Saturday, October 10, 2009

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.


OKC Second Time said...

With all due respect, I'd suggest you're a glass half empty kind of guy today. And that's understandable.
But it's actually half full and not everything is as bad as you might think. The MidTown project is anything but dead and expect some significant progress there soon with the completition of apartments at Hadden Hall and the Kline Hotel (the Packard Building is ready for retail and more announcements are coming soon for the Walker Shops).
Yes, the Flatiron is stalled, but Grant hasn't given up on it yet. As for 36th and Walker... yep, probably not going anywhere soon though he's still wanting to get things started at Downtown Airpark.
Unless something seriously derails it, my sources assure me Whole Foods is coming to what I'd call the central city, though not downtown.
And some impressive new retail is about to pop up in Bricktown.

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

Hey Steve. That's interesting, thanks for posting that and righting my half-empty glass. It's great that MidTown is making good progress. I'll anxiously await the news of impressive new retail in Bricktown.