anthony's, to serve as an area for architects to just go wild. Today not only did Wells get his project passed, but he's got several more planned, along with several existing Fitzsimmons projects, and now there appears to be momentum behind modernist design in the area now known as "South of St. Anthony" aka SoSA. Mission accomplished. "SoSA" has been set free of restrictions limiting the creativity of locals and architects.

The first project in the area was Randy Floyd's historic preservation of a few townhomes on 7th Street. Floyd did an amazing job with the preservation project long before the neighborhood turned the corner. Then was another preservation project on Francis, pictured left.

Then came Brian Fitzsimmons personal abode, the OKasian house, pictured above. Arguably one of the coolest houses in OKC.

Here on the FreeSoSA site is a really cool medley of SoSA pics, including the Classen Glen condos, which were well ahead of their time when they were built in the 1970s, as well as several other really cool houses. SoSA, while under a lot of development right now, is nothing like Deep Deuce -- almost all of these projects are single house infill.

One bigger project is the ModeHomes stuff going on in MidTown. I'm not exactly positive where in MidTown this stuff is going in, but a new group from Seattle is trying to develop contemporary infill in OKC that's pretty similar to the rest of the SoSA stuff. Their first project however is multi-unit, a 9-unit development that will (supposedly) be ready for move-in next summer. The facades combine several building materials such as brick veneer, aluminum panels, and cedar siding for an interesting look. They say they have two projects, but this is the only one I've seen. All Mode has so far is a twitter page so far, but my understanding is that it's in the very early planning stages still.

Currently there are 3 single family projects under construction--one on 7th, and two on 8th. According to the site there are also two projects in the planning stages -- both on 7th Street. Of course it's no wonder that the area is growing. Consider that the skyline view from your bedroom, pictured below, is absolutely stunning and that the city has relaxed design standards, which combine to create a very unique opportunity for a special neighborhood.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


Apparently last night Roger Daltrey, lead singer of The Who for those who don't know, showed up as a surprise lecturer at the Academy of Contemporary Music @ UCO last night in Bricktown. The surprise appearance in Bricktown last night is now on The Who's website and has made its splash throughout the blogosphere.

I like best how Steve Lackmeyer talks about the people-spotting bonanza that has swept OKC recently.
"There was a time when celebrity spotting in Oklahoma City meant seeing Barry Switzer enjoying bbq at a local restaurant. Maybe you saw Bob Hope during one of his stops at the Skirvin. But lately with the addition of the NBA and world class concerts at Ford Center, we’re starting to adapt to the chance of seeing Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas eating at Mickey Mantle Steakhouse, seeing Kobe Bryant or Shaq at Hooters, or seeing Eva Longoria and Tony Parker enjoying a meal at Trattoria Il Centro."
Of course he forgot to mention the lead actor of NCIS doing a baseball benefit at The Brick, Jessica Alba "vandalizing" downtown with save-the-shark posters, and more. It's definitely been impressive to see how famous people are beginning to frequent OKC. Not long ago you would have never seen these guys even considering coming to OKC. Now if we can just get presidential candidates to realize we exist...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Here's a Shock

ESPN is reporting that the WNBA's Detroit Shock are moving to Tulsa. The Shock have won WNBA titles in '03, '06, and '08, and recently lost to the Indiana Fever last month in playoffs. They're a good, solid team for certain. In the '03 playoffs they drew crowds in excess of 22,000, but attendance has fallen since then as the successful Detroit Shock have had trouble competing with much less successful teams in Michigan (Wolverines, Spartans, Lions, Tigers, etc).

The investment group, Tulsa Pro Hoops LLC (led by OKC businessmen David Box and Bill Cameron) are behind the move and are aiming to have a team in Tulsa by next year. They have lined up former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson to coach a prospective WNBA team in Tulsa. Richardson was 1994 Naismith Coach of the Year, has coached Arkansas to 3 Final Fours, and won the 1990 championship with the Razorbacks.

Tulsa would be the 2nd smallest WNBA city, after Uncasville, CT.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Downtown OKC 2020 on OKC Central

Well now that Steve Lackmeyer is finished putting up all of his Downtown OKC 2020 guest columns, including one from myself, I thought I'd post links to some of the important ones, which is the majority of them. The series is intended to get a perspective on how downtown should develop over the next 10 years. I'll just be starting with the most recent, ending with the oldest (that Steve posted first) so that there isn't a "most pertinent" order or anything.

1. My essay outlining how OKC can transition to being a "Tier 2" city (i.e., Denver, Charlotte, KC) and expressing some of my planning-oriented concerns regarding C2S. One of the major points that readers commented on (so I assume it was one of the better-articulated points) was the psychological benefits of fixed guideway transit opposed to any kind of bus service. The point is that you see the rails and the wires and you know the streetcar comes by, and that's a big benefit for users AND developers. You see a bus stop sign and you do your best to ignore it.

2. Blair Humphrey's long column where he largely avoids the issue of OKC specifically and outlines how the people of NYC attempted to override Robert Moses' plans to throw a bridge in Battery Park. I think the point that he's suggesting is pretty clear though. This one is so long (and well-written) that Steve debated cutting it down, but readers overwhelmingly wanted the longer version.

3. Doug Loudenback's (the best in my opinion) piece persuading the reader to "leave room in downtown for chaos and serendipity." Well put Doug. As Doug romanticizes about how downtown used to be gritty, fun, diverse, crowded, and just awesome in general, he laments how I.M. Pei took all of that out and that C2S planners aren't going to bring it back. This article is really an awesome piece and a must-read in my opinion. That's all I have to say.

4. For people wanting to know a lot about the nuts and bolts of downtown development, check out Bert Belanger's story. He largely gives his account of the development projects he has worked on, including several that failed and never materialized, and some that have, including some of the Triangle stuff. Bert Belanger is largely critical of the development that has proceded, especially development underway, and also critical of C2S. Though he does lay out 10 goals that are a lot more optimistic. A good read.

Thanks to Steve for spawning the idea, sending out the emails, and coordinating the series. Hopefully, even though not very many people participated, Steve's goals were met when he thought of the series.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Jenks, America: Oklahoma's "super-suburb"

Anyone who has been following any Jenks-related news in the last few years has to be pretty impressed. It appears that the small town of Jenks, once known for being the "Antique Capital of Oklahoma," has come out of nowhere and seized its place as a venerable contender in economic development. While the 2000 population of Jenks was 9,557, the town has always had a larger footprint than that for being on the edge of Tulsa, and for its top-notch school system that extends covering a lot of area on the Tulsa side of the Arkansas River. Now though, Jenks is making a play at becoming a full-circle community, known for more than just antiques and its high school.

Three major lifestyle projects are underway in Jenks right now, at a time when almost all of the other lifestyle projects across the state have been canceled (having a $96,000 household income in a 3-mile radius would probably help that a little bit). The lifestyle projects are RiverWalk Crossing, the River District, and the Village on Main.

RiverWalk Crossing actually happens to be mostly finished. Back in 2004 the first phase was finished, with several restaurants along a promenade fronting the Arkansas River, a cinema complex, a Holiday Inn, an amphitheater area, as well as 110,000 sf of retail and office. They also just began on the second phase, which was long-delayed after Stillwater National Bank dropped out as an investor, which they've now been replaced by American National Bank of Texas.

The $50 million second phase will include 125,000 sf of retail and office, as well as significant housing additions, broken up into two sections. The retail/office is combined with a 207-unit luxury apartment complex for the "RiverWalk Village" component, and then adjacent is a 6-story 50-unit condo project called "RiverWalk Lofts" that will begin construction later. More phase two info here.

The River District is definitely the big kahuna. This project has already been delayed, but now they have decided to proceed forward in stages (as opposed to doing it all at once). It has already broken ground and work is fixing to resume soon. It's development cost will be around $800 million, with over a million sf of retail and restaurant, another million sf of office space, 500 residential units, an upscale cinema component, as well as a hotel and conference center. It will be the complete package.

The River District is probably, by far, the best example of a new-urbanist lifestyle center coming to Oklahoma. With several million square feet of development and an urban layout, this has to be considered the class of lifestyle projects. That said, it's interesting that the developer is the same as much of Lower Bricktown. Go figure.

Another project closer to downtown Jenks (right across the Creek Turnpike from the River District) is the Village on Main. The triumphant planning feature of the $60 million Village on Main project is that it is virtually designed to feel simply like an extension of Main Street in Jenks. The developers have said, “The Village on Main is the integral piece that
connects the Oklahoma Aquarium, RiverWalk Crossing, Historic Downtown, River District, and Riverview.” The Village will feature over 420,000 sf of space, including a 22,000 medical office building already under construction for the Utica Park Clinic in Tulsa. Overall the project will feature 150,000 sf of retail and restaurants, 140,000 sf of new offices, at least 100 residential units, a 100-room boutique hotel, community events center.

What's surprising is the small, compact core that all of these projects are going in. They're all practically adjacent to the new Oklahoma Aquarium, the Creek Turnpike, the Arkansas River, and downtown Jenks, one known for its antique stores, but now known for its lifestyle centers going up. Jenks, which was recently one of the Top 2 fastest growing cities in Oklahoma, may have only had 9,000 in the 2000 census, but now it is a big-time contender (that's taken a lot of Tulsa's economic development). Jenks is the model of how even a suburb 10 miles downstream from downtown Tulsa can have positive growth.

Off my game a little..

I just want to apologize to all of those who read my blog regularly and have been disappointed with how infrequent my posting has been. I also want to apologize to anyone who was put off by one of my recent posts which was basically a long gripe about the lack of progress on downtown retail, which I readily admit the economy is mainly culprit for. Hopefully I can stoke my guilt for bitchin about it with the message that sometimes you do need a rather critical perspective to come along and pick at things. You just don't want it to be the same person all of the time and I promise that won't be me, I'll go back to happy posts for now.

Also wanted to apologize to people who came to expect posts from me every other day or so. I used to think, "You know blogging is great, how about if I let this become my life? That would be cool." Now life has kind of taken over for a while and blogging isn't so cool, but that just means I'll come back refreshed and with more ideas eventually. Of course there's always news happening, even no news is still news..and I'll still cover what I do.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

What the Myriad will have that C2S Park won't..

An amphitheater. Surprisingly, because we expected it would be a focal point of a potential C2S/MAPS park..and nobody has really noticed that there will be no such thing in the park. But it will be included in the Myriad Gardens makeover, it just won't be nearly as grand as many have hoped, despite being called a "distinctive amphitheater." You can call it that all day, but I don't think that what the Myriad Gardens will feature is very distinctive. It is perfect for the 17-acre compact downtown park though.

This is a distinctive amphitheater.

This will be OKC's primary amphitheater.

Prospective C2S/MAPS will have a lawn that a makeshift stage can go on.

Not that I'm saying I'm not pleased with how this has turned out. The Myriad Gardens renovation schemes are impressive, and in my opinion, absolutely perfect for the dense, 17-acre space. I'm also impressed with how it will only cost them $35 million to transform the space into a premier urban green. I just wish that with MAPS3, the City would invest in a more impressive amphitheater for the C2S park that could be used to attract major concerts and events. It would add a lot to the park in that there would always be an open-air venue for major acts in downtown. Granted, nobody would want to put the Zoo Amphitheater out of business..I just think that the two would be similar, yet draw completely different types of performances.

Beyond-depressing interview

This interview with Alison Oshel (the article doesn't say but I'm pretty sure she is the Chamber's new "retail specialist" whose job is to attract "center city retail") is pretty depressing. That's not to say that Steve Lackmeyer did a bad job, in fact I think he did a good job of exposing what a lackluster scenario the retail picture here is. And I think that in some part that falls on Oshel whose sole job is "center city retail." There is no such thing as "center city retail" and nothing has even begun to change on that front in the 2 or 3 years that Oshel has been in the position, begging the question what she does all day.

I don't mean to point the finger at one person and attack everything they've done in their job for a while, but I just think some questions need to be raised here, so I'm going to do the instigating on this matter, and I readily admit I could be wrong. Yeah I know there's a recession going on, but that isn't much of an excuse for having the nation's lowest unemployment rate and being the most "recession-proof major city" and having absolutely nothing going on with the retail front.

Let's examine what's actually happened with "center city retail": None of the large-scale mixed-use projects that could have happened have stuck. Bricktown Village was thwarted by the City, Grant Humphreys' Crown Heights project has fallen off the radar, his Waterfront project is stalled until he can make progress on the FlatIron, the FlatIron (which will need some retail and office tenants) has not made much progress, Gary Cotton's huge development on the canal faltered, MidTown Renaissance isn't moving forward, and I could just go on. We wanted a Whole Foods downtown and at one point in time we were confident it would come. What we HAVE seen are small projects. A couple opened up a gourmet market in Deep Deuce. Some restaurants moved into the Centennial. Some Bricktown restaurants went out of business and some took their place. Local billionaire Aubrey McClendon has a small 100,000 sf upscale development underway. McClendon may be able to attract Whole Foods to OKC himself, still. The complete shutdown of suburban development projects (Tuscana, Edmond projects, Oklahoma Premium Outlets, and more completely derailed) should have provided an opportunity for downtown to get some more retail development.

Now let's examine what we are hoping to get out of the future: a complete turnaround in downtown retail. We're looking for the kind of downtown that has more retail attractions than either Penn Square or Quail Springs Mall. C2S anticipates that a major retail development could line the new "boulevard" and neighborhood retail could fill the rest of C2S. Bricktown has added a few more "trophies" such as the School of Rock and the American Banjo Museum, so can it capitalize on that? Can Bricktown remain hot or will it begin to cool if nothing new comes in to keep it "fresh" in the minds of locals? Does anyone even realize how much empty retail space is just sitting all around's a LOT. There's space in the Centennial, there's space where Uncommon Grounds was, there's space in the Santa Fe Train Depot, there's a TON of space along the Canal, and more. We need to fill that before we can attract the kind of star-studded retail we're looking to come downtown, and yeah, it is a chicken-and-egg scenario because we all know that downtown retail needs an anchor, and nobody in their right mind had better consider Bass Pro a "downtown retail anchor."

Now to bring it back to Oshel, which I hate to do to someone I don't even know. Here we have someone who is an upper-level Chamber of Commerce official whose sole job is "center city retail." Add to the fact that pretty much every district has a director. Bricktown has Jim Cowan who has been instrumental in keeping the momentum going there, and overall Downtown OKC has Jane Jenkins who has a proven track record in boosting downtown retail. Can you say too many cooks in the kitchen? These coordinators should all be able to help attract big-time national retailers as well as help locals set up business downtown, which we've been really lacking on.

The successes we have had have been ALL due to external factors. UCO has done a lot for downtown, with attracting the School of Rock and their boathouse. The Bricktown Association did good getting the Banjo Museum here. Government projects have made the OHC look like a potentially hot development area. Devon Tower guarantees a boom for the west side of downtown so thank God for Devon right now. MAPS 3 is also going to ensure a lot of possibility if it passes. Hopefully when the Thunder are back in play downtown will be a much better retail area.

I'm just curious what Oshel HAS been able to bring to the table. From here it looks like nothing. A coordinator in her position could have been instrumental in keeping politics from shunning Bricktown Village, or could have helped Humphreys with FlatIron in order to keep the rest of his projects on track, and so on. The Centennial sold out its residential units and had a long waitlist for units, then the same broker who handled that moved on to work with Gary Cotton's canal mid-rise, and couldn't get any of those names that were waitlisted to buy into the Cotton Exchange, which would have been a very cool project. That's another key example of poor coordination and something that should have been successful.

And now, turning to the interview, I'm not even sure they have the right focus.
"We’ve lost some national retailers — Linens ’N Things, Circuit City, Sportsman’s Warehouse — and we do have some big box space that wasn’t available or on the market about a year ago."
Wait, are we even talking about a "Big League City" and its aspirations any more? We're talking about Linens 'N things and Circuit City here, none of which were even in the "center city" so who cares, from a perspective of downtown retail. Why is that even something we're talking about.. I don't get it.