Friday, December 31, 2010

Cityshot LXVII

Red Prime in A-Alley.

*My apologies for the quality on this one, which I just took on my phone. I do kinda like the effect of the lights and the blurriness, etc.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A call for involvement

Dear Readers,

Lately I have been watching the PlanOKC proceedings and talking to some people, including trying to muster interest on OKC Talk, in getting together a small group of committed citizens to take part in a PlanOKC "meeting in a box." My understanding is that it would consist of going through some materials from the city and then jotting down suggestions and ideas from the group to submit.

My idea is having such a meeting sometime during the first week of Jan., or very soon after. There have been a half dozen or so interested but I'd like to try and assemble some more people to make this a healthy group.

Please email me or leave a comment (or shoot me a call/text those that have my number) and let me know if you're interested or have any suggestions. Thanks for your interest, and for caring.


Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Wishlist 2010

As today happens to be Christmas Day, I thought I would take some time to lay out my ideal wishlist for OKC. It could be a lot longer obviously, as virtually everything could be done differently, more efficiently, and better. But I'll stick to the main points:

1. One thing I wish for is a serious Plan OKC process. In the coming weeks I am going to be trying to get together an urbanist group to do a Plan OKC "Meeting in a Box" over one evening. I would actually like to see OKC implement some innovative ideas (maybe even some that would make city planning conspiracy theorists' eyes bulge) that could legitimately curb sprawl. I'd like to see us creating fewer places devoid of real lasting value (thus creating future SLUMS) and like to see us move some more of our growth into the kind of development that will still be nice 30 years from now, and even still standing 100 years from now. I'm tired of cheap and low-quality being Oklahoma City's best selling-point. Even if that means prices are going to rise, we have to find a way to start building quality communities and to stop building slightly better than crappy communities. A friend once told me that OKC's motto is, "Better than crappy makes us happy." It's true, and how said is that?

2. When it comes to one of OKC's latest greatest projects with a 7-digit price tag, I'm not even going to say I hope for any kind of abstract, feel-good process with the convention center like an open or transparent process. I could care less about that at this point, because the bottom line is that if the convention center is right next to the park with no separation, it will ruin the park environment. If they think putting commie block apartments in the convention center facade is going to work, they must be kidding themselves. A convention hotel is not a mixed-use from a convention center, either. They need to either put the convention center somewhere else or if they insist on the mysterious OG+E payments, then they need to utilize my creative solution to set it back an entire block and bring Broadway back, allowing for a slender 1x4-block district to develop in between the two. The ULI panel noted that the convention center is being put on 40% more land than it needs, even if it's going to be expanded. Furthermore, I'm tired of the suburban thinking behind Core2Shore. There are block sizes and human scales that actually matter downtown. I get it that they don't understand or care about this, but you can't just recreate a site identical to what you'd do in the suburbs and put it downtown. In the suburbs you wouldn't notice an area (similar to what would end up running all the way from Park Avenue to Oklahoma River) that consists of over 100 normal sized city blocks consolidated into about 15 huge superblocks. Right now we have a large cluster of superblocks that has killed downtown, and ALL Core2Shore looks like it will do at this point is extend that huge miserable cluster further south. Has anyone noticed how the Myriad Convention Center and the Myriad Gardens interact with eachother?? "Oh, but it will be different this time.." If anyone buys that the nature of superblocks have changed, or that they can do the exact same thing and get a better result, they need to be locked up in the mental ward. Or shipped to Tulsa.

3. Come on Nick, tell us what you're planning. I mean Nick Preftakes, not myself. Years later I am still dying to find out what Nick Preftakes is planning to do with the entire block he bought up in the Arts District. I've been telling people it's going to be a game changer, especially with Devon Tower+park+retail+auditorium and the emergence of the Film Row area (which is coming along very nicely), the Arts District could potentially be unrecognizable if Preftakes announces a major development there. It will be absolutely essential that he maintains the historic integrity of the very-historic block, but there are some boarded up buildings there with some really amazing potential. It would be so worth it, especially when you look at the new lease on life the old Montgomery Ward building across the street got. The unfolding of these plans could potentially affect other things like the streetcar route. I've been telling people that I think the Arts District could potentially be a much bigger deal than it is now.

4. I want to see development in Bricktown get back to where it could be. I wish for Bricktown to come closer to being "completed" because once other districts get hot, it may never be able to attract more development. The big problem is that in my opinion Bricktown has gotten stale and has failed to reinvent itself in a long time, and in today's world, that can be fatal. Bricktown could suffer the same death that the West End did for a period if it fails to reinvent itself and stay fresh. It's not just for the sake of locals who have started to focus more on districts that are hotter right now, but for developers who are comparing cheaper asking prices somewhere like 10th Street or Broadway to astronomical ridiculously inflated asking prices in Bricktown, and the choice to pass on Bricktown becomes an easy one. I think Bricktown is relying too much on the streetcar spurring development along Sheridan to bother pursuing other ideas. The city absolutely is to blame, not the Bricktown merchants that put their money where their mouths are. Just because the ballpark and canal are in Bricktown doesn't mean that it's reached some invisible limit for how much city assistance a neighborhood can receive. Has the city turned its back on Bricktown?

5. The Bricktown point is a great segway into parking. Simply put, two things need to happen: It needs to be expressly codified into the city statutes that new surface parking downtown will not be tolerated, especially in lieu of previously standing buildings no matter the condition of said building, and parking lot moguls in areas like Bricktown need to be shut down and put out of business. Tell them to take their business to Tulsa or some city that will tolerate that, but we won't here in OKC, because a few of us are actually serious about building downtown up. How do you shut down the Bricktown parking lot lords? Public parking, and that can be done extremely easy. Watch closely a project that is underway with Automobile Alley to re-stripe North Broadway and take away a lane, add a turning lane, and change parallel parking to angled parking which will allow them to squeeze in hundreds more parking spaces. If they went with angled parking along every Bricktown street that is free or metered, they could easily shut down the Bricktown parking lots because more than enough parking would be available for free on the street. This should also be pursued in other districts if the results in A-Alley are as positive as it could very well turn out.

6. Oklahoma City has failed to grow downtown housing to the extent that we had hoped we would have by now. This is a simple fact in spite of the other fact that downtown housing is slowly on its way to becoming viable, with several hundred downtown residents moving in and taking up urban lifestyles. It could be more, it should have been more. The 2005 Downtown Housing Study said there was 5-year demand for thousands more units than we ended up getting built between 2005-10. Another downtown study that came out right around there recommended taking several steps to incentivize downtown development. Virtually none of those steps, except for rezoning, were actually followed through with. I assume the copies of it at the Planning Dept got filed in the big file cabinet full of other ignored downtown studies and surveys and reports and commissions. But it may be time to develop a REAL program designed to result in a boom in smaller infill projects. This needs to happen now, so that we can fix the problem with demand, before streetcar comes on line and results in a huge boom in infill and therefor makes the appearance of a problem go away. If we get the streetcar finished without an infill program, the results aren't going to be as positive as it would be if we got the streetcar in and an infill program. We need to evaluate our goals from 5 years ago, and the results we got, consider why it ended up that way (and be open-minded to reasons other than the popular excuse, "It's the economy, stupid"), and get back on track to recover lost projected units.

7. I want to see Full Circle move downtown. They could locate smack in between Heritage Hills and the booming downtown residential market. Downtown residential markets tend to be filled with creative types with disposable income WHO READ. If they went into a beautiful old building like The Packard at 10th/Robinson they'd have the potential to be one of the absolute coolest locally-owned bookstores in America. They already are, the only thing holding them back is their location in crappy (and rapidly-emptying) 50 Penn Place. Enough said.

Well that's the Top 6 at least. Quick summary: 1, Plan OKC; 2, convention center location; 3, Nick Preftakes development; 4, Bricktown development; 5, angled parking; 6, small infill program; 7, Full Circle.

I am thankful for all the really good things going on in OKC, for being included in a number of processes unfolding around downtown right now, and it's also good to be back in town. If anyone's interested in meeting for coffee or lunch, feel free to let me know, I'm always excited to meet with fellow urbanists. I know this blog doesn't get a lot of comments by the nature of the things it talks about, but I do appreciate the people who read this and hear me out on the ideas I have. Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cityshot LXVI


Please, no "180" monkey wrench for streetcars

My latest concern about the stewardship of the voter-approved MAPS sales tax is the lack of urgency from COTPA and Alternatives Analysis in coming out with the streetcar route. The streetcar will probably end up being the second MAPS 3 project after the park, and if I had my druthers the streetcar would be first but I'm nobody. I will say that not putting the streetcar project first in succession will hurt the streetcar project more than it would hurt any other project, and we're talking about the issue that carried ballot and had the highest voter favorability. The streetcar needs to be the priority of MAPS 3 because voters simply did not respond as positively to the Core2Shore stuff, particularly the convention center. If they were separately voted on, streetcar might have been the only high-dollar initiative that passed, and as much as City Hall wants to pretend this was not the case, it should translate into leverage for streetcar backers. That alone is concerning.

What is most concerning however is that there seems to be no effort to publicly cooperate with the Project 180 construction, which could lead to the biggest fear of anyone looking for transparency, private cooperation. Let me rank in order the best outcomes for cooperation between MAPS streetcars and Project 180:

1. Public cooperation between the two
2. No cooperation at all between the two
3. Private cooperation between the two

Let me explain: I am afraid that COTPA's "Let's Talk Transit" and all their alleged due-diligence could be a complete farce if they don't come out with something soon. There will be major cost savings if they can figure out where the streetcar is going to go, and that's just obvious. What's less obvious is who's to say they don't know that? I would not be surprised if they don't decide to just let the city engineers behind Project 180 make the route decisions and then circle the wagon later by saying, "Well, we just didn't plan around it soon enough, because this is how the roads got built. Shucks, now we gotta put the route through here." Or however COTPA/MAPS 3 would come out and say that (probably by saying something to maintain more public confidence than "shucks" would).

There are private citizens backing this who are confident they will get the best route, and they're confident that they will be able to find common ground with COTPA and City Hall in getting a comprehensive streetcar system that pleases everyone, all the stakeholders involved. But one way COTPA can usurp the give and take process is if they use Project 180 to tie their own hands. For example: Most everyone wants Sheridan to be a transit corridor but it is impossible to lay tracks going one direction (I think west bound) down Sheridan because of the utilities underneath that side of the road. So that will not be in the route, whereas going the other way down Sheridan will work, so far as we know now. I don't think COTPA is manipulative so much as they're just a typical dumb government agency, but it is plain to see how this could throw a wrench in the planning phase. With its effect on the streetcar route, the people in charge of deciding where utilities will be buried NEED to have a talk with the streetcar route planners.

COTPA has had MORE than enough time to plan this route. They got a ton of feedback and surely it doesn't take them this long to figure out how to go against all of it. I also realize that ACOG is still doing the transit hub study. That was began at the beginning of this year, and I think COTPA is capable of talking to ACOG. I mean, they office in the exact same building (I think).

I would honestly rather there be no planning coincide between the two if it's not completely public, and have a transparent process where we get the best streetcar route even if a mistake is made and it ends up costing a few more million dollars. I'm not saying that this is what I think is happening or someone has told me something that has me jumping to a conclusion, because that has not happened. What has happened is everything you see in the news since the measure passed at the ballot box by a good margin. I just haven't seen a whole lot since then that has bolstered my confidence in this process, and over my lifespan COTPA hasn't exactly earned a great deal of good will either, and my pessimism and relentless over this is, in my opinion, entirely warranted until MAPS 3 gives more hope for transparency and COTPA gives more hope for competence.

As bad as COTPA has been throughout the last 10 years, let's face it. They're a helluva lot better than the city engineers behind Project 180..the people who refuse to let go of E.K. Gaylord (despite the Chamber's offer to "fix it" for us) and the NE 2nd Street "Sidewalkgate." I have absolutely no confidence in the ability of them to get it right, and at least COTPA is using consultants who vaguely know what this urbanism thingy is about.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Convention center search: Site selection nearing

The city is currently undertaking once again, another convention center study. There has been a number of highly-acclaimed consultants who have vehemently advised against the parkside convention center site. There was an OU presentation that proposed other potential sites, such as the Bob Howard Ford site north of the proposed boulevard and the steel yards in the east end of Bricktown. There have even been some Bricktown merchants surprised by that idea, and the steel yards are not a bad idea because it provides good access to Bricktown and doesn't block circulation because the site would just back up to 235. I don't think the idea will go very far though because it is nearly a mile from the CBD, which is just too far.

I also don't think that the Bob Howard site, the closest proposed site to the current CBD, is going to go very far. Fred Hall announced that he's closing his family's dealership last month and is going to pursue a massive mixed-use development of the entire 6-block site, which spans from Walker all the way to Robinson, from Reno to the proposed boulevard. One of the few vital components of the Core to Shore plan that is universally agreed on is the need to focus the signature retail on that site, and Fred Hall, with his resources and connections, is just the guy to pull it off, so that's great for OKC. I don't think Mayor Mick wants to put the convention center there because he was quoted in the paper saying it would cut off circulation to downtown, which is incredibly true. I don't think that the proposed site along East Main in Bricktown works either, although it's an interesting idea--putting it in the parking lots north of the East Main storefronts.

With that said, it looks like it should be south of the boulevard. That's by process of elimination, unless someone with credibility seriously comes in and suggests Meridian or something both suburban and nutty.

Moving on, this a brief critique of the parkside site:

This site can not be allowed to happen for many reasons. The obvious one is that the park frontage would be squandered. A convention center does not bring the vitality we want surrounding the park, and the idea of having apartments in the facade of the convention center is not an innovative solution to the convention center problem. Pretend we're not even talking about a convention center, any kind of structure that is not broken up and 2-3-4 blocks long would have a negative effect, looming over the park. Hell, even if it weren't convention at all and were all apartments, a 2-3 block-long apartment building, basically an upscale commie bloc, still isn't exactly the development we're looking for. A mix of commie blox and convention center, I imagine, will have an effect fairly similar to a commie bloc and a convention center. As mentioned by the ULI report, it creates a dark wall effect and will cast a shadow on the park in the A.M., also something people will overlook but would have a potentially devastating impact on enjoying the sunrise in the park. The HOK report, another one of the many studies done, is no fan of the access to existing assets from the parkside site.

Jeff Speck though, another consultant, brought up the trump card, and probably the biggest concern for the parkside site. Superblocks. There are too many superblocks clustered together. In the above graphic, you'll notice I shaded the area of sueprblocks: in a huge cluster from I-40 all the way up to Park Avenue, there is not a single normal downtown block (except for the block with Devon's HQ and the Renaissance Hotel). A whole damn mile of urban renewal's effects. That would be truly devastating on the chances of spending all this money actually creating a world-class city. Never underestimate the importance of the little things, like the street grid. A street grid is extremely important, it impacts how the city flows. The reason the area south of I-40 died is probably not because of the I-40 land bridge itself, for proof, check out Omaha--a nearly identical city in many ways, that is seeing a lot of development in their "NoDo" area which is just on the other side of a very similar huge land bridge freeway.

The difference is that it lacks what likely did cause the death of downtown's south side--the superblocks simple cut it off from the rest of downtown. We have the Century Center, the Cox Center, the Ford Center, the Myriad Gardens, and EKG all clumped together like that. It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to tell that such a configuration of all these superblock sites right next to each other will likely cut off the circulation to South OKC. Broadway, which is normally the most important street in a city, dead-ends in front of the Cox Center. Main Street, also normally an important street in a city, dead-ends on both sides of the new Devon site, thanks to the failed 80s proposal to build a Galleria mall on those 4 blocks. So for people to claim Core to Shore will CHANGE ANYTHING by moving I-40 to make room for extending the cluster of superblocks further south is just absolutely insane. C2S's primary focus needs to actually be breaking up the superblock cluster. Restore some of the grid. Try and find ways to restore some of the N/S circulation through OKC.

Oh and by the way, the idea of a "pedestrian spine" along the Harvey axis was just killed by ODOT, who is requiring the pedestrian bridge to be moved a few hundred feet off-kilter from the proposed axis. So much for that idea.

Here are some proposed sites that I think would get Core 2 Shore a greater chance of success, and more importantly, ensure vitality around the park on at least 3 sides (assuming that the boulevard concept is going to be reworked). The key is that the park needs to be surrounded by mixed uses. Apartments in the facade, essentially the awesome combo of commie bloc AND convention center, isn't going to cut it. What will is enveloping the park with districts that will draw their identity from the park. The park is a space that needs to draw its definition of space from being well hemmed-in by streetwalls on all sides, but those walls can't be continuous, they need to be broken up, they need to be highly-interactive walls that give in to other walls, that give in the other walls. You can't eliminate the urban form and still expect urban, it just doesn't work that way, no matter how desperately you try to emulate Dallas.

Solution #1 puts the convention center in the lumberyard site and places the convention hotel next to the U-Haul building, or perhaps in the U-Haul building. What few people realize or remember is that the U-Haul building is actually not a high-rise shed, but there is a brick building with stories and a brick facade under that crappy sheet metal facade that could be totally renovated. Or the convention hotel could go next to it and leave the U-Haul building to be fixed by someone else. A pedestrian crossing could be put between the two allowing great access to the hotel and convention center. With great access to the boulevard, it's well-connected to the interstate system and within 1 block would be the park, the likely site of the transit hub, the Cox Center, Bricktown, and other hotels. Bricktown would benefit MOST from this proposed site, and keep in mind that is important because we can not risk losing what we currently have going at the benefit of possibly gaining something we can't count on. Bricktown merchants are said to rely 30-40% on business from convention guests, which is increasing as Bricktown continues to fall out of favor with locals (as it fails to reinvent itself and come up with anything new) and as OKC's convention industry continues to grow and emerge as one of the bigger convention destinations.

The convention center hotel in the corner of Bricktown could be a very nice atmosphere. The canal is eventually going to be extended to go through that block and if a convention hotel isn't built there, Randy Hogan or someone else will eventually come out with a development concept for that area. With the convention center, the convention hotel, a restored U-Haul building, and a canal extension through that area, it could be an incredibly serene, urban, and attractive environment.

This site provides medium benefit to Bricktown and Core 2 Shore. It places the convention hotel on the OG+E site, which the mayor has said will be acquired by the city out of the convention center budget no matter what, whether the convention center goes there or not. Mick Cornett is hell-bent on getting OG+E the $30 million he promised them, no matter what. Many of us have argued that the power substation does not need to move, and it can be covered with an attractive modern false facade--this has worked all over Europe, including in several cities in Germany, France, and The Netherlands. But if we're going to do this no matter what, and not even have a public debate about, we might as well develop the site that the city will own--so put the convention hotel there and invest in a pedestrian crossing with a completely safe, constantly accessible connection. The city will need to find some way to traverse Shields and the tracks--maybe with a skybridge over both, maybe with an at-grade pedestrian crossing, maybe raise Shields further up to not have to deal with it, or maybe a combination of these ideas.

This third proposal is one that I am shocked nobody has thought of yet. The ULI report stated that the city is wanting to reserve 40% more land than really needed for the convention center. I think this is a pretty major tidbit of info. In all of the above graphics I have gone with 2 blocks of medium-impact mixed-use development identical to the westpark neighborhood, but there's no reason that one block could not work in between the convention center and the park. This is extremely different from having apartments built into the facade of the convention center because the convention center is moved back up against the Shields land bridge and Broadway is brought back as a street and extended between the boulevard and the new I-40, with normal (or slightly compressed) city blocks broken up filling the room between Robinson and Broadway. This would leave Bricktown out, and Bricktown would suffer a loss of convention business, but that could be mitigated with a pedestrian corridor of some kind, but it would still be a long shot because of the sheer number of barrier to have to traverse in such a short distance. Bricktown would likely have to find a way to deal with 10-20% of its business coming from convention parties.

Please offer any kind of feedback you can think of. If you like these ideas, have come up with your own, or have any say on the matter you should probably find some venue to share your opinion on this matter with the City Council, the mayor's office, the MAPS oversight committee, or someone who is compiling the new study, or so on. There hasn't really been a public debate on this, but there should be, and it would be a doozey.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Cityshot LXV

Took these this weekend outside the BOK Center.

Here's a real downtown streetscape

Greenville, SC

You can't help but be floored by the urban canopy here. This is how you create a timeless and amazing downtown streetscape. Not only does the continuity create an attractive, well-defined space, but it solves problems of shading. Keep in mind, this is Carolina where it is often steamy, muggy, or raining--shade is a great thing. OKC, which is in desperate need of some urban canopy of its own, not to mention well-defined spaces, could learn some things from this.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Tulsa's own West Bank smirmish

Jerry Gordon, the developer of the RiverWalk Crossing project in Jenks, was apparently a big player in a project that was proposed for the west bank of the Arkansas River in Tulsa. The great thing about these TDA & City Council-involved projects is that we only find out about them after they're dead. My personal opinion of this project is that it's a pretty rendering but it's really not too special of a project..though the harbor it integrates is kinda cool.

Their website says: "This is our newest project under design and planning on the beautiful Arkansas River looking over downtown Tulsa. It will feature a Harbor, Docks, Theater, Hotel, Amphitheater, and over 500,000 square feet of Retail, Office, and Residential."

Here's the rendering:

After the powers that be in Tulsa decided to stop working with him, which it should be noted that Gordon is a very angry individual who is currently up to his eyeballs in bankruptcy, Gordon wrote this lovely letter to Mayor Bartlett's chief of staff, Terry Simonson, and CC'd Bill Christiansen and Jim Robertson:

From: Jerry Gordon
Date: Friday, December 3, 2010

To: "Simonson, Terry" CC: Christiansen, Bill; CC: Robertson, Jim

Mr. Simonson, This letter is to inform you that at this time I am backing down on my plans to develop the West bank as I have spent the last 7 months planning. I have to say you and the Mayor's interference in my project is legally wrong and could be fought as Tortuous (sic) interference, also known as Intentional interference with contractual relations but I think fighting that is something that this City doesn't need to go through at this time with this administration. I was trying to help MY city, not hurt it as I feel you are doing. I will warn you of this though, Please do not attempt to distribute or copy my plans in any way or I will seek legal action. I confided in you and the Mayor and expect that much out of you. One more point, when I started this process I asked of Julie Minor and Clay Byrd, in our first meeting, to please not let politics get into our planning because I have seen what can happen. You have sure shown me why Tulsa s always trailing Oklahoma City.
Jerry R. Gordon
JRG Developments,LLC

Wow. What a tool.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Cityshot LXIV

Saying farewell to Councilman Bowman

It was said recently in the Gazette that Ward 2 councilman Sam Bowman will not be running for reelection, and that is a loss for this city. I did not know Bowman, but I did know of him, and I could tell he was a difference-maker in Oklahoma City. He championed the causes that might be considered politically unpopular in Oklahoma and his district, the north side from the Paseo up to NW 122nd, triumphed for it. Bowman is a resident of the Cleveland neighborhood, a great neighborhood (that you don't hear a lot about) north of 23rd between Villa and May avenues.

The times that I took my issues to the City Council and spoke before them, and even the times I have gone just to listen, I have grown to like some of the councilors and dislike one in particular. That said, Bowman has been my favorite and it's clear that his priority is to keep the heart of OKC healthy. He often brought his anecdotes from functioning urban cities before the council, and when councilors react to public comment, would defend most anyone (including me) who went before the council with blistering urban planning criticisms of this city. When others like to mitigate the harshness of the reality of our maniacally sprawled city, Bowman was willing to face it head-on and be an honest broker of solutions. His frankness, his vision, and his outlook will be missed on the horseshoe.

I am certain that whoever fills his shoes in Ward 2 will be of the same high caliber of public servant that he was. This is something to look forward to, because that bar is set pretty high. If you go through history, it's actually these neighborhoods in Ward 2 that have been a gold mine of great public servants, from Edgemere Park denizens like OKC's first woman mayor Patience Latting, to Crown Heights residents such as Judge Gene Matthews and Corporation Commissioner Bob Anthony. All got their start as Ward 2 Councilman.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Compare to Tulsa City Council wards

I present to you, a ward map that makes sense. There aren't really any wards that traverse major boundaries and each area of town is given a great sense of autonomy by these districts. They also, for the most part, have smaller wards than we do. Tulsa, a city of 389,000 in the 2009 estimate, has 9 wards at about 44,000 each. Oklahoma City, with about 570,000 in the 2009 estimate, has 8 wards at about 71,000 each. This would tend to suggest OKC needs more wards in order to have as representative a body as Tulsa, and I would argue that 44,000/ward is still high. Also consider that Tulsa pretty much has 4 wards that represent the inner city. 2 for Midtown and 2 for North Tulsa. OKC's inner south has no ward that represents it, whereas North Tulsa has 2 that represent it.

Calgary is also redrawing lines in its 14-ward City Council. Here's a great map drawn up by a Calgary blogger..the color fills represent the new wards, the black lines represent the old. This redistricting is supposed to ensure a more representative council. So apparently it can be done by just redrawing lines. I would also mention that Calgary has a ratio of about 75,000 citizens to 1 alderman. You'll see that the UC area (Ward 7) and inner-north side of Calgary is being consolidated into one ward. Presently it's a lot like Capitol Hill--an area broken up by 3 or 4 wards depending on how you geographically define it.

Maybe what's interesting is that the redistricting in Calgary is taking place now that the overwhelming majority of the inner city has been gentrified. You're just as likely to see minorities in the burbs now as you are in the inner city, the only different is that the ones downtown are much more affluent and the ones in the suburbs got bumped out by the high rent in the Beltline (south of downtown). So basically the modus operandii while the inner city was fragmented and poor was to gerrymander and split it up into a dozen different districts that made no sense as long as each had a different area of town to counterbalance the minority votes. Now that the inner city is gentrified and affluent, the modus operandii is to go back and draw lines that make a little more sense. So does anything really change? OKC will probably follow the same trajectory. We won't do it this time just yet, but next time this comes up in 2021 we probably will finally get around to some wards that make sense. Lookin at you, Capitol Hill.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cityshot LXIII

New development just can't match this kind of character.

Losing The Spy

After midnight, according to this OKC Biz report, The Spy will cease to broadcast over the airwaves. The Spy was an extremely unique cultural asset for Oklahoma City that set the city apart from other places--a locally-owned station that only did local ad spots that played nothing but indy-type music. Sadly the airwaves will go back to being dominated by Top 40 and Country and talk show yacking.

It is a shame that this station could never get the listening audience and support that would have been needed to keep this cultural asset alive. They'll still be online at so maybe they can get it going again, hopefully.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Cityshot whichever

Haven't completely abandoned the cityshot thing, it's just hard to stick with, and I have been somewhat unmotivated by photography for a while. I'll try and get better at sticking with regularly sharing some of my own original urban photography.

This is overlooking Michigan Avenue from the Intercontinental Hotel on the Magnificent Mile.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Things to be thankful for

This Thanksgiving I thought I'd offer a few things that we could give thanks for as a community. Oklahoma has a lot to be thankful for.

1 Being among the nation's lowest in unemployment
2 Being poised to be first in the nation to recover from the recession
3 Both Chesapeake and Devon, for investing in Oklahoma again and again
4 Infill in downtown OKC and people who "get it"
5 The same for Tulsa, where development has really taken off
6 Leaders who we can trust and also reach when we disagree with them
7 (For me) The dozens of influential people who read my blog and email me when they agree or disagree with me
8 The rising profile of Oklahoma which attracts new retail and companies
9 Some damn good football teams as of late
10 Our troops in Iraq, Pakistan, and elsewhere abroad fighting for the United States overseas

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ward Map controversy

Redistricting is coming up soon, as dictated by the city charter. Census numbers come out next year and the wards will have to be drawn within one year after the numbers come out. Groups are already mobilizing to have their voice heard. In this week's Gazette, Capitol Hill-area activists say it is imperative that we get the inner south side its own ward instead of breaking off bits and pieces hear and there and lumping it with other wards in order to marginalize the inner south side. I would argue that's not what's at play, and you can just look at voter turnout which is pretty paltry. Still, it gives the impression of something fishy when you see the ward map itself.

Some have suggested, as Pete White did when he called it ridiculous how Capitol Hill is split into 5 different wards, that we need to expand and add more councilors in order to expand representation. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but it's not the only good argument. Then others such as Sam Bowman want to just see better-drawn wards without expanding the Horseshoe because there are advantages to having fewer councilors, that it's easier to get everyone in a room and find compromise than have publicly-waged debates involving political capitol and things you see in places like...Tulsa. And then there's Brian Walters, who wants no change, except that he wants every councilor to join his and Mayor Cornett's crusade for family values.

I think the most likely positive scenario is what Bowman suggested, by just drawing better lines next time. City charter states that each ward has to be relatively equal in population. Here's my suggestion that I drew quickly that I prefer because it keeps certain parts of town together without mixing entirely different areas too much:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Lost Ogle and OKC Talk fallout from Cornett's anti-lingerie edict

The OKC Talk thread is basically up to 160 posts already.

The Tulsa Now thread also has several posts, but so far only 12--Tulsa Now is a lot less active though, and much more used to their mayor being a bigot.

The Lost Ogle has been ALL over this, as well. By far have they been the go-to source on the LFL debacle, not surprisingly. Their coverage:

Last year The Lost Ogle actually jokingly suggested an LFL arena as a MAPS IV project or something.

On 11/11 they announced the potential arrival of the LFL. Ironically they also suggested Mayor Mick might have made the pitch on a recent trip to LA.

Mayor Mick gave this statement: "Hey guys… I am not in favor of them coming for more reasons than I can mention. Some obvious, some not so obvious. Do not expect it to happen…"

I don't know what "Kiss the Baby" means either.

In a Q&A, Mortaza says some interesting things. Cites that he saw a poll where 70% of people in OKC supported the LFL and says that a local real estate developer would have been the franchise owner, and defended the league's balance sheets.

The Lost Ogle speculates who the real estate development/prospective franchise owner was going to be.
My guess is someone entirely different from anyone listed on here.


This will probably be the last mention I give the LFL debacle just for the sake of moving on. This is an urbanism blog, not a politics blog. I do have political feelings, and for the most part they're pretty darn moderate and middle-of-the-road these days. I don't wish to crusade against Mick Cornett for being a conservative but I'm definitely not going to support the kind of actions he's made so far this month. I just want to highlight the reactions and the potential for this to create really bad PR for Oklahoma City, as it already has done in my opinion.

This is just systemic, in my opinion, of a greater struggle to allow downtown to deviate from family-friendly. And it is very frustrating and exasperating, and probably the only reason I care passionately about letting the LFL play in the Cox Center or somewhere. Certainly the LAST thing we want downtown is more 20-somethings going to events and going to bars before or afterward to hang out with their buddies.


Wow, what a great company. I only hope that my child grows up to have as much integrity and vision as these guys do.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

More glowing social (and traditional) media coverage

Here's a few selected outside news reporting pieces about Mayor Mick's family values crusade to not allow lingerie football in OKC.

"There's at least one sports league that likes Seattle better than Oklahoma City."
Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"League chairman Mitchell Mortaza said Cornett is taking away the freedom of individuals to choose what sporting events to attend."
Huffington Post

"You can add Oklahoma City to the list of places I will never move to."

"Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett has said no to the Lingerie Football League."
MSN FoxSports (AP)

"From what I've been told, Oklahomans love their football. But they can't stand hot women in sexy outfits. At least that's what I've been led to believe by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, who has banned the Lingerie Football League from going anywhere near his city's Cox Center."
Holy Taco

"What guy can say no to a bunch of women playing football in lingerie in their city?"
NY Daily News

These are just a FEW of the negative articles and blog posts that have been getting OKC the wrong kind of attention over the most recent bad decision from city hall.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Mayor Mick's family values crusade

Aka the jumpstart of his campaign for statewide-office. The ever-opportunistic Mayor whom we love so much is apparently crusading for family values, since when? Since now. And thank goodness, so that guys all over Oklahoma will be spared the indignity of the lingerie football league, truly a "Big League City" amenity if there ever were one. Thank goodness we're keeping the big leagues at bay, with all of those moral and cultural vices that come along with being "Big League City."

The Lingerie Football League was intending to grant OKC an expansion team, one of only four franchises that would be awarded. The current cities with franchises are as follows:

Eastern Conference:
Tampa Breeze
Philadelphia Passion
Miami Caliente
Orlando Fantasy
Baltimore Charm

Western Conference:
Chicago Bliss
San Diego Seduction
Los Angeles Temptation
Dallas Desire
Seattle Mist

I don't see a weak link there. Also, the championship will be played out during the half-time of the Super Bowl, talk about publicity. It would have been a win-win. A chance for OKC to join a prestigious list of cities, a unique sports amenity that guys would dig, and an expanded tax base from having a very unique business locate in OKC. They weren't even asking for an incentive.

Instead of the great publicity we would have gotten for OKC as a cool and hip place, we get this: OKLAHOMA CITY – Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett told Thursday that he does not plan to allow a Lingerie Football League team to come to the city. And to quote the LFL CEO: "Oklahomans should be provided the opportunity to choose for themselves and not dictated to. I thought our plans were for expansion into Oklahoma City, not North Korea."


I agree with Mortazza, the LFL CEO, and not just on the point that an LFL franchise would be great for OKC. I agree on the simple principle that I don't like the idea of Mayor Mick casting the vote for what kind of entertainment OKC residents should be subjected to. I think they are capable of making that decision for themselves with their pocketbooks and their feet, although apparently Mayor Mick disagrees. Look, we've always known he's a pretty conservative guy, or at least very prone to pander to the "Christian Conservative" fringe. That's always been O.K. as long as he acted impartially as mayor, because our main issues are about growing our city and in particular our downtown, not divisive social issues and all that stuff. We don't talk about things like abortion and gay marriage on the horseshoe, or at least people not named Brian Walters don't, so there's never been a problem with elected Attila the Hun as mayor. Now apparently there is if Mayor Mick is going to overstep his boundaries and use his position and his influence in order to prevent the LFL from coming to OKC.

And here's the funny thing about family values: they only work against things people have a prejudice against. Nobody has a prejudice against gorgeous women in lingerie in a male-dominated city. Mayor Mick, in his efforts to increase his statewide appeal by pandering to the family values cartel, has come up with a scheme that is sure to backfire, and I plan to do my part to make sure it does. This is going to start becoming a rising issue, the disenchantment with Mayor Mick, if stuff like this keeps happening. THIS IS NOT NORTH KOREA. Mayor Mick, if you want to prevent semi-adult recreation from coming to OKC and putting OKC on the map as a hip and cool city, go be mayor in North Korea and get yourself a nice Kim Jong-Il haircut. It will suit you nicely in your burgeoning political aspirations.

I hope that the LFL will still be able to pull through. I hope that people other than myself will fight for the Lingerie Football League's rights to come to this city and that they won't be discouraged from even bothering with this Mayberry. I think the LFL could be a great marketing asset for us and it is obviously far more feasible than the OKC Grand Prix, which the City Council killed last month.

P.S. So far votes in favor of the LFL outnumber votes against 9-2-2.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The problem with the downtown library

Building the new downtown library WAS by all means a great decision and a major victory for urban enthusiasts. Not only is the architecture of the building a positive but also the presence of a library people actually want to go to is a huge benefit to the downtown environment. There's only one problem with the implementation of that idea: the hours of operation.

These are the hours of operation for the Ronald Norick Downtown Library.

Monday - Thursday 9am - 9pm
Friday 9am - 6pm
Saturday 9am - 5pm
Sunday 1pm - 6pm

Monday through Thursday seem alright, but why are there no evening hours on Friday and Saturday? Granted, we all know that librarians hate being cooped up in libraries and held from their active social life, but that aside--it just does NOT make sense for the library hours and downtown's busiest hours not to coincide. Part of the reason why you never really see as much people activity as you'd expect around such a public asset is that its hours and downtown's hours don't really coincide. And by that I am sort of excluding people in suits who aren't really going to use the library anyway unless they have a meeting in one of its great meeting rooms.

It just seems disingenuous for the library to never be open when most regular people are going to be downtown. The slight improvement on these hours that needs to be made is that it needs to be open until at least 9 pm on Friday and Saturday. Then I think you would see more synergy between it and the arts district--people attending showings at the OKCMOA or plays at the Civic Center Music Hall or events in the revitalized Myriad Gardens could make a stop at the library. This would lead to a huge increase in casual traffic, because as it is with the library hours, you're only going to go in there if you're looking for something specific. And what's more is that it really doesn't help people who don't either work downtown or live downtown. Working downtown are about 50,000 people; living downtown are a little over 5,000 people. We are a city of 560,000 and a metro of 1.3 million.

It just seems like the library is currently excluding itself from taking a more prominent role in forming that downtown lifestyle we're looking for. At the very least, longer operation hours on weekends would at least keep the homeless people who have claimed that side of Park Avenue at bay a little longer. That alone would go a long way toward making downtown more people-friendly.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some cool boathouses

Our new boathouses are pretty cool. But here are some other pretty cool ones. I came across these recently..

These are in Tartu, Estonia.

There does certainly seem to be a trend toward the ultra modern for boathouses. Must be something in the water.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Looking for a scapegoat

A negative news story like the recent ones about Skydance Bridge can't go without finding a good scapegoat, so allow me to assist in helping to find one.

A lot of people piled onto some folks for bad reasons when it first came out that the Skydance Bridge isn't happening. People piled onto Hans Butzer for "cheating the city" by purposely working outside of the project requirements. That's not true, he was within the bounds of the same requirements given to everyone else that competed in the design competition (safe to call it a charrette? Idk) and just won it with what was by far the most impressive submission.

If anything, it seems as though city engineers are to blame for this one. The people who were taking the bids did not understand the different stipulations behind projects receiving this much federal funding. All of the materials to be used in construction must be American-made (American steel = $$$). Then the feds increased the loading requirements (for a PEDESTRIAN bridge!!). I guess they are also refusing to allow the bridge to be constructed in front of Union Station, which will ruin the entire effect of having a continuous pedestrian axis through the Core 2 Shore area. But at least the effect of Union Station being surrounded by desolate nothingness will be preserved.

I would point to city engineers as the ones who were at fault for the Chamber debacle as well (the bad design of the proposed Chamber Forum). But city engineers are not accountable to the public, so good luck getting anywhere out of scapegoating them.

Could it get any screwier?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

$6.7 million means .. $14 million, naturally

Whoops, someone didn't do very well in math. The Skydance Bridge, designed by Butzer SXL, was supposed to cost $3.3 million, which was great because the total amount the city was able to spend was $6.8 million. Then it went up to $5.22 million, eh..that's okay, but hope the city didn't count on the savings it looked like there might be on the project. And then the cost ballooned to $12.8 million and that is the most recent cost estimate.

Did construction costs increase 4 times in the last two years or did someone design it (in a design competition) with no intention of staying within the cost, just to win? Or is there some other reason that the project cost increased 4 times and why is nobody asking that question?

Not taking anything for granted--Butzer could have legitimately expected it to fall in budget. And probably did, he certainly seems like a straight-forward person of integrity, one of the better professors at OU.

But again, how does the cost for the bridge balloon 4 times as much?

Now where we are is that the project is being redesigned by Butzer SXL, who already won the contract, and the city is going to increase their contract pay due to the extra work they're having to do. The pedestrian bridge will be a simple trussed bridge (similar to the railroad bridge beside the I-44 bridge over the Canadian River) and will have a "bird" design. Like Tweety cartoons and stuff on it? I dunno.

It will be redesigned to stay within the $6.8 million construction allowance. I will post my thoughts and criticisms of this deal later, but that's the version of what happened without my commentary. I am curious to see what other people think and have some questions answered first.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Urban irony

The tower u/c is "The Montana"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Brace for the 2nd wave of housing? (fingers crossed)

The first wave of new housing projects came shortly after the completion of the first MAPS package. We saw the completion of many projects, some that had been long in the works, others that were completed shortly after being envisioned. Some of these projects include the Legacy at Arts Central, the Montgomery, Park Harvey, the Seiber, the Harvey Lofts, Block 42, Central Avenue Villas, Maywood Park, the Centennial, and more. Then what's more important is that we saw more proposals coming out constantly so that it looked as if the second wave would come right after the first wave. All in all, I recall the total number of units being proposed between 2005 and 2008 being over 2,900.

The second wave included projects that almost unanimously fell apart at once. The Cotton Exchange. Overholser Green. Bricktown Gateway. The Flatiron. Bricktown Village. The Leslie. Maywood Hall. The Heights. And many more, and that's just residential. There was maybe ONE project from this entire wave that ever came to fruition, and that was The Lofts @ Maywood Park, which has been successful in selling smaller, reasonably-priced units to a younger demographic.

Then all of a sudden there was the silence and the frustration at the silence. Voters were asked to approve $777 million in public improvements on top of billions in the forms of other public improvements being made simultaneously downtown, and the rational is that it would spur the economy by resulting in private development. If that was so, then where's the private development? The first deal that looked like it could be a spin off was OCU moving its law school downtown--a deal which fell apart over the summer as a result of OCU's change in leadership.

Then things started to change. Was it one project? Probably not, because we are fairly certain that the owners of the land bounded by 2nd, 3rd, Oklahoma, and Walnut have been mulling over an urban project for a while. They were already past soils testing, which occurs toward the conclusion of the planning phase, when they were ready to publicly announce their plans. But the announcement of Jim Thompson's Aloft Hotel could have possibly resulted in things heating up and interested parties suddenly getting a lot more interested. The design of the Deep Deuce Aloft Hotel, which is very unique from all the other Alofts which are still very decent, turned heads. To say the least. Could the bold statement architecture of the proposed Aloft have a hand in moving McKown forward? Could it have had a part in persuading McKown to make his project as truly urban as possible?

Regardless, I find it very hard to say that a major investment like this would be unaffected by a game-changing addition such as the Aloft.

Then add a few more folks to the picture. Dick Tanenbaum is getting back involved downtown, who is competing for the attention of OCURA on the Overholser Green site, may have a viable proposal to build something where another successful developer, Chuck Wiggin couldn't. That's 250 apartment units that Tanenbaum says he can break ground on, in January 2011 (very soon) provided OCURA makes the right decision. Add that to McKown's 227. Mickey Clagg is finally about to resume the snail's pace renovation of Hadden Hall, which will bring 18 units onto the market, on top of the 20 or so they finished earlier this year north of Saint Anthony's. There are a few more smaller single home projects, such as 626 West Main, the Waters' residence in Deep Deuce, several homes u/c in SoSA, and a few around the medical district. Clagg says he'll begin 1212 Walker in the next few months, as well. 21 units there.

So add it all up, and there's at least 550 or so units that are about be underway once again, which actually does come close to the first wave in scope, which I think justifies this as the second wave, albeit a few years in waiting, and much smaller than expected. Still, hard not to take 550 units--especially in a cycle in which only conservative, pragmatic projects are getting off of the ground. I think Tulsa is still building more units, and if not more units, certainly at least twice as many individual projects seem quite possible (OKC's count is offset by two gargantuan-sized projects, 250 and 227 units). Do we count The Hill once again, now that it seems somewhat back on track? Hard to tell. One thing's apparent, is that downtown development is possible, even in OKC. Yes, "in this economy" (if that cliche phrase hasn't been banished yet). What I mean by that is that development proposals are still gaining traction, as long as you have the money to do it and aren't relying on speculation, and it's also a great time to get involved because construction costs have gone way down for urban development (although I think to agree this is regional, and depends on how desperate local contractors are for bids, which in Oklahoma isn't very desperate lately). I also think development is very cyclical, and I can see signs where the economy in the states is improving overall, and we've all been preaching about how well positioned OKC is to make some moves once the overall economy begins to rebound.

I think that this is a bona fide wave of residential projects, several that seem to be affecting each other, all the way across downtown from Midtown to Deep Deuce. Why I chose to write about this is simple: This means we could see some more very interesting proposals very soon, as well. Have we seen pent-up demand for downtown housing fully satisfied with the 550 or so new units from the 2010 downtown housing wave? Last I checked the downtown apartment occupancy rate was still 97%, so that would probably be Who's to say that there aren't more interested parties out there waiting for the right time, who no doubt have been encouraged by the Deep Deuce and Midtown projects that could all begin within the next 4 months.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Project 180: Civic Center public square

One of the many things moving forward at a quick pace with Project 180 is the planning of a new public square where Bicentennial Park currently is. For the in-depth info and quotes on all that check out the recent article in the Oklahoman and here on Steve Lackmeyer's blog. He says that this image doesn't really do it justice:

Which is interesting, because the image means a lot more to me than the aerial which doesn't necessarily project how it will feel from the human-scale. Granted, it doesn't show the full picture which the aerial certainly does. But what's interesting is that I didn't even notice that the spherical water feature at the front of the steps to the Civic Center was separated from the elongated pool that makes up the majority of the new park. I actually like how you can walk around it and how it accentuates the focal point for the park, which is the steps of the Civic Center. It is also interesting how they're moving the vertical signage to the corners of the building. In the human scale image, it also almost appears as if the ground slopes downward toward the water features. Is this the case? I also presume they have decided to move the planned Compass Rose statue to the street corner just NW of the City Hall steps on Walker Ave. They will be moving the other public art and plaques currently in Bicentennial Park to other spots in the city.

Here is the aerial overview:

What's really interesting is that they're doing all of this for only $3.5 million, but I don't know if that includes the fundraising they alluded to or not. This space is definitely being cost-efficiently revamped..which also leads one to wonder what more could have been included in Project 180 total. I do really wish though that they would do more to reinforce Walker Ave. Like, include some hedges along it, or some benches, or something to delineate the important street cutting through the area. Speaking of Walker, I noticed that they showed cars going the opposite direction that it currently flows. I thought they were going to make it two-way, or are they just going to reverse the one-way direction it flows in??

Ultimately, as far as this new park scheme making a difference downtown, what is going to have the biggest effect on the environment is developing the vacant lots fronting Bicentennial Park. Having those surface lots along the edge create a lot of poorly defined space that's going to be difficult to make urban regardless of how much you invest into the park's design schemes.

One interesting point:

Consider the spherical water fountain in front of the elongated water feature, and the image on the right which was a part of their study session where they examined other water features they liked in similar public squares. And then check out the image on the left of that, which are lit water spouts (that dance and change colors) on the "New U" on the University of Tulsa's campus. That would be kind of cool to bring downtown, if that's similar to what we see here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hiring a consultant..

Oh look, City Council is hiring another consultant. For the convention center, go figure. Maybe this consultant will tell them what they want? Either they must be really really hesitant to make a stance one way or another, or they just don't like what the last..7..consultants have had to say about the convention center.

I think OKC is becoming the consultant capital of the world. Might be a good business to get into, for anyone looking for a job. Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mayor Mick's a Keeper..for now

Very interesting article in the NY Times about the surge of mayoral recalls sweeping across the nation. For evidence of this close to OKC, just look at the never-ending mayor controversies in Stillwater and Tulsa. What we're seeing here in many cases is citizens loosing the ability to be rational, which does not bode well for local elected officials who are closest to the angry, irrational masses. Case in point: Daniel Varela, mayor of Livingston, Cali. was recalled and replaced by a landslide for instigating the town's first water rate increase in decades to pay for updates to water pipes that spew brownish, smelly water. Another case in point: Dayne Walling, mayor of Flint, Mi. was nearly recalled just for balancing his municipal budget amidst a fiscal shortfall much steeper than what we faced here in Oklahoma, obviously.

There has never been this many recalls in the history of the country, either. They're everywhere, other big cities that have faced them in the last months are Akron, Chattanooga, Portlant (Ore), KCMO, Toledo, and many others. More have them coming up.

Here in OKC, things are getting testy as well. We just need to stay calm and rational, which we've been good at for the last few years. Hold the politicians heels to the fire, which we've been doing. Our community, and particularly anyone who could have a recall petition against them, can ill afford shenanigans right now over the convention center site, OG+E, MAPS, and other potentially divisive issues.

Do I think progress would be stalled by a political scandal? No, I hardly doubt that. They have those all over the world, yet somehow people in Stillwater, Tulsa, Portland, Chicago, Dallas..and other cities that have had their share of recent political scandals all seem to make great municipal progress in their own ways. I just think it would be better if we avoided that. What OKC is doing requires stronger public approval than what a lot of these other cities are doing to achieve the same result, to revitalize the central city.

I think Mick Cornett has exhibited pure class about 80% of the time, and that's as good as it gets for any high-profile mayors. Even if we don't always agree with him we can appreciate his principle and appreciate his efforts to better the community. I would just say thank GOD that we don't have one of these "conservative principle" mayors who are irrationally unwilling to budge on political principles..i.e., the MAPS tax was supported by most all political moderates in OKC. I would say that today if there were a recall ballot with Cornett's name on it, I would do what I could to help defeat it. We're better with him leading and representing our city, and he's done a great job, so far.

Friday, September 17, 2010


I originally came out as a huge proponent of Overholser Green. I argued that it was more appropriate for the location, given that the original proposal had a historic motif that fit in well with other nearby large upscale apartment buildings on the far north edge of Mid-town, such as the Seiber and the Aberdeen, among others. I thought it was urban enough that it was also appropriate for what we're trying to create in Mid-town. I also liked that it appealed to this imaginary pool of hundreds of people out there looking for million-dollar condos downtown.

I thought such a pool of people existed..why? Because that's what OCURA said, that's what DT OKC Inc. said, that's what the Chamber said, and that's what tons of other people who knew their stuff were all saying. It made sense: In order to maximize demand at every single price point we would have to work our way down, first focus on the most upscale stuff and keep out anything under $1,500/mo because that may turn away some of this prospective demand. In hindsight it sounded so great and I was so convinced by this line of thinking that I am shocked I was not advocating for downtown to be surrounded by gated entrances and ramp up efforts to keep creative types out. After all, they bring undesirable elements, and we were truly pursuing downtown development while at the same time using an economic model not at all unsimilar to Edmond real estate. Marva Ellard was obviously right all along, well before the establishment realized it, and that's to her credit..unfortunately we'll just have to wait a while till we see her next project, hopefully.

I have obviously since changed my mind. In fact I wouldn't have if I hadn't seen the mistake of all these condos selling for almost a million dollars. I wouldn't have fallen for it in the first place had I understood basic economics, but luckily, some modicum of economic understanding does come hand in hand with learning about urban planning, architecture, and sustainability--the things I CAN talk about. You start from the ground up, always, everyone knows that, and downtown was a NEW and untested residential market for the most part.

How do we apply this knowledge to public policy? Simple, bid selection. When it comes to the big downtown projects I really believe that OCURA has never engaged in a corrupt deal. They've engaged in TONS of bad, knuckle-headed deals though. Their incompetence, perhaps unfamiliarity with their own rules, and general lackluster due diligence sure screwed Anthony McDermid as well as the people of OKC who drive past a mud field backing up to I-235 every day. It's simple though, they have always preferred $$$ condos in selecting bids, because that's what we thought we needed. And to this day, they are still operating like that due to how slow they are to catch on. Even DT OKC Inc. under its new leadership has caught on and is about to release a new housing survey that will give us some more realistic advice on how best to grow downtown. I hate surveys and I think they're a waste of time, but if it truly shows what we already know, hopefully that will be the evidence that OCURA needs to slowly reshift its strategy over the next few years. Evidently they are still grasping on to the faulty economics preached in the earlier half of this decade.

Bringing it back to Overholser Green, Chuck Wiggin is still trying to get this project off, despite that Overholser Green isn't even close to resembling what was originally approved. Even without any new news on the matter, the fact that the project is already up for its second (or third, I forget) timeline extension tells you that the project is dead and it is time to move on. There is nothing going to happen here. Give Wiggin another extension and he still can't guarantee that anything will happen, and his only response/excuse is to explain why we're in a recession--this despite that his units in the Mayo 420 project in Downtown Tulsa are selling just fine. What this is about is pride and giving too many chances to Wiggin just because he has already invested $200,000 personally into this project. I understand that, and it is important to take care of important development figures because we very much want Wiggin to continue to be involved in downtown development and he's done several great projects in the past. Sour grapes over this benefits nobody, but it could even be to Wiggin's benefit that his contract be yanked by OCURA and he be forced to move on as well, before he plunks down even more change into a project that is still doomed.

Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a site, just after reformatting a project over and over, it's just time to throw the towel in and take a step back and remove yourself from the situation. The old Mercy Hospital site is a great site, but it needs a fresh set of eyes to look it over. Enter Dick Tanenbaum, stage right. Tanenbaum, who has pulled off a ton of incredibly successful downtown apartment buildings (and learned his lesson with the unsuccessful condo conversion of the Montgomery), wants to build 250 apartment units, moderately priced, with mixed-use retail on site. And he says he can get it off the ground by early next year, in fact, he already has conceptual drawings that he can show interested parties. Ladies and gents, we have a winner.

When Wiggin claims that he should be granted an extension that he still may not be able to make any progress by even if he once again completely revamps the project to some unknown format that would be more economically feasible, which could be anything and OCURA would likely not insist on due diligence with that, and on the other hand Dick Tanenbaum can show you exactly what he wants to build and says he can get it off early next year--how can you not move on from Overholser Green? I think that nobody wins by looking at this as a Wiggin v. Tanenbaum issue. Nobody wins by looking at this as an Overholser Green v. Whatever, or even Overholser Green v. Mercy Park, issue.

The two most important points that win the argument at the end of the day in my opinion, and have been sorely overlooked are:

1. This site is holding up progress elsewhere along Walker Avenue, and it is time to get a move on and finally get something going on here. The businesses along Walker Ave, such as Midtown Deli, Irma's, etc are surviving just on the lunch crowd and have only been staying open in hopes that the residential population around there will grow and be able to support dinner hours in the future. Banta would have developed the Osler and 1212 long ago had the Mercy Hospital site been redeveloped sooner, and now that those properties are in the hands of Bob Howard and Mickey Clagg, I see no reason for them to move on those properties until redevelopment commences on that site as well. I do however see every reason for them to prioritize those projects next ASAP once someone, anyone, breaks ground on the site further up Walker. That is the project that is holding a lot of the Walker Ave projects behind.

2. Even if Wiggin does revamp his project and get it off the ground, we have no say in that if he's given a contract extension, and that's not right. Developers should be awarded bids based on the project that they will build, and it is not right for developers to present a concept just to get the competitive bid and then completely reformat the project, even if they have a good excuse. The reason Wiggin got the bid was because OCURA liked his project the best, and that should be an obligation to build THAT project. OCURA should yank his bid just for deviating from the original plan, alone. OCURA should definitely not renew his contract just so that he can deviate even further from the original plan and not even present anything new to give us an idea of WHAT he's going to build, other than promise that he is working on it. OCURA should also grow some gonads, because this is how they've always operated from the start of time.

(This post is under review and will change from time to time, and I will add pictures later, so check back.)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Real infill coming soon

I think that phrase best explains the state of downtown development at the moment, which is actually significantly improved from last year when we were just losing major projects despite any anticipated boost from Devon Tower. Today we are better off in terms of knowing exactly what we've lost, how to come back from it, and the difference is we've come a long ways lately in gaining infill momentum. None of this is new news because you all have already seen it in the news and on the other blogs, just haven't gotten my take it due to my inactivity on here lately.

Think of Devon Tower, first and foremost. Hardly infill, when trying to analyze and assess the tower's impact on downtown, it will be equal or greater to the Ford Center or the Brick. I'm not even sure if we have a public works project downtown yet that is on that level. Maybe more on level of if Jerryworld were in downtown OKC, just call it Larryworld instead. What I can't impress enough is the importance of infill projects because they form the base of an urban environment. You can do without the major projects, you can't do without infill--right now we really do lack infill compared to the major projects in the works right now. To illustrate this problem, just think of the Deep Deuce area which is riddled with vacant lots with the downtown skyline towering overhead. It leaves an awkward impression of an urban desert (I don't know how else to say it). We have and without more infill will continue to have streets surrounded by mudpits and dried up dusty fields in the middle of our downtown, and clearly despite how wonderful that skyline is, the street-level is lacking.

There is a real need for a skyline, as it is a city's visual representation and I do believe it is important for a city's urban environment to form this representative image of that city. There is also a real need for facilities like convention centers and stadiums, because there aren't many other ways to pack that many people downtown at once--that traffic generated is much needed. However neglecting the infill projects, which are your less sexy, more practical, smaller buildings that form the surrounding neighborhoods--that's neglecting your meat and potatoes. OKC truly has a starved urban landscape if you look at it that way.

The reason I bring up Deep Deuce's vacant lots is to transition into what we've gained. Deep Deuce development is continuing to evolve continuously. Since the sky was falling downtown (last year), construction has picked back up at The Hill. Evidently they are just finishing up on the units on 3rd backing up to I-235, but they've also cleaned up the rest of the construction site which had weeds growing up everywhere. They will wait for the units to sell before starting on others, and amazingly, they have sold several more. I still think it's the worst bang for your buck downtown, but I sincerely wish them the best of luck for the sake of Deep Deuce, and hope that anyone looking for suburbia in downtown check them out.

Obviously the new Aloft Hotel, which I've already posted on a few times, will be major. It will compete directly with the Hampton Inn for business travelers looking for a very urban, chic hotel that they can use their corporate account on (which is where chains are good to have). The Aloft Hotel will have an advantage in competing for these travelers just because the brand image is more in line with this specific location, as opposed to the Hampton Inn which usually aren't that chic. The design is obviously going to be stunning and will create some real linkage between Deep Deuce and Bricktown.

The best project that's come onto the radar of late is a joint effort by Wade Scaramucci and Richard McKown, of Ideal Homes--an entire block bounded by Walnut, 2nd, 3rd, and Oklahoma--that will soon become 227 units with parking in the middle of the block and street level retail lining wide sidewalks. I think that the design could be anything and the product could be anything, there are just two things that are key here: This project, just like the Aloft, is financed and ready to break ground on an expedited construction schedule; and also, the project takes the last full vacant block in the Maywood Park area and turns it into the stuff cities are made of. Surrounding this contemporary apartment development on all sides will be the old Walnut Avenue Baptist Church, the Maywood Park Lofts, Maywood Park Brownstones, and the Aloft Hotel.

Deep Deuce's urban fabric resembles a horse shoe of development going around the edges that is finally being filled in, and it will be a continuous urban neighborhood from the BNSF tracks all the way to 235.

Elsewhere in Deep Deuce, Sage is also once again reinventing itself with the addition of a jazz club--returning the Deep Deuce neighborhood to its roots as a jazz hotbed. Good downtown development is not a lot of shiny new-urbanist projects sparsely scattered throughout greater downtown. When you create synergy from projects that relate to each other, bound each other, and create atmosphere is when you have good downtown development. Such as the perspective looking down 2nd Street at the new Maywood Park apartments and then the lofts fitting snugly with an equal setback, with the skyline rising over. That's the infill we need, focused where it most makes a difference right now.

And to bring it back in terms of Devon Tower, at what point with all of these major projects, do you have enough infill that there is balance? It may not even be possible. There are several billions of major projects in the works at the moment. Something like Scaramucci and McKown's apartment complex creates as much street-level density as Devon Tower despite being a miniscule fraction of the cost, possibly $10-15 million at the most probably, compared to $750 million. Maybe we don't deserve Devon Tower and perhaps it is "too enormous" a project for OKC, but we sure will take it and be glad to have it, but it does make you wonder what the right proportional amount of infill is that it should trigger?