Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hadden Hall renovation update

Apparently the deferral of historic preservation tax credits is not holding some projects back, more evidence of the godsend saving that tax credit was. The Hadden Hall project, on 10th between Robinson and Harvey (next door to the Packard Building project) is well underway. Midtown Redevelopment/Midtown Renaissance/Whatever recently issued a statement with the following information:

18 new units in all
All 1bd/br
December 2010 completion

That this project is just 5 months away from completion is exciting news for downtown!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An OKC development rundown

I figured it might be time to do one of these such threads (I'm sure everyone is tired of me recounting every project in other cities). It seems like we have enough potential development prospects to justify one. Since this is a rundown of infill, obviously not going to include Devon Tower or MAPS projects or Project 180, etc.

1. Aloft Hotel, 2nd and Walnut in Deep Deuce. Approved by OCURA earlier this month, to start construction in March. $18 mil, 130 rooms, 3 restaurants, 12,000 sf of street level boutique retail, and conference rooms (full service hotel).

2. Bond Bakery redevelopment, NE 12th and I-235. Deal under way with historic preservationist Gary Hasenflu to redevelop this old 4-story bldg into apartments. How does this project stand in the wake of the deferral on tax credits? Is it still on? Pushed back? Moving forward as originally planned?

3. OCU Law School, Classen and Sheridan. OCU has reached an agreement on the redevelopment of the 190,000 sf former Fred Jones Auto Factory with the Jones family. It will be a $30-50 million project set to begin in 2011. Again, what is the status of this project in the wake of the deferral?

4. St Anthony's Hospital, Dewey and 10th--large site that they appear to be staging for construction. Is this the site of St Anthony's next midrise building? Rumors abound.

5. St Anthony Physicians Tower--group of physicians currently looking at building some offices near the hospital?

6. Cadillac Building--renovation of an old auto dealership building at RS Kerr and Walker. 2 story building being renovated and a 3rd floor being added, protruding from the top at a setback from the front facade. Very slow project. Rick Dowell project.

7. Grace Cleaners Bldg-- on Main and Dewey, Grace Cleaners is closing (owner is just retiring) and a lawyer's office has bought the building, plans on renovating it.

8. Rawhide Furniture--9th and Broadway, Steve Mason project. High-end rustic furniture store relocating from Norman to downtown, for better access to their out of state customer base. This is the storefront adjacent to Bicycle Alley on the south.

9. MidTown Redevelopment projects..Packard Building (which could make a great new home for Full Circle!), Hadden Hall, Osler, 1212, and other--slowest projects on the face of the earth. Where do these stand in the wake of the deferral?

10. The Carnegie--the old downtown library being remodeled into lofts. This project seems to still be on, yet progressing extremely slowly. They have presold SOME units but not enough I think. Keep trying to get attention from housing tours and stuff. Just a matter of time till RIP.

11. The Hill--NE 2nd and Stiles, 157 or so cookie cutter townhomes framing the east end of Deep Deuce. This project had become a financial calamity by the end of last year but supposedly is back on and moving forward. Should have been finished by now, but we know how that goes.

12. The Hart on Film Row, Lee and Sheridan. Chip Fudge (or did he sell the project off?) is redeveloping an old film production building into a mixed-use project. Facade restored, not sure what's going on inside the building. The streetscape's completion is going to be a big factor in this project opening up.

13. SoSA home projects--two under construction right now, more planned for the future.
Medical District

12. Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association headquarters, 4th and Lincoln. Project appears to be back on, the OIPA is doing pretty well in this economy, and the project was redesigned (improved) and a sign recently appeared on the site, suggesting construction soon, perhaps?

13. OU Children's hospital..mostly finished on the atrium and parking deck, the last stage of construction.

14. OU Cancer Institute..topped out.

15. OMRF new building..frame still going up slowly, taking a while to top out. This project will be finished by 2012 though.

16. Dean McGee Eye Institute, NE 10th and Lincoln. Addition of a new wing and a sleek renovation of the facades facing Lincoln..project just about finished.

Did I leave anything out (between 13th and the current I-40)? And if anyone knows the deal with Nick Preftakes..

Sunday, June 20, 2010

I love ontheRange readers, and their comments

Sometimes I get comments on old posts that I never read or respond to, so I thought it would be interesting to go through and respond to all of them. Instead of just responding right under the comment, I thought I would make a new post where everyone can see that I am now responding to your comment.

I love comments, and let me apologize to anyone who gave up waiting on a response from me. I have a tendency to only check a post for new comments for a week or two, or as long as it's on the first page. So if you commented two weeks after a post, I probably don't know it. I don't get updates unfortunately..

So without further ado:

Derek W. Lippert made this comment on my "A thousand questions" post:
i've always thought in order to give yourself a decent chance of having a successful business (restaurant, bakery, clothing store, etc) you need to own the building your store occupies. is it too expensive to find a potentially neat area buy the buildings, renovate, and put the store in? i've always hated the thought of opening a store in someone else's building and having it be successful; resulting in an increase in popularity of the area at which point the owner would decide to up the rent and essentially lowering your profit or pushing you out the door. does this happen or is there a common courtesy in the business?
i feel like i have some ideas that could be successful, i've read lots of great ideas on your blog, my friends have great ideas; however, since we don't have the amount of money needed (or the knowledge of how to get the free-be's) and banks are too scared to give us the loans the older people buy the buildings, sit on them/ force someone to pay more money than the property is worth/ open a lame store or restaurant.
someone should open an investment fund and collect money full of young professionals. you could then buy a really neat area on the outskirts of OKC (where ever you had enough money to buy several buildings along a street). if you got your money from young people they would want the project to succeed (so they could get return on investment)so they would support the area and in return bring friends.
think about it.

That's an awesome idea. I believe that ypTulsa (Young Professionals-Tulsa) attempted a project just like this in an area in the south-southeast corner area of the IDL in Tulsa. The project was called Franklin Square, and they dubbed it as the "ypZone" and tried to pool any collective interest in redevelopment from young professionals in Tulsa. It was an awesome idea that failed because they lacked the connections strong enough to make it actually work. Inevitably it would be young professionals who would transform the Blue Dome and East Village districts, in particular twenty-somethings such as Micha Alexander and Elliott Nelson.

Matthew made this comment on my "Rogers Marvel architects" post:
I marvel at your arrogance...

Thanks, touche.

Pegasus made this comment on my "No money for schools or tax credits, but plenty for jails" post:
At some point the state of Oklahoma has to do something when it comes to the condition of the current jail facilities across the state. Finally throwing some money there way has been a long time coming.

I believe a better system would be to have them live in tent cities like the sheriff in Arizona does with his inmates and make them work for a living repaying the victims of their crimes and the state of Oklahoma for their vacation.

What would be wrong with these same criminals be afforded the opportunity to put hard work into clean ditches, parks, help rebuild/remodel old buildings in smaller communities back to a usefull state?

The time for the state and a level of creativity for dealing with overcrowded jail system has come.

If these folks do not want to follow the rules and take an easy way out of their jail time, throw them into "big mac" and let them deal with the real criminals.

Interesting idea. I don't know how having work campus would sound, but I can say for certain that there is a ton of evidence to support alternative sentencing, deferred sentencing, and other attempts to rehabilitate nonviolent offenders without throwing them in an expensive prison. Oklahoma needs to avoid jail time whenever possible. Because it's expensive, and I don't care enough about so-called "criminals" to have such a huge portion of my tax dollars going toward jails to put them in. And apparently it's good for them to stay out of jail too, so win-win.

AmyC made this comment on my "Dear Full Circle: Please come downtown!" post:
I love it!!!! What a great idea. Do you remember that bookstore on 50th and Mayish....It had an Owl on the sign. I think they have gone totally to online sales, but they would be great downtown if FS doesn't jump on the opportunity!

Hmm. NW 50th and May..sounds like a victim of Barnes and Noble. Thanks for the support for my Full Circle idear, though.

Steve Lackmeyer made this comment on my "Dear Full Circle: Please come downtown!" post:
For what it's worth, Jim Tolbert is aware of this post, and has had calls and emails to the store. I can only describe his response as not annoyed, amused and cheery.
- Steve

That just made my day.

Curt made this comment on my "Streetcars, traffic circles, pedestrian malls, oh my!" post:
I like both of your routes, but I think they should go all the way to 13th St if possible. That street has a lot of potential for growth and expands Automobile Alley another few blocks for pedestrian development.


Good idea. You'll notice that in a lot of COTPA and Jeff Bezdek's route illustrations that they've chosen 11th as a route instead of 10th so they don't have to circumnavigate the MidTown traffic circle, although they're going to have to deal with planned (and already funded) traffic circles for 9th and 8th as well either way. I wouldn't do 13th, but I think pushing it up to 12th is a good idea because you still want to be within short distance of the restaurants and lofts on NW 10th but Bert Belanger or Ron Bradshaw (forget which) has a large site at NW 12th and Broadway that they cleared for a development they intended to be well underway on by now, and there is also the critical mass of upscale apartments with The Sieber, The Aberdeen, The Harvey, and others. That's actual, existing housing. Also NW 12th and Shartel has about 20+ recently finished higher-end units. It seems like the core of MidTown housing appears to be taking shape BETWEEN 10th and 13th and not between 10th and downtown. It could be that developers are avoiding MidTown south of 10th due to the uncertainty surrounding the impending traffic circles.

OKC Second Time Around (ala Steve Lackmeyer) commented on my "State funding for Tulsa roads" post:
Ah yes, the Tulsa complaint that OKC gets it all. Look at the actual funding and then report back.

Says OKC-tried-and-true-homer, Steve Lackmeyer! Just kidding. I did do a quick search of good blogs like Michael Bates and other Tulsa guys, couldn't find anything. I could get on and try and get in a flame war with Swake and I'm sure he'll try and shove some facts at me, but I just don't feel up for dealing with that guy. For all the complaining Tulsans have done, and examples they've positively shown, it is surprisingly poorly documented. There is also an effort on OKC's part to do the same as well, although nobody is really buying that. Next time we meet up, ask me what I really think of that. I'll settle for this: The Tulsa Metro Chamber legislative action agenda..which mostly focuses on finding fixes for critical funding situations that we sort of take for granted in OKC, like roads, medical school that was going to close doors for a while, and so on.

Chris Porter commented on my "What a great state" post:
Long time reader, first time poster. I was very surprised to see you have a non-critical, quite positive post(not that Im complaining, the critical posts show you clearly want this city to be better). Keep up the good work and look forward to future posts!

Haha, this comment reminds me of the drill for first time callers on the Sports Animal. Sadly, I don't have any Johnny's Charburger giftcards for you like Al Eschbach would. But thanks! I am actually very optimistic about OKC. Perhaps the reason I sound so negative is because I don't like being negative--so when I criticize things, I just go all out I guess. I don't like it when things bring me back to reality--and the reality is that for all the change and urban progress, we're still going up against a city that a few are just starting to get it. If we win over SandRidge--that will be a milestone in the fight for an urban OKC.

Suzette Hatfield commented on my "SandRidge..again" post:
Yes, your comments were terrific! Thank you for stepping up. We at Preservation Oklahoma appreciate your involvement. We look forward to seeing you at Round Two.

Thank you! I appreciate you guys' commitment to urbanism, and OKC in general. If there is anything that you guys need from the community, please just let us know. Let me know what you think of the idea of developing a strategy for each Rod Baker and Jim Allen's votes--and perhaps Preservation OK could host a town hall meeting with the BoA committee members between now and the next meeting. News op.

I still want one of those Keep Downtown Urban t-shirts! (I was in Calgary on the day of the bldg hug.)

OKC Herbivore commented on my "SandRidge appeal tomorrow" post:
gonna try to make it. i'm a terrible politician, but i see this, like others, as a pretty depressing bellwether for downtown if it in fact goes through. sucks because sandridge is a good company that should know better.

That's a very good way of putting it. Nobody here is anti-SandRidge, and yeah, they should know better than this Commons proposal. I've often found myself thinking that Rogers Marvel architects have to know that they're working for the debil, unless they've actually convinced SR that this is a good proposal--which would make Rogers Marvel indefensible.

Dwayne "the canoe guy" (OKC Kayaks?) commented on my "Here goes another.." post (about Grace Cleaners):
Any word on what will happen to the neon sign?

Excellent question, and I have no idea. I'll stop by and have a chat with the owner--he might know. If I were the owner I would just hold onto it. It would be cool if a developer like Humphreys bought it and incorporated it into a project for an authentic effect.

OKC Herbivore commented on my "3 options (that don't stink)" post:
the red seems to make the most sense, as it both spreads out a bit (sorta), which is good considering length limits, and it works in the best hub and spoke manner, especially on the east side. The blue isnt bad, seems to be a tradeoff between traveling central to go west, or west to go south, if coming from the east side.

I think COTPA promised that they would do some public polling or integrate some way for people to give their preference on the streetcar website, but they have yet to do so. But on the OKC Talk thread and at the streetcar forum it appeared pretty evident that the red option was the most favored by everyone. Funny how Mayor Mick made his preference clear for a hub-and-spoke system but we are obviously getting a loop or a pair of interconnected loops. Mayor Mick was overridden pretty easily on the matter of streetcar, although I am mostly shocked he didn't show up to a single transit forum.

OKC Herbivore commented on my "Buyers Remorse in OKC" post:
great thoughts as always, and as interesting aside, i happen to live in Meadowbrook Acres, the hood just inside of the Classen Curve. It's a weird few streets, but a good compromise while my wife does grad school in Edmond (when she's done we are heading back into central OKC). I like to think of us as the last holdout of OKC neighborhood wise before the slam of Nichols Hills.

Of course, I am excited about the Whole Foods being within a 3 minute walk from our door (though hoping that Forward Foods can specialize enough to stay alive just a mile south of there).

Classen Curve has been a mixed bag, and from a resident perspective, it's not too bad as a neighborhood item: we walk our dog there, can get drinks at Republic, as a vegetarian i love (but can't afford) 105 Degrees, and I am glad for more retail to hop in. I hope they don't build some asinine parking garage too close tho, because parking is pretty sparse.

However, the whole area has some potential to become a well-defined, and somewhat dense focal point, depending on the balance of offices and retail that CHK builds. They are putting in sidewalks (Hallelujah), and maybe even could drop in some roundabouts in the 3 or 4 triangle in the area, to help to create even more specific character.

The trouble is, it lies just outside the dense grid of central OKC, like i said, in a buffer of city and upscale burb. The odd thing is, Western has had tons of reliable retail/food in the intersection with 63rd (Shoe Gypsy, Saturn, Snow Pea, Big Sky, Seasonal Cellars, Bin 73, The Metro, and tons of semi-yuppie stuff up to Wilshire like Gil's and what not). If some of this could relocate from the ugly Nichols Hills Plaza (owned by CHK now) into this area just south, it would keep the clientele, but have a better physical presence.

Blah blah. Sorry for always leaving meandering comments.

Full Circle downtown=brilliant. I would love to see more thoughts on how to find a place in downtown to anchor retail. What physical geography support it? The Deep Deuce area seems to have one of the potentially better street grids and densities (despite the many mistakes being made as well). Heaven forbid a friggin Wal Mart down there (Target is marginally better, but makes more sense), though it would be delicious irony for those overpriced condos.

There you have it...I've always thought OKC Herbivore is one of my favorite ontheRange readers, but you guys can decide for yourselves. I've always enjoyed his excessively long, insightful, and thoughtful comments. I always have a tendency to look at them and think, "wow, I need to come back to this another time when I can spend more time on a long, equally thoughtful response." What happens when I do that however is...I always forget.

Herbivore--you mention your living in Meadowbrook, is that neighborhood connected in any way to Classen Curve? That would go a long ways toward establishing it as an urbanist development, although I know Meadowbrook would hate it (parking problems). They could at least enhance it with some kind of strategically placed pedestrian connection. Just a thought. It would still be just as attractive for people trying to park within a mile of the Gastropub, but lesser minds would at least not think of parking there if it's not connected by pavement per se.

I think part of the reason the Nichols Hills area lacks the kind of physical presence that its reputation might lend itself to is the simple fact that nowhere in OKC really has an awesome physical presence. Everyone knows about Uptown Houston, or as we called that area back when I lived there, "The Galleria" (I guess you get laughed at for meaning anything other than the huge mall by "The Galleria" these days). Everyone knows about Uptown Dallas. Everyone knows about Midtown Tulsa (in Tulsa). Everyone knows about Uptown Minneapolis (in Minnesota). Everyone knows about Clayton in the STL. And so on. OKC lacks an "Uptown" -- a crossover area between the affluent burbs and the city grid. Nichols Hills will develop into this area for OKC over time, but it will take some multi story development--it will take buy-in from corporations other than Chesapeake. Perhaps Frank Hill is right and SandRidge really is better off downtown--I can believe that, now. Right now OKC lacks the economic engine to build up both downtown and Nichols Hills. And when I say "build up Nichols Hills" I obviously don't mean filling the low density residential neighborhood with condo highrises. We're talking about along 63rd, along Western, anything owned by CHK.

Curt commented on my "Buyers Remorse in OKC" post:
Didn't Funk propose a mixed use development with high end stores next to the ball park, and the city refused to listen to him?

I think the city's zoning ordinances and the powers that be are why we don't have these types of developments.

I think Norman will have to step up and create a successful mixed use development before the city will open its eyes.


About Norman, luckily that's not going to happen anytime soon. Just look at the joke of a TIF district that the UNP project has become.

I'll stop there, going back to April. Hope that gets me caught up in responding to old, old comments that I've been meaning to for a while. And thanks, once again, to the people who actually put up with me in this town.

The new urbanism of Midwest City

This is a post about the Midwest City Town Center. I realize that the Town Center is basically a suburban strip mall for the most part, but there is the small slice in the middle of it that is actually well-planned. Because well-planned retail spaces are such a rare commodity in the OKC metro, I will focus exclusively on that and ignore the vast expanses of the unacceptable that comprise this development.

Oh, and let me address the location. MWC? Yeah, I wouldn't have thought MWC had the potential for this nice of a project either. But actually the location really is a huge selling point, right in front of the main visitor's gate to Tinker AFB, I-40 goes through an open depression between the Town Center and Tinker, and there is another layer of traffic being carried along SE 29th Street, which is a very busy arterial through the Mid-Del area. The traffic counts have to be similar to Memorial/Penn or I-35 through Moore, which I believe is over 100,000 cars a day.

The Town Center consists for the most part of storefronts built up to the sidewalk along Mid-America Boulevard. In the median of Mid-America Blvd is a landscaped median with walking trails, reminiscent in some ways of a real boulevard.

In my opinion, this has the potential to become a great space as it matures over time. The lawn is smallish, but broad enough that it can play host to events. MWC really could try to pull of something like a summer blues festival in the green, or a community chili cook-off, or whatever kind of event would be most embraced by the residents of Midwest City (55,000 of them in the 2000 census, and 2010 will reflect some decent growth in Eastern Oklahoma County). As a suburban bedroom community of OKC and Tinker AFB, I imagine it would be similar to community events that exist in Moore or other bedroom communities.

One of the things that makes this a real, legitimate town center that to some extent is capable of standing on its own from the mess of Wal-Mart/JC Penney's/Lowe's/restaurant pad sites is that Mid-America Blvd is a real street. It has prominent egress and ingress at 29th Street and goes through the development and connects to the neighborhood behind it, where it opens up and splits--in the middle of it is MWC City Hall and other city buildings. The neighborhood behind it is largely old and run-down, but it shows that there are interesting urban redevelopment opportunities for bad areas. You could ostensibly drive through the connection between the neighborhood behind the Town Center and SE 29th without even realizing the presence of an enormous strip mall until you get into SE 29th. Because I forgot to snap a pic myself, here's a Google streetview image of the approach on Mid-America Blvd coming from the neighborhood north of the Town Center:

In order to actually achieve the effect of the lifestyle center portion dominating the interior of the Town Center, the storefronts leading up to Mid-America Blvd approaching from other streets resemble sort of a lead-up to the lifestyle center. On one side the shops come right up to the sidewalk of the street, whereas on another side it opens up to the sea of parking that is intended for one of the big box retailers like JC Penney's and others. Because it is a step down, there is not nearly the effect of the "Main Street" going through the development--but it provides continuity that keeps the influence of the parking lots away from the "Main Street."

And lastly, an important part of why this is a successfully masterplanned development is that the architecture of certain buildings stands out. It has the intention of being a charming hodge podge of storefronts that work together in a linear pattern. The spots that stick out the most have been given particular attention. Surprisingly, the lifestyle-oriented tenants of the "Main Street" like Panera or Starbucks don't occupy any of these keystone storefronts.

Obviously the rest of the Town Center just completely cancels out anything positive along Mid-America Blvd, but it's so far out in front ahead of the competition among other supersized retail centers in the metro (like Westgate Marketplace, 19th Street in Moore, Memorial/Penn, etc). This is a shining example of redevelopment, as well--other older, lower or middle income suburbs of OKC such as Del City, Bethany, Warr Acres, Britton (technically OKC now), The Village, and others should be paying close attention to this. Not only has MWC transformed an area that was once blighted, they've also vastly improved its reputation and image, set its tax coffers flush with new sales revenues, and positioned itself to be more competitive in economic development. Even suburbs that are larger, growing faster, and more prosperous such as Edmond, Yukon, Moore, Norman--even these cities should be looking at the MWC Town Center as an example in my opinion, not just the Del Citys and Bethanys.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Big 12-2 possibilities

Looks like we're going to lose the Big 12 north. Good riddance. With Nebraska and Colorado gone, here's an idea: Let's take everything Big 12 out of Kansas City now. I want the basketball tourney back in OKC now, I'm tired of this KC experiment. I know we signed a deal for the Sprint Center and I know that KU is still in the league, but that's one school. And they're desperate to keep the conference together so they aren't left out.

Can you say...Ford Center?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

5:30 left in the 4th: Appalachian State, 17 -- Michigan, 10

Shocking developments in today's Board of Adjustment meeting which I just got out of. I couldn't wait to post these before I got off work so here will be the short version:

There is no finality yet, but it looks like there may be a strong shot to save both the Kermac building and the India Temple, which to save typing, will be the IT building. David Wanzer is in support of saving both buildings. Jim Allen wants to save the IT but doesn't see the architectural or historical merit of the KM. Rod Baker wants to save the KM, recognizes that it is an architecturally attractive building and talked a lot about the streetwall and the urban experience, but doesn't believe the IT is as potentially conducive to SandRidge as the KM is so does not support saving it.

In order to get Jim Allen and Rod Baker to come together on both buildings instead of coming together on neither buildings as SandRidge will endeavor toward, we need to develop a strategy for both.

Rod Baker strategy:
I was pleasantly surprised to see Rod talking about the streetwall and the urban experience, but his concerns about the IT are that it is not as conducive as the Kermac to being used by SandRidge. I think that will be difficult to bring him to save the India Temple but it can be done by emphasizing that the ordinances talk about the good of the city and not one corporate tenant having free reign over two full blocks. Devon's tower doesn't even take up an entire block, and it will integrate very well with other uses such as the Colcord Hotel and the downtown library that will be adjacent. SandRidge is saying they don't want any other uses on the block. Wrong. The ordinances are written to guarantee the wellbeing and vibrancy of the city, not with the needs of a particular single corporate interest in mind. This is a community and we want SandRidge, but SandRidge has to be willing to accept mixed-uses in downtown.

Jim Allen strategy:
Jim truly seems to understand the intrinsic value of the India Temple and he wants to save that, and he asserted that it can be a valuable component of a campus redevelopment. I just think he doesn't like the Kermac building. Someone needs to assess the architectural and historical qualities of the Kermac with him, and it might not hurt to emphasis the point about the streetwall for his sake, but I really don't think there is a single planning buzzword that can convince Jim of anything. He just goes by his gut and he knows that the India Temple can be a good project if saved and wants to see that. He just needs to be convinced the same of the Kermac.

SandRidge drinking game: "Drinking our Buildings Away"

This is for anyone at home watching the proceedings of the SandRidge hearing on Channel 20. I know it's during the day, but the idea of losing these buildings is truly depressing. I know just what should take the edge off..

1. Everyone selects a lucky building that will be referenced to a lot, by people wanting to tear it down, and by people insisting that it can be saved. Every time your building is mentioned take one drink. You may take 4 drinks once your building has been approved for demolition.

2. Everyone selects a favorite planning buzz "streetwall" for example. Everytime an urbanist or a SandRidge person brings up your word, take one drink.

Take one drink every time Rob Rogers says the following:

"A beautiful ecosystem"
"The block is very windy"
"We will incorporate Oklahoma's natural environment"
"Connecting downtown"
"Opening up the block"
"We designed this for people, look at all the people in the rendering."
Any reference to greenspace projects in NYC
"It would take effort to restore the Kermac and India Temple"
"This project increases walkability"

*When Rob Rogers gives a list of planning buzz words that he thinks apply to his project in some way, take a drink for each one.

Take one drink every time Suzette Hatfield says the following:

"You wouldn't have this problem in the first place.."
"We believe.."
Any attempt to prove that the buildings are structurally sound
Any time that she has to correct Frank Hill on another inaccuracy

Take two drinks every time Frank Hill says the following:

"These buildings are blight"
"They haven't been occupied in 5000 years"
"The buildings are structurally unstable, we say so"
"Demolition will lower office vacancy rates downtown"
*Anything else that is utterly false, if not mentioned
"No, we won't let you prove anything with an outside report"
"Well, if we do have to submit to a structural analysis, can we pick who does it?"
"These are our bldgs, we are the owner of these, you can't legally tell us what to do"
"If they're so valuable why doesn't a developer buy them up?"
"I present letters from everyone who matters in OKC supporting this project"

Take two drinks for any of these other possibilities:

A well-known urban activist sits on the preservationist side of the room.
The preservationists all sit on the right and SandRidge people all sit on the left again.
Doug Loudenback is walking around snapping pictures.
Steve Lackmeyer is outside grilling a SandRidge official who won't answer his question.
The SandRidge spokesperson who is present says "No Comment" every time you look at her.

Take three drinks anytime a commissioner says the following:

"Uh, yeah I have some concerns"
"I wish we could get a structural analysis.."
"Could someone please clarify on the consideration of historic merit?"
"This is taking too long, I have to go"
"I'm leaving now, bye everyone"
"This is so convoluted"
"Can we approve some of the demolitions and not some others?"

When the hearing is over and every single building in downtown has finally been approved for demolition, and to be replaced with a lovely ecosystem, erm I mean a corporate plaza. Poor a little our for your homies and start planning your move to some other city that actually has a downtown.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Awesome hotel to go in Maywood Park

I am so glad to see someone with the cajones to do something. Here is to Jim Thompson, OSU arch grad who develops hotels and insists on designing every one of his own projects himself. Here is the article that Steve wrote, which will grace the business section of tomorrow's Oklahoman (been a while since the business section had GOOD news).

I recognize that major projects are happening, Devon, and the public initiatives. The resign that projects like this Aloft Hotel are SO VITAL is because this represents private buy-in. The ratio cities typically strive for in return on investment for public projects downtown is 5-1. I would argue that happened after MAPS 1 was finished but when we began the new wave of public investments the private investment did not keep up.

Infill is also vital for non economic reasons. It is important just because you want the building stock. A $750 million Devon Tower doesn't make a downtown nearly as much as $750 million in smaller infill projects spread out over a dozen blocks or so definitely could, and that's the truth. This adds vitality, it adds buildings that interact, it adds complimentary uses, it adds sense of place and definition of space over a broader area and not just in front of a landmark, and it adds architectural diversity. Just take a look yourself:

For more details, check out Steve's story in today's Oklahoman. You'll find out how expensive it will be, how tall it will be, how many rooms it will have, what use will occupy space on the street, what corner in Maywood Park it will be built on, where the project currently stands, how the project came about, and get some more background information on Jim Thompson who is new to the downtown area, but certainly not OKC development (with several NW Expressway projects). Congrats again to Jim Thompson, who is taking a risk and doing something in order to add this beautiful asset to our community. I am certain that Jim will be rewarded with success, it looks like a great project, and I certain we will be talking about him and his project for a while to come..considering that aside from Devon and other things that have been talked to death already, that's all that's goin on right now.

Burn out?

I'm just feeling a little burnt out right now. And a little down on OKC, but this time I won't go on a rant about whatever bugs me. I'll keep my negativity to myself for a change. I don't have a good feeling about the SandRidge hearing this week, though. I'll try and keep my head up, though.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Paseo pics

After how pleased I was with deadCENTER, I guess I might as well put up some of my pics from the Paseo Arts Festival. Took about 100, but here's some of the highlights. All can be viewed here. The Paseo district certainly looked really good. Always a great festival.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

10th Annual deadCENTER Film Festival downtown

The pictures are worth a thousand words, even though I still have to preface these with mentioning the limitations of a crappy camera when the sun goes down. It was difficult to convey an en entire block full of people shoulder to shoulder.

And after tonight and running into so many old friends and seeing so many trendy people pack Broadway and revel in the story of Mat was truly a celebration of Okies who honor Oklahoma by dreaming big and defying normative standards and stereotypes. I can't say it enough. There is just something cool and special that you can only get from being a part of the beginning of something. It's just that "well-kept secret" that makes Oklahoma's massive hip scene so unique. A lot of outsiders have commented on it, how here in this "new city" that nobody really hears or thinks about we've got all these quirky people and great bands and people that just hit it big.

Those of us who are a part of OKC's urban renaissance and the massive growth in local culture are part of something that is brand new and has the sense that we have already stumbled across something very big. And it will continue to get bigger. Is OKC the next "Austin"? No of course not, OKC is just the next..OKC. That will mean something soon, and it already does in a very real way to us.

-10th year for the festival
-Will run 5 days, from June 9th to June 13th
-7 locations include the OKCMOA, IAO Gallery, Untitled Artspace, Kerr Auditorium, Norick Library, and outdoor locations.
-Attendance is expected to exceed 10,000 (after "The Birth of Big Air" tonight on Broadway, they're already well on their way.
-There will be over 100 movie screenings
-There will be 12 official deadCENTER party events as well]
-All-access pass is $125, all-screenings pass is $75, and individual screenings are $10
-Supporting this goes a LONG ways toward support the emergency of local culture and identity as well as a great event.

Before the Mat Hoffman and Spike Jonze took the stage to introduce the film at the beginning of the screening, there was actually a short-lived, albeit sweet, chant of "OKC! OKC! OKC!" OKC? Yeah. Like I said..I really feel like being here in OKC right now, we are on the verge of something big.

A heckuva argument..

Which of the following describe the environment you would rather have your business or investment located:

1. An area in the middle of the north side that was once hot and desirable and is still an alright location across from a mall that's held on despite the economy and despite the anti-mall trend. The downside though is that the mall you are located in has NOT held on and has lost every good retail tenant it once had, with Balliet's moving further north, and Talbot's moving across the street. The office space above you is also not leasing as well as it was. The only public investment in the area are some minor intersection upgrades in the Northwest Expressway.

2. The urban core of the city where office vacancy has plummeted from 34% to 24% and office space continues to remain strong despite the economy. A $750 million, 850 foot tall skyscraper is going up in the neighborhood, among other projects. In the last 15 years public investments have included everything in MAPS 1, several streetscapes including the MidTown/Saint Anthony's streetscape surrounding where your store is, and tons of new housing coming in..the allure is being part of an exciting new urban trailblazing lifestyle in Oklahoma. There are more public investments planned for your neighborhood, to the tune of nearly $777 million. There is also a new $600 million highway about to open, and all of the surrounding residential neighborhoods are also rejuvenated. In all, within blocks of you has been billions of dollars in public investment and even more in private investment. You're also now a lot closer to your clientele across the metro.

You tell me where you'd rather invest or put a business...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dear Full Circle: Please come downtown!

We've said so much about what it will take to get downtown retail on solid footing. I've exhausted the current state of retail as well as any and every study that's every been done (and ignored). What if we could get well-established local retailers to come downtown, like it once was? I think that is going to be by far our best bet for bringing downtown retail back. Well-established local retailers have already built up a reputation and a loyal customer base, so they would not have the burden of having to establish their own business and a new market at the same time.

As Marty Dillon moves forward with renovations to the Tower Theater in Uptown, there is also the likelihood that he will move his longtime family-owned MG Novelty party store to the storefronts attached to the Tower Theater--which would be a huge boon for Uptown in addition to to the theater which will be a multi-use events center. There is also an emerging retail area developing in Bricktown where Oklahoma Avenue crosses the Bricktown Canal--we've recently seen the opening of the Bricktown Candy Co, Peachwave Frozen Yogurt, and the Red Dirt Marketplace, and Envy possibly moving across the tracks--joining the existing stores like the Red Dirt Emporium and Put a Cork In It. Here you will have 6 possibly more retailers in the same block. If retail takes over the languishing Bricktown Canal area (which has gone slightly downhill while the rest of the district has made huge improvement) it will go a long ways toward putting a retail foothold back in downtown.

So, is anyone in the mood for a slam dunk for downtown retail? What if we could get Full Circle Bookstore to move downtown? We all know 50 Penn is being abandoned by all of its respectable tenants and we expect Full Circle to be no different eventually. They can't be the lone holdout in what has essentially become an upscale Crossroads, they need to start thinking about relocating, and I am sure they're already on top of it..who knows, they might even be in talks already with Chesapeake for Classen Curve Phase 2. Personally though, I think Full Circle needs to buck the trend and avoid going to Classen Curve like everyone else. Full Circle NEEDS to do something outside the box in order to maintain its unique identity, and I can't see Rand Elliott preserving that. Full Circle needs downtown, not Classen Curve, not anywhere else. The advantages that downtown and only downtown can offer Full Circle are as follows:

1. The appearance of a legitimate bookstore in a building that looks comfortable and "worn in."
2. Proximity to an emerging demographic of young professionals calling OKC home instead of fleeing from here.
3. Proximity to OCU and the thousands of college students that will study in downtown within a few years (OCU Law, ACM, OBU MBA, etc).
4. Following the example of the other examples of great bookstores..Elliott Bay Book Co in Seattle, Powell's in Portland, Harvard Book Store, Book People in Austin, and so on. This could get Full Circle on lists of greatest bookstores.
5. The opportunity to be at the center of the community and trailblaze the return of downtown retail, and benefit from being first to the scene.
6. Better proximity to all of the affluent areas of OKC, including SW OKC and Norman, not just the north side. There is not a single bookstore between downtown and Norman, despite tons of affluent and educated areas. 73170 is highest income ZIP code in OKC metro.
7. How could you pass up the potential of the following building:

And it would be across the street from this:

I think Full Circle CAN sell some books here, if you ask me. I think this has potential to be incredibly successful. Downtown OKC Inc needs to bring everything they've got to the table in order to lure Full Circle. The MidTown Redevelopment guys need to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Downtown enthusiasts need to mount a good email campaign to Full Circle. Full Circle shoppers need to mention it to them every time they are in the store.

Cityshot LV

Light at the end of the tunnel for downtown..

Sunday, June 6, 2010

In the year 2010..

This post looks at goals for Downtown in 2010 that were made by the OKC Planning Department back in 2003. I think here you will see some pretty damning evidence of why downtown infill has lagged behind what was expected. (And as I always explain, a humongous earth-shattering project like Devon Tower doesn't count as "infill.")

The report that this is based off of is not the Downtown Housing Study (which suggests a certain amount of infill should be finished by now), nor the Fixed Guideway Study (which determined OKC needed to have downtown streetcar established by a date that has long since passed), and so on. I am also not going off of planning masterplans for neighborhoods such as MidTown or the Oklahoma Health Center that are a long ways from fruition. I am simply using a plan that I think we've all forgotten about, the Downtown OKC Strategic Action Plan (click me).

The plan also outlines different areas of downtown and makes recommendations specific to the district, and also makes projections of where the district could be by 2010. I will just run through these projections and grade the city based on how we've done, per this 2003 standard.

Arts District (Pg 29): "The existing amenities located in this sub-district provide a substantial foundation on which to build future similar uses, thereby solidifying the urban cultural experience. Additionally, if properly developed this sub-district is a logical location for high-end owner occupied residential uses and related support services." Translation: More cultural institutions and perhaps some high-end residential.
Grade: A-. Since 2003 we've seen The Legacy come to fruition and provide 300 units of upscale residential units, and despite being criticized for its bland design, I view it as a brilliant urban form because of how functional it is, and it brings the street level retail to downtown. This is one of downtown's only true mixed-use developments. We've also seen the new OKCMOA, a blossoming of arts at the Civic Center, the new library open, and more. A new sculpture is set to go up in front of City Hall, too.

Automobile Alley (Pg 29): "The sub-district provides tremendous potential to connect the Business District to the historic neighborhoods north of downtown. If revitalization continues in a proper way, Automobile Alley may become a significant and vital district within the central city." Translation: More surrounding neighborhood tie-in and return to its original function as the key entry point for downtown. They were also expecting A-Alley to become something big. There was also a separate study that identified 10th and Broadway as sort of a "keystone" to the continuation of downtown's renaissance.
Grade: C. Automobile Alley largely lacks the mixed-uses we had hoped it would develop, and that the building stock's nature naturally lends itself to. To this day it is dominated by office uses and basically just serves as an extension of downtown. Not to be all harsh, there is some fantastic new energy that came about toward the end of the decade in properties that Steve Mason was involved in, and he is continuing to do cool things, including the planned opening of a new high-end furniture store, Rawhide. There were two potential deals for housing that I believe fell through, one being for lofts over the bank on the east side of Broadway, and another for "The Chandelier" which got bought by MidTown Redevelopment (or "Renaissance") and has been slow for progress since. There is still a lot of work remaining to bring the district to "vital area" status, let alone to bring a buzz of mixed-uses to fruition.

Bricktown (Pg 30): "Potential for growth opportunities and a demand for specialized attractions in Bricktown are great and there is no reason to believe this trend will not continue in the years to come." Translation: Focus on bringing in more on entertainment and tourism uses, which have been successful in Bricktown.
Grade: A+. Again, this is judging it empirically and only on the tenet of whether or not it has accomplished this goal set forth in 2003, and it certainly has. It has continued to capitalize on being an entertainment district with huge events like the Thunder Fan Fest (which was huge, hosted by Baby Bash, and other artists, maybe a thousand or more fans). Sporting events have been huge, as well. This has been where Bricktown has helped put OKC on the map. Gained more restaurants and nightlife, as well as the American Banjo Museum, and the possibility of a new toy museum coming. By my own expectations, and the common knowledge that Bricktown NEEDS housing and retail uses as well, I think we can agree that the grade I assessed is a bit generous.

Central Business District (Pg 30): Streets and thoroughfares in the Business District are predominately automobile-oriented. They, along with the underground pedestrian system, presently discourage a pedestrian-friendly character and hinder the ability to create physical or visual connections along the subdistrict’s sidewalks and streets. While office leasing activity remains slow, it is not unreasonable to expect a market will emerge for conventional office space." Translation: It needs to become more pedestrian friendly, and the market will slowly improve for office space.
Grade: A+. Since this study was completed in 2003, downtown's vacancy rate has plummeted from 34% (perhaps the highest of any major U.S. downtown) to 24%. A large part of this was as a result of residential and hotel conversions. Part of it was truly due to drastic improvement in the demand for office space. It is also here where OKC deserves major props for Devon, and yes, perhaps SandRidge (yes, I just gave SandRidge props). I tend to think walkability is also about to make drastic improvements as Project 180 will in short order redesign every downtown street and bring everything up to 2010 standards. I'd be more than happy to assess an A++++ if they would just plant grass over E.K. Gaylord or subdivide it back into plots and let OCURA take bids from developers.

Deep Deuce (Pg 31): "Also contained in the sub-district are a number of large surface parking lots and underutilized sites ideal for varied, significant development opportunities, such as infill housing." Translation: Infill development, doesn't specify price range.
Grade: B-. I am going to go out on a limb and read more into the statement than might be there at first glance. It doesn't specify price points for such infill development and we know that was an extremely heavily weighed consideration on OCURA's part in picking developers to negotiate with. That was also a major contributory factor to why development has been slower than hoped and why one, such as The Hill, was an outright failure. To the city's credit, this doesn't say the district should be finished by 2010, just that infill should be underway, and it certainly IS (or was). There are rumors emerging of an intriguing land deal with the former Maywood Park properties that could put infill development back on track in a big way, details emerging later this year. Looking at Deep Deuce from I-235 shows incredible amounts of infill and progress, looking at it from the BNSF tracks only slightly dampens my enthusiasm, despite all of the derailed development proposals we've seen (Maywood Hall, The Leslie, completion of the breathtaking Brownstones, Grant Humphreys' awesome Flatiron project, The Triangle, an addition to Momentum Market, and more).

The Flatiron (Pg 31): "Because of its proximity between the Business District and the Research Park, potential is high for the development of mixed uses that address specific development needs required to attract creative industries, businesses and workers." Sounds pretty boilerplate, but we'll roll with it. Translation: Mixed-use development, particularly capitalizing on the PHF Research Park.
Grade: F. Nothing has happened in this area since 2003 except for Momentum Market and the Untitled Art Space gallery (Rand's office was pre-2003 I think). The "Beacon of Hope" landmark project a beam of light that could be seen from outer space was a failure to do something landmark, but we may revisit that assessment and realize it as a more significant piece in the future once there is more definition of space to draw from between The Flatiron and PHF. PHF had a land development deal in the works but gave up the option to develop the site in favor of the Humphreys' project which won't go up anytime soon.

I-40 Expansion Area (Pg 32): "Development opportunities, such as infill housing, are great. A thorough Master Plan for this area will help guide development for the southern edge of downtown, thereby serving as a connection between downtown and the emerging near-south neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and South Oklahoma City." Translation: Potential for infill housing is huge. The action outlined is to create a masterplan.
Grade: A+. You could say they have created a masterplan. They have also created a new numero uno priority and calling, whether you agree with it or not.

Midtown (Pg 32): "Yet, MidTown has tremendous potential, if properly revitalized, to connect the Business District to the well established historic residential neighborhoods, located just north of MidTown." Translation: Seek out new infill development and mixed-uses that fade from office to residential as you go north.
Grade: B. Midtown is progressing. Historic renovations are underway, although it will be interesting to see if anything is finished between now and 2012 due to the deferment of tax credits for revitalizing historic properties, but nonetheless stuff will get done by then or shortly after. A lot has already been done. Many of the city's most popular restaurants are in this area of town. Residential has been finished, albeit only along Shartel. When Banta exited there was someone there to pick up where he left off. There is an interesting plan for using 2007 GO Bond Issue money for new traffic circles and a diagonal Classen Drive extension that also makes a stronger connection to the downtown core and creates some interesting triangle-site infill opportunities. More on that in an upcoming post. They saved Saint Anthony's Hospital, which was the main concern in 2003 (although not expressly stated in the study), thus the relatively positive ranking despite not a whole lot of change outside of the NW corner of MidTown.

So that's where we have come since 2003, just by narrowing the scope to judging only those things we had identified as goals in 2003. Obviously goals change and new, bigger goals emerge. Landing the NBA was not a goal we had on our radar in 2003. Nor was an 850 ft tall skyscraper. Nor was a MAPS 3. Nor was a complete Myriad Gardens renovation. Nor was the Boathouse Row stuff. Nor was making anything of the former Film Row area. And I could go on and on and on all day long. But obviously we have not done badly as defined by our neighborhood objectives.

There was a different set of objectives laid out, however. Because they recognized that infill development would not just magically happen on its own, they laid out a comprehensive short and medium term plan of action that was to be completed by 2010 that would ensure infill development go forward and be feasible.

"By 2010, downtown Oklahoma City is a vibrant and active urban place, a 24-hour destination for entertainment, arts and culture, an active and profitable center of business, with a variety of urban housing."

WRONG. So despite doing so well, for the most part, on achieving the neighborhood objectives, how did the city make so little progress on fundamentally changing the level of activity and availability of urban housing in downtown? The answer: Perhaps the second set of objectives is just as important if not more so, which commands a detailed look at how we have met those, as follows:

By the specifics (Pg 36): By 2010 downtown needs to have 2,000 new housing units, needs to go from 700 to 2,250 hotel rooms, development strategies for each neighborhood, support activities that continue urban growth, translate urban growth into economic development for the city, and so on.
Grade: D. Didn't meet the projected goals for housing or hotel rooms, although we would have had every proposed project made it to fruition. We got around 500 residential units to actually happen, a far cry from 2,250, or the near 3,000 that had actually been proposed between 2003 and the end of the decade.

So what more can we do to make developers more successful (basically do their job for them)? And yes, the city does sometimes need to do what developers should do already, just because we need them to be successful for downtown to be successful, as hard as it may be to make some of these people successful.

Short term goals (Pg 37):
Develop and publish list of incentive programs and how to access them, pursue amendments to current TIF legislation to optimize their effectiveness, undertake all necessary steps to facilitate development of housing and hotel rooms.
Grade: C-B, depending on your definition of "undertake all necessary steps to facilitate development."

Medium term goals (Pg 37): Designate "Development Coordinator" in DOKC to facilitate development process, develop masterplans with design guidelines, streamline development process to reduce processing time, to be continued.
Grade: B-. No masterplan exists to my knowledge for Bricktown, the Arts District, downtown core, Deep Deuce, or other districts that aren't MidTown, Oklahoma Health Center, or Core to Shore. There are numerous positions that exist to coordinate development with both DOKC and the Chamber.

More medium term goals (Pg 37): Facilitate long-term expansion of PHF, seek major source of funding to augment existing development incentives, facilitate small scale infill development, develop long-term plan for use of all OCURA plan, to be continued.
Grade: F. PHF doesn't need to be facilitated, they own all that land and aren't yet finished (meaning they are behind their build-out timeline, but that's okay). No major source of funding has been found to augment development incentives despite the brilliant example of city-provided loans up the turnpike. No comprehensive plan exists for OCURA properties and in fact, it is not even common knowledge which land is OCURA-owned and which land is under a timeline from OCURA. There needs to be some better comprehensive effort put forth when it comes to OCURA. This was a brilliant idea.

More medium term goals (Pg 37): Talk to OU about downtown student housing, develop a comprehensive plan with downtown churches and their potential development and housing, develop specific retail and residential masterplans, promote partial adaptive reuse options for chronically vacant properties.
Grade: D+. Starting with the good news, the city gets major major props for its role in dealing with the once-chronically abandoned property known as the Skirvin Hotel. That's about it, otherwise they'd get an F-. There have been no talks with OU, despite their massive medical campus adjacent to downtown. There have been no talks with the other schools that are becoming heavily involved in downtown, either..OCU and UCO. UCO especially has massive potential with their Bricktown School of Rock. There has been no effort to plan for investment from churches located just north of the CBD mostly along Robinson. This could be beneficial to bringing new life back to Robinson, an impressively dead corridor, which could be rebranded as church central. Hey, all potential land uses are essential to a downtown, especially churches. Why not a downtown branch or something like that?

Those were just development and incentive objectives. There are also marketing and communication objectives. I'm not going to outline all of them, but I will outline the ones that catch my eye..

Marketing objectives (Pg 39): Actively market and promote different downtown districts, coordinate the implementation of walking tours, develop cross-promotional ties with city events, amend existing ordinances to allow more street interaction (vendors, etc), promote downtown at Will Rogers World Airport, consider dedicating a Route 66 Business Route through downtown.
Grade: C-. They have done a really good job with downtown events, especially cross-promotional ones, tying in different themes and causes to downtown. Such as the Flaming Lips' Halloween march, Opening Night, Thunder Fan Fest, Festival of the Arts, St. Patrick's Day Parade, and more. They have not amended the city ordinances to my knowledge. There is no promotion of downtown going on at WRWA, which I know as someone who is at WRWA an awful lot. There are no walking tours of downtown either, which could be a really interesting proposition. Hell, I would even volunteer to lead them during the summer. Route 66 Business Route through downtown? Is it even possible, would it help, is it a good idea? Who knows.

Planning and design objectives (Pg 41-42): Determine prime locations for housing and take whatever steps necessary to ensure private development there, ensure quality design input in all public projects, develop design improvements for key streets linking downtown sub-districts, pursue discussions with Myriad Gardens Foundation about redesigning a portion of the park for higher pedestrian interaction, develop design improvements to major entry portals to downtown from highways, develop a streamlined prescriptive zoning for downtown, develop a masterplan for downtown streetscapes, coordinate with ODOT a plan for the ODOT easement that runs through Deep Deuce, narrow streets and add curb extensions to favor pedestrians, draft a list of endangered historic properties and define steps for rehabilitation, encourage/require landscaping for vacant lots.
Grade: C. No requirement for vacant lot landscaping downtown despite a requirement for green space in actual development proposals. ODOT has done nothing to beautify the gaping I-235 easement. There has been no public coordination on the housing front, hence our little progress there. No progress made on the awesome suggestion to improve downtown entry portals from highways (what out of state visitors will see). There is no list of endangered historic properties, and if there was, anything SandRidge owns would top the list. They did however get most of downtown rezoned for mixed-uses, which will greatly streamline the development process. Major props again for Project 180 and Myriad Gardens redesign.

Recruitment and retention goals (Pg 44): Develop inventory of all downtown property, consider outsourcing of parking meter enforcement to ensure "customer friendly" parking experience, develop plan for marketing downtown to developers, consider reorganization of COTPA and reassessment of responsibility for downtown parking garages, improve trolley route service, consider new tenant incubators to grow downtown tenants, aggressively facilitate reuse of historic structures.
Grade: F+. There is an inventory of all downtown property that exists. There is a plan for marketing downtown to developers that they always follow. Parking meter enforcement is way too overzealous, and putting a police station in the middle of Bricktown was the worst idea ever. Privatize, privatize, privatize. Anything to soften parking meter enforcement, OR alternatively develop a voucher program for downtown tenants which is utilized in other cities. Obviously they aren't aggressively facilitating the reuse of historic structures. The trolleys are awful and should just stop running. COTPA has gotten a lot better, but until recently, they were acting like a public entity in serious need of redefinition. Last but not least, they seriously need to build some public office space and/or public retail space to serve as downtown tenant incubators. This is a great potential idea they should follow up on. Follow the example of the new Red Dirt Marketplace in Bricktown.

I think we need to go back and accomplish all of these things, and I believe these will go a looooong ways towards getting Downtown back on track to where it needs to be in terms of mixed-use offerings and 24-hour activity. All of these recommendation of the Planning Department made in this study are completely spot-on. We only accomplished 20% of these goals, and time is up. It is for this reason that we have seen the addition of downtown housing in the hundreds, and not the thousands. It is possible that Devon Tower coming onto the market freeing up all of the space Devon currently occupies could actually be a detriment as well if we don't start pursuing these goals laid out back in 2003 that we have since apparently ignored. We may also have possibly not lost out on the Big 12 basketball tourney had we been able to provide better downtown hotel offerings. Just something to think about..

No money for schools or tax credits, but plenty for jails

This Norman Transcript article is sickening. Apparently the state has zilch for schools and has to roll back tax credits for historic preservation (which by the way, thank the lord we got a deferral instead of a moratorium) but apparently there is tons of money for new jails. Especially as we continue to put more and more Oklahomans behind bars for petty and minor offenses. Corrections truly must be a recession-proof industry and it's above criticism as well, because nobody besides me will attack the law enforcement establishment that has this state under their thumb.

The facts, according to the article:

-11 jails currently under construction or in planning, not including the $400 million (or more) jail that Oklahoma County wants to build
-State jail inspector calls the construction incredible, most he's ever seen at one time (he's been on the job since 1977)

Cityshot LIV

Taken in front of the RCB Bank of Nichols Hills in Automobile Alley.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Houston traffic...

Much has been made about Houston traffic coming into conflict with the Light Rail that runs for several miles up and down Main Street between downtown and Relient Stadium (and through areas like the Texas Medical Center, Museum District, and Midtown Houston). They even did a feature on it here at In 2004 alone there were 63 collisions with the LRT, which means more than one per week, a collision rate that is more than 25 times the national average for public transit trains that operate in street right of ways. I'll quote from LRN:
While several other cities, such as San Jose, Portland, Boston, New Orleans, Denver, and Salt Lake City, all have street-running light rail and streetcar systems, drivers in those cities for the most part seem to be able to avoid crashing into their trains. Unfortunately, that's not the case in Houston. The propensity of local drivers to smack into the new train system has even become national news.

The collision rate between cars and cars in Houston also goes without being quite high. In 2002 Houston had 12.45 traffic fatalities per 100,000 people, far higher than say, New York City (4.39). These are BAD statistics.

According to the INRIX National Traffic Scorecard Houston traffic is also quite epic, and it is the thing that many people especially know Houston for, a shame. Houston ranks #6, and by comparison, OKC ranks #40 and Dallas ranks #5 (after LA, NYC, Chicago, DC). I am personally promoting Houston to #5 because in my opinion Dallas has the best traffic out of any big city due to its overblown freeway system.

Houston traffic was also spotlighted by Budweiser's Real Men of Genius:

On a side note, for anyone interested in checking out Houston's cosmopolitan and international flavor, check out this really awesome photo set on SSC. Just to balance out the negative coverage of a city I love.

So the point is, yes, there have been collisions with LRT in Houston. I've heard a lot made out of that fact. But..look at the surrounding context of HOUSTON TRAFFIC. Again, to quote from LRN:
Furthermore, the Texas Transportation institute (TTI), which was recently hired by METRO to assess safety along the METRORail corridor, found no fundamental design flaws in the rail system itself that would contribute to the high rate of car-train collisions. However, these facts are generally ignored by local rail critics. METRO built the train down Main Street, they argue, so therefore METRO, not the city's careless drivers, is to blame.

Check out this awesome video from the Houston Metro "Danger Train." (nobody was fatally injured in any of these accidents luckily)

Houston, we have a problem. (But not any other city)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Rogers Marvel architects

I have been searching for an email address for Rob Rogers that I can send him my suggestions for how to improve the SandRidge Commons proposal. Can't find ANYTHING on the web, not even on the Rogers Marvel Architects website. If anyone knows the email address, please let me know. You can leave a comment on here or email me as many readers do at

Thanks, and save the India Temple!

This post (not) brought to you by the Big 12 Conference

The Big 12 announced its new host cities for future tournaments and the results are in: OKC has officially gotten the shaft. This will be a real brief post, and as much as I would like to spend hours going through data and old news clippings pulling out attendance figures from past times OKC has hosted the basketball tournament, let me just say that OKC has never done a bad job of hosting the Big 12 basketball tournament. The event, which was a huge boon for downtown the two times we were lucky enough to host it, was perhaps the closest we will ever be to hosting big time sports tournaments because the future prognosis does not look good for OKC.

The bright news is that we have secured the Big 12 baseball tourney for 5 more years or so. Realistically though, there was no competition. Omaha, Tulsa, and Austin wanted it..but neither have the same baseball setup in Bricktown that fans from every school have absolutely loved for the last ten years or so. Nobody can come close to competing for that event which honestly is not nearly as big an event as basketball and football, and we're obviously never going to host the football championship for lack of an NFL stadium anywhere in Central Oklahoma.

But basketball is the prize we should have had our eyes on and we absolutely blew it. Because of how successful both of our ventures with the tourney were, it is a shame to settle for not hosting this event. Yes, KC was also good. But there are advantages to OKC also that should have kept us in the running and the event should have been split between the two cities. Let me emphasize: MAJOR loss. I know right now, given the general euphoria in this city, it's hard to comprehend the idea of a major loss, but this is it. Perhaps the impact is lessened by our ability to flirt with hosting an endless array of big events at once, from the Grand Prix idea, to the rowing, to other sports tourneys, and so on--but the PRIZE out of any event we could possibly host was the Big 12 Basketball Tourney and we lost out. We need to examine ourselves as a city and discover what it is that we lack and how we can better position ourselves to host major "Big League City" events like this, which would put us on a map of other cities that host conference tourneys like Seattle, Atlanta, and NYC.

But maybe it doesn't even matter and we're destined to lose relevance in hosting conference events anyway. Consider that the Big 12 is looking less and less likely to exist in a few years and the surfacing of reports today that the Pac 10 has extended invitations to 6 Big 12 teams, with another two having known (well-publicized) flirtations with the Big Ten. If the Oklahoma schools end up in the SEC, OKC isn't going to have any events to host. The SEC has anchored EVERY conference tourney in Atlanta and that won't ever change. If the Oklahoma schools end up in a "Pac 16" conference as is appearing very possible, it's going to be a hard sell for OKC to host events that fans will travel to. In fact anywhere you host a tourney in a "Pac 16" conference it's going to be difficult for fans in Texas or in California. Consider the future and the trends that appear to be emerging.. what does OKC stand to get out of all of this?

Doesn't look good in terms of hosting major events at the Ford Center. And also consider this, and this is where the impact from conference realignment could be HUGE for downtown OKC: If the primary reason for keeping the Cox Center and especially its arena in tact was the preservation of the setup with two arenas "48 steps" apart, what advantage does that extend us in the future? Is there a reason to keep that setup if we are no longer competing for men's and women's tourneys across the street from each other? That land could be prime real estate, and a huge money maker for OKC, especially if anything in MAPS 3 has cost overruns beyond $17 mil. The benefit to the general public who's not concerned with the city coffers however would be in the form of possible breaking the site back up into smaller blocks and reinstating urban infill on that site, which would much better incorporate the east edge of the Myriad Gardens.