Thursday, August 27, 2009

Not to nitpick, but..

First of all I'd like to say how incredibly excited I am to have the Academy of Contemporary Music downtown in Bricktown, right on the canal. It's an incredible opportunity to further expand the cultural and night life offerings, let alone the daytime offerings in Bricktown. Especially during a recession. I am excited to see UCO doing many cool live music-themed things in the center city, with this, and also with their boathouse on the river. But with that said..I just have a small bone to pick with the tacky banner covering up the fourth floor windows.

Hopefully it won't last and they'll put something less temporary there, but I'm not convinced.. this project has been over a year in the works, getting the school ready for months, and the sign just doesn't make sense. Plus with the talk that they might be moving again to a more permanent location somewhere other than Bricktown (the Fred Jones Widgets Bldg has been a heavily rumored location). Anyway, this is the sign I have a problem with..

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Film Row streetscape work beginning..

And..action! Earlier this month work had begun officially on the Film Row streetscape project along Sheridan Avenue, just west of the Myriad Gardens. Historic Film Row is an up-and-coming district of former film warehouse buildings that are being restored on the west edge of downtown. It's an area that stands to gain a massive boost from the Devon Tower project.

Work may finally be moving forward on two projects, the Film Exchange Building and the Hart Building. Two projects that already look nice are the Oklahoma Theater Supply and an upscale home decor store whose name escapes me. The developers behind the rebirth of Film Row maintain a website with more information here. The progress is pictured below.


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Oklahoma Health Center skyline


Not an easy shot to get, but worth it. The OHC skyline is starting to rise. Taken on I-40 east of downtown.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Posting will be less frequent starting...now

Hey guys. Just thought I would let you all know that posting is going to be less often, but I am still going to try my best to get meaningful, debate-provoking posts up every other day or so. The longest I'll ever go without a post is two days, but it just won't be one or two a day like it was. I'm in the process of moving back up to Calgary to begin school, so that's the deal. I'll be back Christmas break, but not Spring Break this year. I still have a LOT of pictures and material that I've planned to post so continuing my points won't be any problem.

Another idea I've considered is that one thing that would keep this blog going, not just full steam ahead, but actually gaining momentum, is if I could illicit guest blog posts, similarly to Steve Lackmeyer on his OKC Central blog (which he will be running a Downtown 2020 column from me shortly). And a more extreme version of that would be if I opened up an opportunity for a co-blogger, if anyone is interested.

Take care! Sprawl, bad. Streetcar, good.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Downtown ontheRange's Best of OKC

Now that I'm done writing letters to everyone under the sun, and almost finished being mad at art haters, and with the Gazette and the Oklahoman having a frenzy over their "Best of OKC" rankings right now, I thought it would be fun for me to do one of my own just to throw out the word for a few great local businesses that I've enjoyed going to this summer. Also, I have to say that thinking about the topic tonight got me hungry..so my rankings are somewhat biased as I was sitting in Cattlemen's Steakhouse not very long ago, as my send-off dinner before I go back to Calgary this weekend. I'm just going to name a best for each category, and a runner-up. So without much further ado, here goes (and if this doesn't get you hungry, I don't know what will).

Best Upscale Restaurant
1. Mickey Mantle's Steakhouse in Bricktown. (Get the pepper corn steak.)
2. Red Prime Steak in Automobile Alley.

Best "Casual Dining"
1. Red Rock Canyon Grill at Lake Hefner's East Wharf
2. Deep Deuce Grill in Deep Deuce

Best Steakhouse (the toughest category IMO)
1. Cattlemen's Steakhouse in Stockyards City
2. Mickey Mantle's Steakhouse in Bricktown

Best Cafe'
1. Two Olives Cafe in Downtown Moore
2. The Saturn Grill at Nichols Hills Plaza

Best Italian Restaurant
1. Trattoria il Centro in the Arts District
2. Flip's Wine Bar on N. Western

Best Japanese Restaurant
1. Shogun Steakhouse at NorthPark
2. Musashi's on N. Western

Best Coffeehouse
1. The Red Cup on N. Classen
2. Coffee Slingers in Automobile Alley

Best Pizza Place
1. The Hideaway, 5 metro locations
2. The Wedge Pizzeria in Deep Deuce and N. Western

Best Restaurant for a Date
1. McNellie's Public House in MidTown
2. The Mont on Boyd Ave., Norman

Best BBQ Joint
1. Iron Starr Urban BBQ in Crown Heights
2. Bad Brad's in Downtown Yukon

Best Burger Joint
1. Irma's Burger Shack in MidTown and in Nichols Hills
2. Bricktown Burgers in Bricktown

Best Time-Tested Establishment
1. Cattlemen's Steakhouse in Stockyards City
2. Anne's Chicken Fry on Historic Rt. 66, Warr Acres

Hottest New Restaurant
1. McNellie's Public House in MidTown
2. POPS on Historic Rt. 66, Arcadia

Best Lunch Haunt
1. The Prohibition Room in Historic Gold Dome
2. Irma's Burger Shack in MidTown and Nichols Hills

Best Beer Selection
1. McNellie's Public House in MidTown
2. TapWerks Ale House & Cafe in Bricktown

Best Joke About a Local Restaurant
1. Pearl's "Graveside" (the new N. Classen location)
2. Laredo's construction woes, also on N. Classen

Best Dance Club
1. Skkybar in Bricktown
2. Rok Bar in Bricktown

Worst Local Restaurant
1. Charleston's..located everywhere
2. n/a

Best Local Clothing Company
1. Mr. Ooley's in Penn Square
2. Lucca Fashion Boutique in Penn Square and in Edmond

Best Local Retail Treasure
1. Full Circle Bookstore at 50 Penn Place
2. Sage Gourmet Market in Deep Deuce

Best Place to Shop
1. Penn Square in N. OKC
2. Campus Corner, Norman

Most Missed OKC-grown Corporation
1. Kerr-McGee
2. Harold's

Best Local University
1. University of Oklahoma
2. n/a

Best Local Hotspot
1. Bricktown (obviously)
2. N. Western Avenue

Most Surprising Local Hotspot (in a good way)
1. MidTown
2. Downtown Norman

Most Underachieving Local Hotspot
1. Uptown (NW 23rd Street)
2. Capitol Hill

Best Live Music Club
1. The UCO Jazz Lab in Edmond
2. The Conservatory on N. Western

Best New Urban Development
1. The Centennial on the Canal in Bricktown
2. The Legacy at Arts Central in the Arts District

Best Historic Renovation Project
1. The Skirvin Hilton in Downtown
2. Plaza Court Bldg in MidTown

Best Downtown Developer
1. Grant Humphreys
2. Greg Banta

Best Development About to Break Ground
1. Devon Tower in Downtown
2. The Waterfront on the Oklahoma River

Best Prime Sites for Development
1. The "Brewer Family" location entering Bricktown on Sheridan
2. Vacant city block across Walker from the Stage Center

Best MAPS 3 Idea
1. Downtown streetcar
2. Convention center

Best Public Project
1. Ford Center Renovations
2. Boathouse Row

Best Downtown Attraction
1. OKC National Memorial
2. Bricktown Ballpark

Most Stylish Suburban Development
1. Spring Creek Village in Edmond
2. Brookhaven Village in Norman

Best Metro Blog
1. Doug Dawgz Blog, by Doug Loudenback
2. OKC Central, by Steve Lackmeyer

Best International Hall of Fame You Didn't Know OKC Had
1. International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in Downtown
2. International Photography Hall of Fame at the OmniPlex

Best Local Museum
1. Oklahoma City Museum of Art in Downtown
2. Fred Jones Museum of Art in Norman

Best Local Politician
1. Tom Coburn
2. Jim Roth

Best Local Eccentric Billionaire
1. Ray Ackerman
2. Aubrey McClendon

Best 'Best of OKC'
1. Oklahoma Gazette
2. Daily Oklahoman

Most Attractive Person in OKC
1. Nadia Comaneci
2. Nick Roberts, naturally

For a better "Best of OKC" directory, check out the Gazette. All of these were decided by me, so no doubt people might disagree. I also didn't bother with places I don't go to, like wine bars, or Mexican restaurants, or Chinese restaurants, etc. Although I did cover best watering hole (for beer on top) and Japanese restaurants..which is kinda close. I also, obviously, covered a lot of downtown topics not covered by anyone else; just my own spin on the "Best of OKC" thing everyone is getting in on. Anyway, keep it classy, OKC.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

My 4-page plea to the City Council (and any important figures reading this)

I would like to talk about our central core, and I just wanted to bring up some important points that I‘ve been thinking about lately. It has become abundantly clear to me that our great city of 558,000 people is at a crossroads where we can chose two paths. One is we can treat downtown like a novelty, like the pet project of a popular former mayor..fill it up with things like a convention center, a soaringly wide boulevard for no reason, cute little statues, and so on. Or we can be pragmatic and treat downtown like a viable community that is capable of producing as much residential growth for our city as areas like Quail Springs or Westmoore. Because we have a “pet project mentality” with downtown currently, it’s as if providing vital infrastructure it needs to grow is apples and oranges when compared to providing vital infrastructure that the NW Expressway or Memorial Road needs. We don’t treat it just like any other part of the city; we put it on this special pedestal that mostly detracts from a serious can-do mentality when it comes to rejuvenating our lagging central core.

By our count on my website, www.okmet.org, last year we tabulated that there were 2,900 residential units in the pipeline for downtown. That was including projects that were under construction, recently approved, or serious proposals at the time..and including every project from Grant Humphreys’ mixed-use Waterfront project on the Oklahoma River, all the way up to Wiggin Properties’ Overholser Green project on the edge of Heritage Hills..the entire central core of Oklahoma City, if you will. Now we’re obviously down to a third of that count, with the national recession chipping away at the critical mass we came close to having achieved downtown. But the point is that had lenders not reigned in credit (even for a market that was stable) downtown would actually be growing faster than the rapidly-growing suburbs of Edmond or Moore. The proof is in the pudding that downtown can be a viable high-growth community just like the intersection of NW 220th and Penn. As we widen all of the arterial streets north of Quail Springs Mall to 4 lanes, let’s also consider that our central core is without a single grocery store, no public school, the streets that aren’t being streetscaped right now are crumbling, and our public transit is the laughing stock of the country.

This is important to consider because, according to a market study done by downtown’s private developers comparing 14 peer cities to OKC, our 14 peer cities averaged with around 5% of their metropolitan population living in the downtown area. With 1,262,000 people (and growing) accounted for in Metro OKC, that means that 63,000 people should be living downtown, or, slightly more folks than Moore. Presently just over 5,000 people live downtown, so we are..oh about 58,000 people short on that. It’s not surprising though. According to another market study conducted by Downtown OKC Inc., 10% of people surveyed would live downtown if only the right kind of housing at the right price were available (8%, or most of them, said it was “highly likely“ even, not just a possibility). 8% would mean a lot more people than the 63,000 I previously mentioned. The same Downtown OKC Inc. study stated that pent-up demand for people wanting to live downtown could result in 7,800 new rental units developed downtown, and 4,700 new for-sale units developed downtown between 2005 and 2010. As 2010 approaches we’re obviously going to continue falling well short of the critical mass of housing options that the people of OKC desire to be downtown, but that is of no fault of our own. The OKC market is strong, one of the strongest in the nation (if not the strongest of major metro areas). The most optimistic situation for OKC is when the credit market for real estate development thaws, it’s possible there could be an influx of investors looking to get in on a market that has proven stability.

In order for downtown to mature, and become a real, functioning centerpiece for our city, we need to do what we can to attract a critical mass of development. That is to say that the current pace of downtown development, which is staggering compared to how dead downtown was until recently, is not cutting it for where we want to be as a city. The developers of the Maywood Park Brownstones have been having difficulty selling a dozen units around $750,000 each, especially when they expected the market would support it. After all, The Centennial (another high-end development with 40 units on the Lower Bricktown Canal) sold out before it even broke ground. Anyone surprised by their inability to sell the brownstones can’t be serious. The brownstones represent the current way we (and the Urban Renewal Authority) have thought it best to develop downtown: Start at the top, maximize demand for the most high-end units, and then work your way at the bottom. The thinking isn’t at all bad at first, presuming that higher-end units would not come if more modest units were already in the area and especially presuming that the more modest units would be more likely to spring up en masse if the area first got a taste of high-end luxury urban living. The reality though is that this completely defies real estate logic. You can’t expect to have a diverse collection of downtown living options if you go about developing downtown like an inner city gated community. In a real, functioning city, you have to have all of the little worker bees that support the queen bee. Thinking that you can just separate socio economic classes from each other is taking suburban planning concepts and applying them to the core of the city. That doesn’t work, and we need to change that thinking.

We get downtown developed and where it needs to be, not be starting from the top and working your way down, and not by starting from the bottom and working your way up, but by simply achieving a critical mass of housing as quickly as possible. The reason those brownstones aren’t moving on the market is because the city lot right next to them is a mudpit that’s not about to break ground any time soon. Or in other words, the opposite of critical mass. The reason The Centennial sold out is because it was surrounded on all sides by Lower Bricktown, which for the most part, has already achieved build-out. There will never be a mudpit next to those high-end units. The closest that will ever happen to that is when Randy Hogan decides to break ground on his next mixed-use midrise building, directly across Oklahoma Avenue (but this is still separated by the parking for their building and a street).

Those 63,000+ (5-8%) people that are clamoring to live downtown, and willing to put their money where their mouth is, want downtown living in all its glory. They don’t want a mockery of urbanist design surrounded by mudpits that may or may not break ground soon, or may remain as undeveloped vacant fields for 10 years..an eyesore. It’s an abhorrent scar on people’s romanticized vision of urban living. In order to get these 63,000 folks downtown, we need to develop each and every lot, and soon. What I’m definitely not saying is that urban developers need to just hold hands and all take the plunge at once and hope they can attract occupants without cutting eachother’s throats in competition. BUT with that said, there are certain tools that the city could add to its arsenal that would do the trick better than anything else could. Enter MAPS 3, stage right. The 3 projects I’ve heard the most buzz about are a new convention center, the downtown park, and public transit. Only one of these spurs a critical mass, and it’s probably not the one you’d expect. A new convention center is a pet project of the business community, which is not to say that it isn’t needed. It is. A new convention center would do wonders for us in bringing in thousands of business travelers each week. The convention center would be even better if it were placed across the boulevard from Bricktown, rather than across from the Ford Center. That’s good and all. A downtown park is also an incredibly worthy project, but it doesn’t help establish a critical mass of downtown housing except for along its perimeter. Public transit, presumably a sensible streetcar system, is the only proposed idea that would actually go throughout all of downtown and serve as a lynchpin for a critical mass of development. Not just in Core to Shore where the park will go, or not just in Bricktown where the Canal is, and so on. We can’t surround our entire downtown with a park that would attract development, but we can link most areas in downtown together through a streetcar system.

Rail transit of all kinds has been a great catalyst for sensible urban renewal in the cities it has been used in. There are those cities with light rail, such as Dallas, where the DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit) has been widely successful in building up inner-city Dallas, with major transit-oriented developments at each DART station. DART opponents originally said that the Dallas area was not dense enough to support light rail and that it would not have enough riders. Today the DART moves almost 70,000 passengers a day, and in areas where opponents said Dallas was not dense enough to support light rail transit, today it is more than dense enough. DART spurred the density that opponents wanted before embarking on the light rail system. It’s a chicken-versus-egg scenario. It’s true that public transit needs density in order to work, but it’s also true that more sophisticated modes of public transit can spur the density that it needs to work by itself. Despite the success story of the DART in Dallas, our city is getting ahead of itself if we want light rail. OKC needs to have a light rail system, similar to the DART, as its eventual goal (as we open OKC up to the bright world of public transit), but currently a simple starter system of downtown streetcar is what the doctor ordered. Streetcar is currently averaging $20 million per new mile, whereas light rail is currently averaging $65 million per new mile, and it can’t be used in intimate downtown settings. The book which this page comes out of is that of Portland, Oregon, which has used downtown streetcar more extensively than any other city. Their streetcar operates in the streets, poses no safety risks to pedestrians and other motorists, and require no special boarding platforms (the streetcar stops look the same as a nicer version of bus stops and require no additional space). This is because streetcars emphasize accessibility over speed, the opposite of light rail. Portland’s extensive use of streetcars has transformed it into a city built for cars into a city for people, just like Mayor Mick suggested for OKC in his 2007 State of the City Address.

Developers like streetcar for one simple reason: they can see the rails in the street and the wires over it, and they know, that the streetcar will pass through here. It’s like painting a transit route map right into the pavement of the streets of downtown, which bolsters confidence to new users. Being along a fixed transit line offers endless advantages to being along a bus line. With a fixed transit line, you know exactly where the streetcar will pass, where it will stop, the streetcar will always come on time and leave right on time, they will likely be a lot cleaner than buses, and much more environmentally-friendly. The operating cost is lower as well (although obviously the construction cost is a lot higher). What I have articulated is basically identical to what is being proposed by the OKC Modern Transit Project, led by Jeff Bezdek. Bezdek’s proposal is exactly what we need in order to achieve the kind of critical mass to make downtown successful. It’s bold and brilliant, and exactly the kind of thing that should be included in MAPS 3, before anything else. If MAPS 3 includes all these other great ideas but does not include a modern streetcar system, it will have fallen completely short of its potential. It will have ignored the current needs of downtown. Throwing up a pretty new park and erecting a convention center, a massive monument to business, are like throwing a new coat of paint on a broken down bus you want to sell. The first problem you need to fix with the bus you want to sell is that it is broken down. Downtown is broken down because transit is a joke. Then you add the nicer coat of paint in order to fetch a higher sale price, but that isn't the first priority. Downtown's disadvantage is that it is surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of square miles of sprawl, half of which isn't even in OKC city limits, and currently those suburban dwellers are needed to support downtown businesses. That means they must drive and park their car. This is where the greatest inefficiencies of our current city planning occur: the nightmare of downtown parking, which could simply be avoided if people actually had the option of living downtown.

According to popular UCLA urban economist, Donald Shoup (author of the book, The High Cost of Free Parking) the total subsidy for off-street parking in the U.S. was $374 billion in 2002, which was slightly higher than the budget that year for national defense. That is to say that our nation's sprawl is costing us more than national defense, in parking alone (obviously the cost skyrockets even more when you consider how sprawl makes city services more costly to provide). This is when you consider that nearly every planning department in America has parking requirements for new development that usually mean site planners must designate more of the actual development site to parking than the building it supports. Put more simply: suburban strip mall = 25% building, 75% parking lot. Those parking lots are expensive, and parking is even more expensive in a downtown setting where 75% of the land simply can not be devoted to parking. The average cost of a parking space in a parking garage is $40,000 per space, meaning that it would cost $12 million for a 300-space public garage to be built in Bricktown. That is a very expensive solution to the parking problem in Bricktown (and even though everyone in the know says parking really isn’t a problem in Bricktown, people still think it is, and will avoid Bricktown, therefore perception is everything). Here’s a better solution to the parking quagmire: park and ride. Park your car somewhere else in smaller parking areas fanned out throughout downtown, and hop on the streetcar to get closer to where you want to be. There are hundreds of thousands of parking spaces in the entire downtown area, but that doesn’t mean the parking is where people want it to be. If we’re going to put in a fixed transit system, this is how those who don’t downtown would get a lot of use out of it. The streetcar would be for everyone, not just those who work downtown (52,000 people in 2004), or those who live downtown (slightly over 5,000). Everyone comes downtown to see a show at the Civic Center, or to take care of business at City Hall, or to get a book at the Downtown Library, or catch a Thunder game at the Ford Center, or a baseball game at the Brick, or Shakespeare in the Park at the Myriad Gardens, or a convention at the Cox Center, or to enjoy the restaurants and nightclubs in Bricktown and MidTown, and the list goes on and on. We have been slowly investing in downtown, adding the amenities needed for a true “Big League City.” We now have a downtown with all of the bells and whistles, except for one: the crippling issue of public transit in downtown, that has been holding us back from witnessing downtown truly take off. We have spent so much money over the years building up downtown, adding anchors, and adding major amenities. The entire city has paid for these. Now let’s make these downtown amenities accessible to the entire city. A streetcar system has to be the number one priority for MAPS 3. It is the versatile, catch-all kind of project that would launch a development frenzy giving OKC the critical mass of downtown housing it needs.

In 1991 United Airlines officials rebuffed our business community when we participated in the competitive process to land a maintenance center, and thousands of jobs with it. They said they chose a lesser offer from Indianapolis (over our better offer) simply because nobody would want to live in OKC. Today cities aren’t competing for an United Airlines maintenance center, but instead they’re competing for college graduates. Everything we know about socio economic trends is telling us that the cities that attract college graduates will ride a future wave of prosperity, and those that don’t, will miss out. We know this new trend as the rise of the “Creative Class,” which are the recent college graduates that go into knowledge-based fields. That is in a nutshell, everything we’ve been working on to grow Oklahoma’s film industry, or everything we’ve been working on to grow Oklahoma’s bioscience industry, and so on; the cutting-edge fields that require extensive know-how. We’ve created a city that would pass as a city where people would have very much wanted to live in 1991, but now it’s too late for that, and we’ve all moved on. It’s imperative that we create a city that people will want to live in today, and ten years from now, and beyond. A greater emphasis must be placed on sustainability, so suburban lifestyles won’t cut it. The downtown growth we’ve been working towards will have to suffice in creating a city that the “Creative Class” will want to live in if Oklahoma City is supposed to become a prosperous “Big League City.” That is why the struggle to make downtown a viable part of the city must be the essence of MAPS 3.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Letter to the Daily Oklahoman

I've never really been the type for writing letters to newspapers, but I thought I'd give it a try. I feel like I'm doing this 50 years prematurely, but I suppose you can never start too soon. Writing letters to newspapers, that is. Will they even publish it? Who knows, I'll be surprised, but the worst they can do is reject it. I went a little bit over the word limit, which is 250 words.. which makes it really difficult to make a few cohesive points. Obviously if I really wanted to have my say appear in the mass media I should become a columnist, considering I could probably write a lot better than Ann Coulter and the rest of them. Anyway, here's what I wrote..
Currently our fine city of 547,000 people is at a crossroads as we mull over a potential 3rd installment of MAPS, the highly successful Metropolitan Area Projects. Now that Oklahoma City is a “Big League City” we are competing with an entirely different and much more competitive class of communities, so our thinking and understanding must evolve as well. Since the decline of downtown at the hands of suburban sprawl, downtown has always been relegated to some special place where somehow providing the infrastructure necessary for it to blossom is entirely different than providing infrastructure necessary for anywhere else in the city, like the Quail Springs and Westmoore areas. These rapidly growing areas of the city add hundreds of residential unit’s a year.

In 2008, OKC, Norman, Edmond, Midwest City, and Moore were alone combined for around 4,000 housing permits. However that number could have been much higher had the economy not stalled nearly 3,000 residential units in the downtown area, proving that downtown OKC can be a viable community with just as much growth as suburban OKC. According to a market study of 14 peer cities, each of these cities had around 5% of their metropolitan population in their downtown. With 1,262,000 accounted for in Metro OKC, that means there should be 63,000 people living in downtown, or slightly more folks than Moore. But as it is downtown has no grocery store, no elementary school, crumbling streets, pathetic infrastructure, and next to no mass transit.

Are we taking downtown seriously, even after the MAPS euphoria has hit, or do we just treat downtown like the pet project of a popular former mayor? Let’s be real here. Having a viable community in the heart of OKC’s central core can be an impetus for metro-wide growth, but it’s just a joke as long as suburbs continue to be selfish with infrastructure. MAPS 3 should address downtown’s crippling infrastructure needs first and foremost and provide a lynchpin for achieving a critical mass of development. This should be the priority long before Chamber of Commerce and City Council pet projects.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kelly Ogle opposes Nude Angelina Jolie

See this beautiful work of art? Kelly Ogle opposes this. He says it is perverted.

Maybe he is perverted. Maybe this beautiful work of art opposes Kelly Ogle.

For those who are confused, a bronze life-size park statue of the beautiful Angelina Jolie breastfeeding a baby is coming to Norman. It will be unveiled at the MAINSITE Contemporary Art Gallery in Downtown Norman on Sept. 11, as a tribute to World Breastfeeding Week. Why Norman? The artist behind the statue, Daniel Edwards, suggests it is because Brad Pitt was born and raised minutes from here. If you ask Kelly Ogle however, he asserts that it is here just to rile up folks in the Bible Belt. But pardon me for stating the obvious, was anyone riled up about it before Kelly Ogle featured it on the nightly segment where News 9 lets Kelly go wild with his own free mic time? No.

Last night Kelly Ogle said, "And the idea of putting the sculpture in a metro park..well, no problem, as long as you..make it realistic. Take the piece back to your studio, put some CLOTHES ON HER, and cuddle the nursing babies under a cute little blanket." In other words, cover them damn babies up!

The comments got worse tonight when they turned it around and aired comments from viewers. Oh my God. There must be a low-mark for intelligence that they're shooting for when they solicit comments from viewers.
"How do you explain the statue to your 5 year old?" - Cindy, OKC
I don't know. Gee that is a really good question. I think, because of this statue, you might have to sit your 5 year old down and give them a really serious talk about breastfeeding. This is like asking how you explain eating to someone who just got done eating 5 minutes ago. Whatever Cindy from OKC is on, I want some of it..
"Even my 15 yr. old daughter thought that it was TOO much!" Kathy, Edmond
How is it too much? I'm dying to know. In Europe art often celebrates the human body, and as a result, it's not "too much" for them to have nude sculptures. In America we don't like to see nude sculptures, either because we don't have as much class, it makes us feel like crap about our own bodies, or we aren't nearly as artistically advanced as our European brethren.
"If we allow it, watch out for what else is installed later on." James, Del City
Yeah no kidding. I'm sure one minute you allow a tribute to a woman breastfeeding, the next minute they'll be clamoring to put up hard-core sex scenes around it and then even adults couldn't go near the park after that. That makes sense. I think James needs to stop watching video he taped of women breastfeeding and go out and get a life.
"This is another assault on Oklahoma's Christian values." - Steve, OKC
I think it could be an assault on Oklahoma values, but not the Christian ones. A lot of really important Christian art features nude women figures. Angels are almost always depicted as partially-clothed figures. Christ is even often depicted as nude. Back then there wasn't as much negative dogma around the idea of a naked body. Art truly celebrated the beauty of the human body. I'll go easy here because Steve could be a reader of my blog.
"This would send the wrong message to children especially young boys." Kerry, Hammon
What is the right message to send, then? Don't breastfeed! Don't bring your infant babies out in public! Keep that breastfeedin' and them infant babies confined to your own home! ??
"To force a work of art such as this into a dress code and behind walls where it will be seen by fewer people who really need more enlightenment is disappointing." -Joe, OKC
Finally a voice of reason. This whole business of --Ooh! Hide them naked babies, and that naked mama!-- is just outright ignorant. The only reason that a nude sculpture is even remotely inappropriate is because the Nazi right insist that nude art is demonic and anti-God. The demonic nature is just a figment of their imagination, but as long as people agree that it's deplorable, perception is everything, and we will remain culturally inferior to Europe. Let's compare America next to Europe:










On a positive note, it has been hardly discouraging for the artist. The Norman community has at least been receptive to the idea, where people reacted positively to the touching tribute to the mother-child relationship, and liked the idea of celebrating Brad Pitt's Oklahoma roots. Artist Daniel Edwards is also planning a project with an Edmond artist to build a house they call "The Brangelina," according to Channel 5's website.

A trip to Little Rock's Clinton Library

I stopped in Little Rock earlier this summer to visit the Clinton Library there. Have to say I was impressed. Imagine like a shrine to the 1990s, and its president. It's true.. it really does look kind of like a LEED-certified double-wide. I took very few pics, but here are some. I wish I'd had time to explore much of Downtown Little Rock, which looked very nice.





Monday, August 10, 2009

A Night on the Town.. Pt. Deux

Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is performed at the Myriad Gardens' Water Stage every night, Thursday through Saturday, at 8.00 in the evening. I went and had a good time, even though it was Hamlet (which I just have a psychological block against). Two things would have made it infinitely better: if it weren't 100 degrees and humid, and if I had come for any other play. They also put on Twelfth Night, As You Like It, and George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance. Despite Hamlet, I had a really good time. It's just a nice, pleasant outing..bring a date, enjoy the breeze once the sun goes down, take in the park and skyline, and so on. For $8 bucks it isn't bad. Definitely go see it when it's cooler, and when they're performing a play you like. It runs June-September.



The skyline view from my seat


Watching the play

I was pretty surprised at how many people showed up. There were very few seats available, only on the edges behind the stage, so there were probably at least 200 people. I had no idea turnout would be that good for Hamlet on a hot evening, so be sure to show up early if you do go.

I think if anything proves Shakespeare's genius, is that he killed all the characters off at the end of Hamlet. That way if the production is terrible (which it usually is), there is at least always one good scene.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Clarification on Hargreaves

I got a letter in my email about the Hargreaves post that went up yesterday, from Grant Humphreys, the developer of The Waterfront (among many projects). The Waterfront is the downtown airpark redevelopment site he's been working on, that he commissioned Hargreaves to design a centerpiece park to anchor the development. This is the park framed on one side by the river, on the other by a line of mid-rise development, and anchored by the Santa Monica Pier Ferris Wheel that Grant bought on eBay. I think the way I worded it might have created some confusion about whether Hargreaves was commissioned by the Developer or the City. I'll let Grant's email sort out any confusion on the matter:
I just came across the blog post you put up about the Hargreaves design work in OKC. Thanks for tracking what's happening in downtown OKC - it's an exciting time. I wanted to correct one piece of information you blogged. The recently approved design contract with OKC and Hargreaves was not related to either the NAICC or the Waterfront (our project). It was related to the conceptual design for the Core-to-Shore park element to be located south of the existing I-40 alignment between Hudson and Robinson (in the event that the C2S vote passes later this year). The Waterfront and NAICC design contracts with Hargreaves were not funded with public dollars. Our work on the Waterfront Park design took place earlier this year in the Spring and all design fees were funded privately as part of the soft design costs associated with our project - The Waterfront. So, the C2S park concept plan is at least their third project to participate in that affects downtown Oklahoma City. Quite an impact.

Thanks again for tracking what's happening in OKC. I wish you the best!

Thanks,

Grant
Here's what I said that probably led to the confusion:
What Oklahoma City projects am I speaking about? I am glad you asked. I'm talking about two new exciting parks being developed along the Oklahoma River that the City of OKC has had very little (so far) to do with.
What I meant by that is in the case of the AICC, it's possible that a MAPS 3 item could include a funding supplement to finish this, so that they don't have to go back to the state asking for more money, or who knows what. As for how that statement pertains to The Waterfront, I was suggesting after the park was developed, I don't know if it would be given to the Parks Dept to maintain, or if The Waterfront would maintain it, and it's also possible that TIF funding could go towards helping cover some development cost for Waterfront Park. But make no mistake, for right now the egg that's hatching this awesome new park is the developer of this new community.

North Dallas..shopping and riding the rails

Recent trip to Dallas..I took more pics, they are posted on the forums. These are the more important ones. Just thought I would post some pics of shopping as it should be..as OKC and Tulsa lack. I hit up 4 places: the Dallas Galleria, NorthPark Mall (my favorite), Mockingbird Station, and Highland Park Village. All of these are in a close area in North Dallas. Mockingbird is the one that intrigued me the most, as it is the epitome of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). Few cities have done TOD better than Dallas and Denver, to name two that have done it very well. I think suffice it to say, at every direction, Dallas has discovered how to develop sustainable shopping malls. One (Mockingbird) is new, and shows how to do it in the 21st Century, and another (HP Village) was done right in 1931 and has lasted ever since.

In Dallas, along the DART stations, there are various development projects built around the light rail station. They are in essence, a small oasis of urban activity like what you would see when you get off the Subway in NYC or DC, and they can be done anywhere there is light rail, whether it is in the shadow of a downtown skyline, or on the edge of a city..it makes no difference, because it is still connected to the same TODs that have been built up along a light rail line, at each of the stations.

Mockingbird Station is a brilliant development that even has a lot of pedestrian life at 2.00 on a Thursday. It includes hundreds of lofts, a lot of corporate space, as well as a good restaurant/retail mix. There is an Angelika theater, with 4 screens devoted to independent cinema, retail tenants include Ann Taylor LOFT, American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, the GAP, and more. The subway station is directly adjacent to the development.

Highland Park Village, while not as exciting from an urban development standpoint, is still a great place, and probably my favorite place in Dallas to shop. Imagine a more high-end version of Utica Square in Tulsa, with tenants like Ralph Lauren, Rugby, Banana Republic, Cole Haan, and Scoop. Plus it includes a small, historic theater that still shows new releases.

I also included a photo I shot of some of the new condos that went up at the NorthPark DART station in the last few months. I'm not very familiar with what all exists across the Central Expressway from NorthPark Mall, but it looks like it includes a Dick's Sporting Goods (far superior to Academy), and it looks pretty cool.

From the NorthPark parking garage, looking across US 75





Highland Park Village










Mockingbird Station

Professional follow-up on Medical District

A week or so ago I did a pictoral update on Medical District progress, which featured updates on OBI's new building, as well as several projects in the Oklahoma Health Center, such as the OU Children's Hospital, OMRF Research Tower, OU Cancer Institute, and more. I stressed the magnitude of the construction underway, a lot of which, people don't really notice..even people who talk about downtown a lot. This weekend, Steve Lackmeyer had a story run in the paper on the progress.. and obviously he did a much more professional job covering the same thing. More facts and research, quotes from people who actually know what they're talking about, and less pictures (the only downsize to professional caliber coverage, as it doesn't have the same flexibility where you can do a photo essay).

I completely missed getting pics of what is going on with the Embassy Suites. According to Joe Van Bullard in Steve's article, construction is set to start on the $25 million hotel. Same with the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association headquarters, which will be a $4 million HQ addition. The new OIPA project, which has largely flown under the radar, will be 3 stories tall and 20,000 sf large, pictured on the left. It broke ground November 18 (last year) at NE 4th and Lincoln, right across I-235 from the Block 42 development.

Steve's article hints to several new projects in the planning phase. The OHC Foundation's CEO, Hershel Lamirand, hinted to 3 new medical projects, and suggested that 8th Street (which is largely undeveloped at the moment) is going to become the new hot area for developments. Facts that back up the momentous occasion of the current building phase: 5 of the projects alone (Dean McGee Eye Institute, OBI, OMRF, and OU's Children's Hospital and Cancer Institute) come to a total price tag of $534 million. If someone had said there would be 5 new buildings built in Bricktown, totaling over half a billion dollars, there would be a parade (either that, or in the case of Bob Funk two years ago, someone would subvert it at City Hall).

The $534 million does not include the Embassy Suites, the OU College of Allied Health, OIPA, or any other projects that haven't been announced yet. This is the largest construction phase the OHC or the entire Medical District for that matter has seen since the 1970's, when OU first built the medical center. It's quite possible the pricetag could top $1 billion within a year, especially when you consider that parking is at a premium. Lamirand suggested more parking garages are to come, as well.

Jane Jenkins, president of Downtown OKC Inc., also cited some really cool facts in the article. 12,500 people are currently employed at the OHC, and we already know OMRF plans on adding 500-800 jobs when their research tower goes up. That's compared to about 40,000 people that work in the CBD, or in context of other medical centers.. the Texas Medical Center in Houston, world's largest concentration of research jobs, employs 75,000 people (guess I'm not capable of writing a post without mentioning Houston). The TMC always has billions of dollars in new construction underway at any given moment..in fact the Houston version of "Keep Austin Weird" is "Keep Houston Under Construction." In Raleigh-Durham's Research Triangle Park, 39,000 people are employed, spread across 157 different organizations. The South Texas Medical Center in San Antonio employs 27,000 people. Around 30,000 people work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. The OHC is quite possibly a top 15 medical center, but it has a long ways to go in order to catch up.

What makes it a valuable tool, more so than the Research Triangle Park or South Texas Medical Center, is that the OHC is not located 10-15 miles from downtown, but rather just 1. It is a 5 minute walk from from the CBD to the OHC. In fact the Underground connects the two (the Capitol Complex segment that few people know about). It is this that makes the OHC more comparable to the Mayo complex or the TMC, even if only in city planning context. As the OHC grows, its presence will be a major contributor to Downtown OKC. People often say the only reason Rochester, MN even exists, and has a nice skyline, is the Mayo Clinic. The TMC is probably the best argument to bring up when people say Houston is dominated by oil. And so on. OKC will become more and more dependent on the OHC, which is a very good thing, in the long run.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cityshot XXI

Campus Corner, in beautiful Norman, OK

Friday, August 7, 2009

A look at Hargreaves Associates

Earlier this week, the OKC City Council approved a $480,000 (half a million dollars) contract with Hargreaves Associates for design and construction models of a new downtown park. The item on the City Council meeting agenda passed unanimously with very little discussion. In fact, on the docket I believe it was referred to as "landscape services for a prospective downtown park." This, ladies and gentlemen, will be the architects of our new downtown park. Hargreaves Associates is a prominent architecture firm at the forefront of landscape architecture with offices in San Francisco, Boston, New York, and London. They've been commissioned for landmark green spaces in cities across America, from San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, to Portland and Seattle, to Chicago and Louisville, to Dallas, Houston, and Oklahoma City, to New York City and Hartford, to name a few of the cities they've done projects in.

What Oklahoma City projects am I speaking about? I am glad you asked. I'm talking about two new exciting parks being developed along the Oklahoma River that the City of OKC has had very little (so far) to do with. One is the AICC, the other is the Waterfront Park proposed as a part of Grant Humphreys' Downtown Airpark redevelopment.


Here are some renderings of the American Indian Cultural Center & Museum project, on the south banks of the Oklahoma River where I-35 crosses it. The site is a 280-acre former oilfield, land that has now been reclaimed by the Native American tribes. The AICC is a Smithsonian-affiliated institution that features a museum, extensive landscaping, as well as hotels and a conference center. It is under construction at the moment.




Waterfront Park, the vital centerpiece of Grant Humphreys' Downtown Airpark redevelopment project known as The Waterfront, was also a Hargreaves project. The 15 acre park serves as the front lawn for the large scale mixed-use development, and will be anchored by the Santa Monica Pier ferris wheel that Grant Humphreys recently bought off eBay.




The South Waterfront Neighborhood Park in Portland, Ore is a 2-acre, tightly-knit civic space in the heart of a growing mixed-use area south of Downtown, surrounded by residences, businesses, and the Oregon Health Sciences Center. The park also provides scenic views of the Willamette River corridor. This project is on a $2.8 million budget, set to open October of this year. More information on City of Portland's website.






The southern half of Lake Union Park (Phase 2, final phase) in Seattle is a planned park taking advantage of an area with an industrial past, and a lot of maritime heritage. The park is actually a conservation project, restoring some wetlands, and reclaiming land that was formerly a landfill. According to Seattle.gov, construction began September 2008 with a $15.6 million budget for both phases (they weren't just moping about the Sonics at the time).





Parkview West is a 1.75-acre green space recently completed at the base of the Navy Pier, and one block away from Lake Michigan. The park is designed to resemble Origami, actually, and was built as part of a development, with a 48-story condo tower at one end, and a 24-story one at the other, like bookends.




Hargreaves also did the framework for the revitalization of Grant Park, including Millennium Park. Grant Park is a 320-acre waterfront park, wedged between the Loop and Lake Michigan. Planning on Grant Park's main attraction, the smaller Millennium Park, began in 1998 and construction was finished in July 2004, $475 million later($270 mil of which was paid by the city). It should be noted however that Hargreaves merely did the framework, or the masterplan.. the Jay Pritzker Pavillion was designed by none other than Frank Gehry. The Cloud Gate was designed by World-renowned artist Anish Kapoor. And so on. In 2006 Forbes named ZIP Code 60602, which surrounds Millennium Park, the hottest ZIP code in the nation in terms of property appreciation. You can read more about the park here.






The Discovery Green is the nation's 4th largest city's answer to Millennium Park. The Discovery Green is a very busy park bordered on one side by Houston's huge convention center, the Hilton Americas, and opening up into Downtown Houston on the other. The park manages to say "Tejas" and "urbanism" at the same time, for example, the Crawford Promenade serves as the pedestrian spine of the park, and is shaded from the skyline and the sun by massive live oak trees, lined with cafe dining. The completion of the $81 million park has prompted several new residential high-rise towers along the park edge.




Belo Garden is Texas' 2nd largest city's response to the Discovery Green. In Downtown Dallas green space is something that is sorely missing. This 1.5-acre park provides a small amount of green space to break up the concrete jungle. The namesake is from the company that donated half of the cost of the $6 million park.