For those who haven't heard by now, SandRidge Energy's request to demolish several structures has been delayed until April 8th at 8.30 in the City Council chambers. The delay will give Downtown Design Review committee members time to individually tour the buildings slated to be replaced by nothing more than a plaza. This will allow each committee member to individually make the assessment of the building's potential for reuse.
A letter I sent to Scottye Montgomery was read at the meeting, since I wasn't able to make the meeting myself on account of being up north. Steve Lackmeyer suggested I post the letter. Since it was provided at the public meeting, here it is. For the record I don't think my letter had significant impact..I think the individual members of DDR know what they're doing, have a good feel for the community, and they've got a good staff. I just hope that my letter can show that, should they be inclined to seek out a better proposal from SandRidge, they have strong community support. The community, and everyone who reads this blog, is keenly interested in the preservation of downtown and good urbanism.
Here's the letter:
Dear Ms. Montgomery,
My name is Nick Roberts, and I'm a local resident at [address removed]. I maintain a blog advocating for Downtown Oklahoma City, but as I'm an architecture student out of state I couldn't be here for Thursday's meeting. I recently came to a Downtown Design Review meeting back in December to speak on the SandRidge Commons proposal, which was inappropriate for a non-agenda item I understand, but you gave me your email if I wished to contact you about it.
I just wanted to share some serious concerns about the SandRidge proposal, prefaced with my appreciation that SandRidge is willing to invest $100 million into our community on top of keeping Kerr McGee Tower off the vacancy rolls. They have become a true downtown supporter, which is why it's odd that this proposal poses so much harm to downtown by further hollowing out what little density remains.
The premise that sight lines from one end of downtown through to another end need to be improved so we can all feast on the site of SandRidge Tower is ludicrous. If it's for shame that great historic brick buildings block the view of the tower from Robinson, then perhaps every charming, historic building our city has left needs to be a part of SandRidge's proposal to improve sight lines of glass, steel, and concrete towers. I also am concerned by SandRidge's attempt to develop a corporate campus in the middle of downtown, when that concept is much better suited for the burbs. We'll gladly take a corporate campus out by my neighborhood, and they can enjoy incredible sight lines out there as well. In downtown, those of us with a vested interest in the center city don't want more focus on corporate towers. We want more focus on pedestrians and streets, which is a situation that gets worse when you remove density and defined space from the streets of OKC.
I would seriously question the wisdom of the out-of-state architectural firm employed by SandRidge, and clearly they are not at all familiar with OKC history. It is upsetting that they try and bring back 1965-style urban renewal, by tearing down the original headquarters of Kerr McGee as well as a 1902 building that for 4 years was home to our State Legislature. It is as if they are attempting to recreate the I.M. Pei Plan that was responsible for downtown's demise. Do they not realize the folly with the Pei Plan?
I think SandRidge's willingness to improve the two city blocks they occupy should be commended, but they should have seeked citizen input on this matter, and not the input of out-of-touch and out-of-state architectural firms. What do NYC architects care about OKC history? As evidenced by their proposal to turn the India Temple and KerMac Bldg into rubble and debris, not a whole lot. The reality is that both buildings can be placed on the national register of historic places due to their local signifance, and are eligible for tax cuts that can cover 20% of development cost. They can be feasibly brought back, and according to the man who laid the horrible EIFS facade over the India Temple, even that can be removed. Even if they went the demolition route, they would still have to do expensive asbestos abatement before the wrecking ball could come in, so by the end of it, demolition is hardly the only option due to cost constraints, especially for the KerMac Bldg which can undoubtedly be saved even if the India Temple really is "beyond saving."
Once they are demolished, notice that the immediate plan calls for none of the buildings to be replaced. Instead they will be filled in by a windswept plaza, which is a problem that currently plagues downtown. There is hardly any defined space except on Park Avenue because in the 70s we razed all our historic buildings and replaced them with these corporate moats, and now SandRidge wants the same, a moat around their corporate fortress. No plaza is good, no matter how pleasant the orthographic drawings are--they all degenerate into the same continuous windswept plaza that seems to wrap around all of downtown's lamest buildings.
There are actually a ton of people upset over the SandRidge proposal, not just myself, and I just hope that we get the best plan of action for the two city blocks between Broadway and Robinson that they own. I know it's probably too late for my comments and concerns to have much impact, but I just realized that the hearing is at tomorrow's meeting. If there is any way for my objection to be a part of the public record, I would appreciate that very much.
Thanks so much for everything you do for our great city, and thanks for hearing me out!