Thursday, July 29, 2010

10th Street Rising

Disclaimer: This is a post I have had in the works for weeks, and in my opinion, is still incomplete. Going to go ahead and put it up since I'm not going to get the information I'm looking for, after two weeks of placing calls at the Planning Department (where the phone oft goes unanswered) and sending emails to individuals. This is put together after evaluating the 10th Street Medical Business District Final Report and combining it with my own general knowledge of what is happening in this area.

An overview of the area of MidTown OKC under the changes proposed by the Medical Business District Final Report.

First of all, the purpose of the newly-formed Medical Business District (which will be referred to as MDB), which is basically just MidTown OKC, is a corridor along NW 10th Street that links the Oklahoma Health Center to Saint Anthony's Hospital and the medical cluster around there. The idea is that 10th can grow by serving the demands of the burgeoning health industry that anchor it on each ends..and that is a large, untapped resource for growth considering the needs to remain unfilled. While the Saint Anthony's end is becoming home to a critical mass of good restaurants, there is very little in the way of that across I-235 albeit a Quizno's and hospital cafeterias (Yum).

We are also finding out that these hospitals, the Medical District in particular, would benefit from having a hotel nearby for family members of overnight patients. Something like the proposed Embassy Suites just south of the new OU Cancer Institute in the Medical District--a project that has not moved forward after 4 years of being on the boards. It is also worth mentioning that at least one of the properties owned by MidTown Redevelopment/Renaissance/Whatever (the old Marion Hotel) is a former hotel, just as it is also worth noting that Marva Ellard proposed a mixed-use project with a significant amount of boutique hotel rooms at NW 13th and Walker that OCURA put the kibosh on--Marva was at one point rumored to be intent on taking her concept somewhere else in MidTown, but there has been a recession since then.

Other needs in the way of development that have gone unmet in MidTown and in the Oklahoma Health Center are typical office and housing needs. With the city's largest concentration of high incomes, the Oklahoma Health Center would benefit from seeing some more specially-targeted housing be developed between that area and downtown--just as Saint Anthony's would benefit from more housing being made available MidTown. Only MidTown has housing available and more on the works, with absolutely nothing coming in the Medical District. Health clusters also have a huge demand for office space, as often times surgeons, and physicians, and doctors of all stripes don't office in the actual hospital unless they are specifically hospital management--this means a market for nearby Class A office space.

These developments intended to serve what already anchors 10th are intended to go in certain areas of the MDB, defined as A, B, C, D, and E.

A: The OCURA redevelopment site at 13th and Walker. This area apparently justifies its own offset area, but I'll go into the development statuses later. The intention is to do something mixed-use, but primarily residential, and tie in the nearby Heritage Hills neighborhood. They recommend 80-120 housing units.

B: Between Saint Anthony's and Classen Blvd. Infill has been stymied by land speculation driven up by perceived potential demand for office space around Saint Anthony's, and another challenge identified is the damaging "welcome" you get when entering the area on Classen, and yet another challenge are the unsightly enormous surface parking lots that plague the area. It is an area of many challenges. It calls for connected 11th St between Classen and Shartel and large-scale residential and retail redevelopment. It does not touch on the issue of contemporary infill occurring in the SoSA area (between 6th and 9th) though it does mention that the area has 45 vacant single family lots available for such projects. It suggests that Classen Blvd development have no setback and something be done with the surface parking around the Surgeons and Physicians Tower. Total development: 264 res units, 54,000 sf new office, 65,000 sf new retail.

In between B & C: The Saint Anthony campus masterplan is as follows. Notice the two new buildings, which I demarcated with red dots, and the proposed new surface parking lots, which are the yellow dots. The two new buildings are to the south of the current campus, with the larger new building proposed south of the recently finished Surgeon's Office Building at Walker and 9th (with the Starbucks on the ground level).


C: The defining feature of area C is the extension of Classen Drive, different from Classen Blvd, which diagonally cuts through MidTown, and will have new traffic circle interchanges at 9th and Hudson and 8th and Harvey, its terminus. There will also be a new traffic circle at 13th and Shartel. These traffic circles were funded by the 2007 G.O. Bond. There is also a park proposed on 10th between Hudson and Harvey, on the site formerly occupied by the Red Cross Building. The plan calls for high-density mixed use in area C, they must have forgotten about projected development counts though--or intentionally left it out due to the flexibility of high-density.

D: This area has some interesting opportunities, with the prospective commuter rail coming through here making a transit-oriented development (TOD) very possible (think Mockingbird Station in Dallas), and also the fact that it represents one of few large scale redevelopment opportunities downtown, where you can really do an RFP for a HUGE site and see what kind of mixed-use development we get out of it, though the last time we did that..we got The Hill. The report proposes creating a new N/S street adjacent to the east side of the BNSF tracks, make Oklahoma Ave two-way, activate Campbell Park (parallel to N. Broadway), realigning a 235 ramp, focus on the potential for a TOD, among other things I see here.

(Just as a side note, I would seriously question how the development appears to be inward-facing on the newly created N/S doesn't turn its back on Broadway or Campbell Park, but I feel like it needs to have more presence in connection to the REST of downtown, Broadway, and even the MDB area. Orienting the buildings primarily toward Campbell Park would create a much stronger sense of place on Broadway to connect it to other downtown areas--and it would give Campbell Park an almost "Jackson Square-like" feeling.) The red dot marks the spot for the old Bond Bakery building.

E: This is a proposed extension of the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park north of 10th Street. It is suggested that the density be higher here than on the current PHF campus, and recommends that PHF try to raise density on their campus--which as it stands is not even built out to the original proposal. Also proposed a new 235 ramp for 10th Street, pedestrian and aesthetic improvements for the 10th Street bridge, and connecting the grid to the current PHF campus. Proposes 31,000 sf of new retail and 190,000 sf of new office/R&D.

TOTAL: The total numbers for MBD development, which is anticipated to be near complete in 2020 (yeah, right) are as follows: 450,000-800,000 sf of new office space, 130,000-175,000 sf of new retail space, 200-250 new hotel rooms, 1,500-2,000 new residential units. Keep in mind that the 2005 Downtown Housing Study noted that downtown could absorb as many as 8,000 new housing units by 2015 (we'll be lucky to get 2,000, in reality)--so 2,000 for the MidTown OKC area is not at all unreasonable.

Let's also keep in mind that there are a number of projects potentially in the works. We know that Mickey Clagg and Bob Howard (MidTown Redevelopment/Renaissance/Whateverthenameisrightnow) are progressing mightily on the redevelopment of several properties. A half-dozen or so smaller apartment buildings have been refurbished west of Walker, mostly by Clagg/Howard. These projects have gone off without much hoopla but have added a significant residential presence. They are also progressing on their bldgs at 10th and Robinson, with the Hadden Hall lofts nearing completion, the Packard Building nearing completion, and the Guardian Lofts very well underway. The Cline Hotel will also be residential of some sort, it appears. I have also heard that they are more actively reviewing the 1100 and 1101 buildings (at 10th and Broadway) and a number of possibilities may await these buildings, so we'll have to wait and see on that, but an announcement will probably be coming (by the end of this year, I would imagine). 1212 Walker and the Osler Lofts are also still on, just not a priority right now for them.

The city has acquired the Red Cross bldg, completed the asbestos abatement, and demolished the bldg--the site has been cleared. Interestingly though, despite being recommended by the final report to become green space, the city is pursuing RFPs for redevelopment proposals. On the other city-action redevelopment site, Overholser Green appears to be dead in its tracks. They are fixing to get a short-term extension from OCURA that I don't think they should be given, so we will have to wait even longer until OCURA can open it up with a new RFP and maybe we can get a...more committed developer in there. Wiggin Properties seems more interested in Downtown Tulsa right now, anyway. That's just my opinion, though. The Palo Duro II project, which was one of those "rendering bait and switch" projects that we love so much (compare original rendering to what was actually built, and you'll see what I mean), is also finished at Hudson and 12th. The Grateful Bean Cafe is also closing, but the building owner is just going to replace it with a different restaurant concept that can be more competitive in the new MidTown scene.

I pointed out the Bond Bakery because Gary Hasenflu, a noted historic redeveloper from KC (Cold Storage Lofts + numerous OK projects) is working on a deal to redevelop the Bond Bakery into apartments that I hope is still on the table after we rescued the historic tax credits. There is also a plan to turn the Java Dave's space into a new deli, and Java Dave's will be moving into a smaller space. Also let's not forget the housing Marva Ellard has been very successful with (Seiber Hotel), and if the rumors are true that she is interested in taking her Mercy Park concept to a different site, perhaps she would be interested in doing a TOD in the offset area D? The Campbell Park-front sites are still owned by Bert Belanger, who demo'd the old flop houses that once stood at that site. Before the recession, he said he was planning a large mixed-use development, which is obviously no longer on.

I'll end with the unanswered questions I had for the Planning Department staff which have to do with the following:

1. There has been some confusion out there regarding the public classification of Medical Business District, Inc. It appears to me as what would be called a quasi-government organization, in that it looks like a private incorporated group, but in effect acts as a development surrogate for the city. The coordinator for this group is Robbie Kienzle, a redevelopment specialist with the Planning Department. The board is made up completely of civic figures. They have an website. Articles interchangeably refer to it as the city. Yet there are people out there adamantly insisting that MDB, Inc. is entirely separate from the city and 100% private--so could someone clear this up? Interestingly, the very number that one of these people told me to call at City Hall never answers her phone, so it's almost worth just writing the whole concern off altogether.

2. The Final Report recommends making the Red Cross site a green space project, but the MDB is pursuing private redevelopment concepts. 1, how has the response to that been; and 2, why did they opt to go with the private redevelopment over a public green space?

3. The Classen Drive extension was funded in 2007, and since it is a bond project, I don't understand why we haven't already begun with extending the road, let alone with right-of-way acquisition necessary to begin with first. When is the Classen Drive extension finally going to get underway? If these developments are supposed to be finished by 2020, and Classen Drive is the pivotal lynchpin toward redevelopment of the central swath of MidTown OKC--what's the hold-up?

4. How do we intend to route the streetcar system through the MDB? Most proposals I've seen have it running along 11th or 12th to avoid the traffic circles, but it would be possible for a streetcar to circumnavigate or more likely just transect a traffic circle, though you may have to have flashing stopping lights to clear the traffic circle of traffic before the streetcar can travel through there. Would it not be well-worth it to have streetcar contribute toward the sense of place and also as a development impetus for the 10th Street corridor--I just don't see why so much emphasis is placed on activating 10th Street as a focal point for MidTown, and then we would run the streetcar down 11th (which is not even contiguous) rather than 10th. It is one of the many things going on right now that I do not understand at all.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Today hope got Dunn-in 3-1

It is the hope of many that even the core of downtown Oklahoma City can some day become a vibrant, mixed-use arena. I would like to ask those who spoke in opposition to Preservation Oklahoma today, how they intend for that to ever come about. It is evidently clear that many of them have no such hope, no such intention, and no such wish.

Board of Adjustment commissioner Michael Dunn, who spoke first and gave a damning assessment of the economic viability of downtown residential as a whole, based his conclusion on a lack of parking downtown. Where will a happy family of 4 living downtown park all those cars? His assertion was that residential is completely impossible without specifically attached parking.

I think you can apply that to anywhere downtown, and you can include Bricktown to that mix as well. MidTown is going to have to lose some buildings to make way for some surface lots, but it's still doable there, according to Mr. Dunn. I think we should not take lightly AT ALL his comment and that it is not even beginning to scratch the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we can presume by his statement to believe that Dunn is referring to a commonly held belief (apparently) that downtown residential is an impossible proposition.

I think Dunn was also inventing some facts. He conceded that the Park Harvey did have around 95% occupancy, but alluded to that occupancy dropping to 40% when parking was no longer available at the City Center/Galleria Parking Garage (Devon's new garage). I wonder what Dick Tanenbaum would have to say about such a negative analysis of one of the keystones of his real estate portfolio. I also wonder what Dunn would say to the Regency Tower, which has room for some residents to park on-site, but not even close to all. It has been a very successful investment, and will continue to be so for its new Omaha-based owners, speaking of whom I believe Barrett Williamson mentioned were preliminarily interested in the KerMac or India Temple bldgs. Dunn also corrected us all on City Code, which apparently recommends demolition when economic feasibility isn't where one would want it to be. So I guess we were all wrong on that. For future reference I would be VERY interested in seeing where exactly it says that, or if that is in the recent puzzling legal opinion from the city attorney's office, and if it is an actual part of the Code then why we weren't briefed on that by city staff whose sole directive was to inform the board where the project stands with City Code. I guess whoever compiled the exhaustive report recommending denial of SandRidge Commons would also be very interested in Mr. Dunn's revelations provided today.

This misconception of economic feasibility certainly seems to be the basis that today's 3-1 vote was based on, so it would have been interesting to have gotten a final word on its applicability BEFORE the verdict was already in. Other interesting observations..

It was fascinating to me to see Jim Allen cover his tracks from the last meeting where he voted in favor of saving the India Temple. He gave a complete public apology for doing so and iterated that he cast his vote "in error." I just hope whoever he was apologizing to will eventually forgive him.

The other two votes didn't ever give a single comment on the application today. At the last meeting, chairman-elect David Wanzer voted to save both buildings, and cast the lone vote in favor of Preservation Oklahoma today. Wanzer conducted the meeting very efficiently and gave each side an ample opportunity to express their conditions. Chairman-emeritus Rod Baker, who voted to save the KerMac but not the India Temple at the last meeting, cast a vote against Preservation Oklahoma in its entirety today and did not open his mouth a single time. Wanzer had to recognize the motion laid out by Jim Allen, who I don't think understands parliamentary procedure in spite of being a veteran of service on city boards and having fought for a lot of great things in the past.

The motion was laid out prematurely before Wanzer or Baker got to speak, but I'm not going to say the two weren't glad to have an opportunity to avoid speaking and just get straight to the voting. Can't say it made any difference because with these types of things, usually everyone's mind is already made up.

And that is how the cookie, and the buildings, crumble. I think we need to remember Michael Dunn's words, and I believe that they will be in a book someday--similarly to I.M. Pei who is quoted in Steve Lackmeyer's Second Time Around saying "You are whistling in the dark if you ever think streetcars will ever be successful again in downtown." Or something like that.

This is a huge historical blunder that we are in the midst of.

Here we go again

Here we go again, for what, the 5th time? About to leave and head downtown for what is hopefully the last SandRidge hearing.

All that's at stake is historic preservation, the authority of planning boards, the value of urban design standards, and the city ordinances. If SandRidge Commons goes forward it will repudiate every planning and urban design doctrine we have recently adopted and undermine the authority of the planning boards, city ordinances, and the public process altogether.

I think it is especially prudent to note that SandRidge advocates have insisted that this is a special case that stands alone and will not set a precedent, and even in the unlikely case that it is so, that's a pretty negative "proponency" point to make that at least it won't lead to a larger cirrhosis like all of our ordinances and standards spiraling down the drain. Aren't all projects part of the bigger picture, for better or for worse?

So consider this Geronimo's Last Stand, which I think is an apt comparison in a tongue-in-cheek way, with SandRidge dismissing urbanists and preservationists as just obstructionist and oppositional.

I am going to assume Steve will be live-blogging today again, so I'll recommend the OKC Central blog for need-to-know and up-to-the-minute updates. This blog will probably have the first full analysis up. Doug will probably have a more complete, and further in-depth analysis up later, probably tomorrow.

Let's hope for the best for Oklahoma City, and can't wait to see what lovely threats SandRidge has waiting for us this time.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The other side

Since this is just one guy's blog, I have never felt compelled or required in any way to present a balanced viewpoint--that's obviously not what this is even remotely intended to be, and normally I would say balanced viewpoints are worthless. In this instance it may be helpful to see what some people think is the more compelling viewpoint here.

Ask Brent Goodens, SandRidge's PR "guru" of sorts, and this is what he would tell you:

-SandRidge will pack up and leave downtown if we don't get our way. This comes from the highest levels of SR, not just Frank Hill.
-The buildings have to go because they are a part of a larger masterplan, and you can't remove one critical piece of the puzzle and get the same effect. (-Rob Rogers)
-This is about spending money, and we are prepared to make a $100 mil investment downtown. Why are people standing in the way of downtown investment, they must hate downtown to do that. The preservationists are being "obstructionist" and are holding up the economy by doing so.
-What ever happened to property rights in this country?? We are being dictated to us by people with no personal interest in this site what to do with it, and that's not right.
-These buildings are obsolete, have been abandoned for 50 years now (-Frank Hill), don't meet city code, and would not withstand an 8.0 Earthquake.
-The SandRidge Commons project IS a mixed-use redevelopment that will add vitality. It will add a new park, a new company restaurant, and a new company gym facility.

And to be fair, I don't believe there are only 4 people that are for this. I believe that there are a few people out there, Mayor Mick for example--I believe that those close to Tom Ward are going to be for this project, and that accounts for those that Brent Goodens has "gotten to."

Then there are people in the community like Dennis Wells. Wells is an architect doing some cool things downtown, and has been a leading urbanist voice for the SoSA (South of Saint Anthony) area. It is interesting here how Wells has gone up AGAINST preservationists in the so-called "Cottage District" who were arguing to keep the neighborhood dominated by small, wooden shacks about 100 years old. Nothing wrong with these homes, and they can be cool if restored, but they don't offer the same urban potential that a vacant lot being looked at by Dennis Wells does, and that's a fact. I am not sure if Wells is predisposed to oppose preservationists or if he was influenced by his fight for SoSA, but he is indeed a modern deal urban renewalist downtown and he does have some great ideas. More of his great ideas are articulated here on Steve's blog, where he has been a frequent contributor. His response to Suzette Hatfield's long update is as follows:
POK should carefully analyze Ralph McCalmont’s comments. They sound more like political reality, rather than the glove-slap you perceived.

If the BOA upholds the DDR’s decision, and if POK continues to fight, POK will end up more than just “marginalized in the community.” The headline will read: “Impudent Preservationists Stymie OKC’s Economy”

If the BOA overturns the DDR’s decision, we’ll be treated to the same headline.

(PS: I’m just a regular citizen of OKC. I’m not related to SandRidge in any way. I happen to think that their proposed development will improve that area of downtown.)

I think Dennis Wells reminds us often that there are shades of gray, and there is no sense in coming out for or against certain "values" 100% of the time. I obviously don't oppose historic demolition 100% of the time, I don't support density 100% of the time, I don't support historic restoration over new development 100% of the time, and so on. Each case is unique. SandRidge Commons is uniquely bad in my opinion.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Letter from Suzette Hatfield

The following was posted as a comment on Steve blog. I think it needs to be spread around and illuminated. Without any further ado:

So, what’s happening with Preservation Oklahoma?

We were inclined to stay out of the conversation this weekend, to lie low and let the wind blow around us. However, there have been so many questions and speculations about what has happened lately that I decided to post to clear the air.

Let me make it perfectly clear that I am posting as me, not as the official spokesperson for Preservation Oklahoma. When I say “we” in this post, I believe I am reflecting accurately things that our appeal group has seen together and consensus that we have reached.

On Tuesday of this week, Ralph McCalmont called POK to extend an invitation from SandRidge Energy to tour the buildings slated for demolition. He said that this would also be a good time to have a conversation about collaboration and compromise. We were a bit surprised to have the offer coming from McCalmont, because he has been known as a preservationist and was POK’s first president.

Katie Friddle accepted the invitation and asked for inclusion of Barrett Williamson, myself and Marva Ellard. No problem.

McCalmont later phoned Katie and said that he had invited others to join the tour, including two former POK presidents and another POK board member.

We reported for the tour at 8:00 AM on Wednesday, where we were greeted cordially by the SandRidge contingent, consisting of Marsha Wooden (VP, Administration), Rick Brown (Facilities Director), Allen Brown (architect, FSB), Aaron Young (architect, Rogers Marvel), Stan Lingo (structural engineer, construction manager) and Steve Ford (structural engineer).

We were supplied with flashlights and toured 107 Robert S. Kerr (India Temple), 125 RSK (YMCA) 135 RSK (Connector) and 300 N. Robinson (Oklahoma Savings and Loan or KerMac). We also toured the Braniff Building which is not on the demo list.

We were surprised to find the India Temple in quite good condition. It does not meet current code but that is to be expected of a building of that age and lack of maintenance. The building (and this is common to all of them except the Braniff) has been completely stripped. A great deal of original brick remains on the facade under the plaster panels. That brick is a beautiful warm brown color and is in good shape. Original window openings exist on the south, west and north sides of the building. There are no structural cracks around the windows. We are confident that this building is a strong candidate for mixed use. It was under contract for development at the time SandRidge acquired the buildings from Anadarko.

The YMCA could possibly be restored for mixed use but it would be a dilly of a project because prior owner removed about 15 feet from the front of the building. Ouch. There is really not much to work with here.

The Connector was built as such in 1959. As someone else who toured said, “This is a preposterous piece of crap.” Nothing at all to recommend it as a project.

The OK Savings and Loan is a great building. Certainly, it needs updating to meet current code but it would be a prime candidate for mixed use development. Except for window modifications made in the 1960′s, the original facade remains in good condition. In our opinion, it is in about the same condition as the Braniff Building.

There are only two real differences between the OK Savings and Loan and the Braniff:
(1) There is a bit of original crown molding, marble and signage left in the Braniff, whereas the OK Savings has been stripped.
(2) The Braniff is on the National Register.

During the tour, when we asked Mr. Ford about the buildings’ condition, he would only speak to the fact that they do not meet the current seismic code and would be seriously damaged during a significant seismic event.

After the tour, we were escorted to the executive conference room where we were offered refreshments.

Marsha Wooden began by indicating that SandRidge was surprised at POK’s opposition to the project because they thought they had covered all the bases, having contacted the SHPO and having had some sort of analysis done by Dian Everett.

Tom Ward came in at this point and said that SandRidge’s motto is “grow or die”. He said that accomplishment of their entire “master plan” was key to this strategy and that, if they do not get their entire plan approved, they would have to consider whether or not downtown Oklahoma City is the appropriate place to grow the company.

So, for those of you who wondered whether or not Frank Hill had the authority to say those words at the Board of Adjustment–yes, he did.

Aaron Young showed us a presentation about the planning process for the SandRidge Commons and showed some representations of the Braniff Building with a new glass wall with projections that would replace the back parti-wall.

We had the opportunity to ask some questions about the project. The dense landscaping plan had bothered me as a safety hazard so I asked if the company had a plan to secure the site from those seeking temporary housing. Marsha Wooden said that they have a competent security detail and will have a lot of cameras to keep the area secure. Their officers have already worked with OCPD to run off meth smokers.

POK sees several ways the company can grow on the existing site, without removing the India Temple and the OK Savings. Barrett asked if they would consider any compromise to their master plan.

We were told, unequivocally, “No.” Marsha Wooden repeated, in the nicest and most attractive way, that the company would consider moving out of downtown if their master plan is not approved.

We were surprised at this point when Ralph McCalmont addressed us and asked us to just, “Swallow the bitter pill” and cease our opposition to the project at that moment. He told us that Preservation Oklahoma would find itself “marginalized in the community” and that funding sources would dry up if we were to go forward with our opposition. He said that we would be seen as extremists and obstructionists and that it would be very difficult to be included in more important efforts, such as saving the First National Building, if we continued.

Marsha Wooden said that she hoped that we would not go forward as opponents, as that would “stress City resources more than they already have been.”

That pretty much concluded the event. We were grateful for the opportunity to tour.

Later in the day, Katie received a follow-up call from Mr. McCalmont repeating some of his comments, including his dire forecast for the future of POK if we continued in our position.

We found out that board members were receiving calls from Mr. McCalmont and others and that folks who had been friends and contributors to POK were receiving calls asking them to pressure us to stop.

For awhile we were worried that there may actually be a groundswell of support in the business and civic community for SandRidge. For a millisecond, we doubted ourselves.

Then, after a little due diligence, we found out that it’s just the same old folks behind the screen, tripping the little levers that release the smoke and mirrors. It turns out that this is what happened…

SandRidge hired a PR guy named Brent Gooden to wipe up the mess left by their inept handing of this project.

Gooden has been behind almost every statement or document that has been pro-SandRidge. The op-eds in the paper? The letters to the editor? Yes, Brent Gooden wrote those and had them signed by others. I’m not saying that Ford Price, Frank McPherson and others aren’t supporting the project. They obviously are. But, it appears they didn’t spend their own time and personal energy putting their viewpoints forward.

Frank Hill worked the phones and sent e-mails to some civic leaders giving them SandRidge’s perspective about the project. He urged them to get on the phone and pressure friends of POK to call off the dogs–us.

I’m sure you’ll recall the last Board of Adjustment hearing when Frank addressed the board and stated that, “City Staff approved EVERYTHING in our application.” Since POK’s position is to support the staff recommendation, which was to deny four demolitions, we were puzzled. We continue to be amazed that this is the information being conveyed to these prominent people in order to enlist them in the SandRidge “army.”

There has also been talk of “7500 jobs lost to downtown” if the project doesn’t go through. Who are these people? SandRidge’s “Linkedin” profile shows 2205 employees. Some of these are field personnel, not downtown office dwellers. Yes, SR just purchased Arena Resources. D&B lists Arena as having 71 employees.

One long-time civic leader, who has made innumerable contributions over the years, bought into the spiel and has been making lots of calls.

Others received the goods from Frank and Brent but did not drink the Kool-Aid.

So, the giant groundswell of opposition turns out to be 4 people, two of whom are paid by SandRidge.

Have there been threats? If you consider social and community marginalization to be threats, then surely there have been. I guess that’s the modern equivalent of shunning. They want us to take our buggy and go home.

Are we worried about losing our funding? We would hate to lose money but we are on our mission and message. Preservation Oklahoma’s duty is to advocate for the brick-and-mortar history of Oklahoma. We hope there are folks who see us hard at work and want to write a check to help us go forward.

And, unfortunately, we do have a business relationship that will terminate if we go to district court. I’m not going to name names here, but we have had a very successful partnership statewide that has been beneficial to both parties. We received a message that, if we go to court, we will be deemed to be “controversial and divisive” and the partnership will be over. That’s too bad because the small towns and cities where we do the projects don’t give two cents about the SandRidge Commons project in OKC.

Do I really believe that SandRidge will move out of downtown if they don’t get their way? They would have to hire two dozen Brent Goodens to clean up the public relations nightmare in the wake of such a move. Can you imagine how many people would accuse them of packing up their Barbies to go home and play alone?

I can’t imagine that it would be a good financial decision for them, either. They bought the complex of buildings on Robert S. Kerr for about $22/sq. ft. They have plenty of room to grow there. If they kept the India Temple and OK Savings, if they put their new recreation building north of the India Temple on Broadway and if they built a new tower at 120 RSK to mirror the existing one, they would be able to more than double the size of the company. Where else could they find prime office space for $22/sf?

What will happen Monday? We don’t know. We do not believe that due process at the Board of Adjustment has been corrupted at this time.

The two remaining buildings have been lumped together for one vote. We believe this is improper since the Downtown Design Ordinance gives the DDRC (and now, in its stead, the BoA) the authority to demolish A building larger than 20,000 sq ft per permit.

There will be four members of the Board present and voting. Jeff Austin is permanently recused because of his contract with SandRidge.

The only way that the 107 RSK and 300 N. Robinson buildings will be saved is if there is a 3-1 or 4-0 vote to reverse the decision of the DDRC.

The municipal counselor produced recommendations yesterday that we consider to be way off base. The document basically says that if the Board finds that the building(s) is/are economically feasible for SandRidge’s purposes, the Board can reverse the decision of the DDRC. It says if the Board finds that the building(s) is/are not economically feasible for SandRidge’s purpose, the Board can affirm the decision of the DDRC.

Yes, it really says that. Of course NONE of that is in the ordinance in ANY way. I wonder if the attorney has recovered from the thumbscrews yet.

SandRidge submitted a seismic/condition assessment of the remaining buildings only yesterday. In glancing through, we thought the report was pretty favorable.

Will POK appeal if things don’t go our way on Monday? We have scheduled a special meeting later in the week if we need to make that decision.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Careful with words

I think everyone needs to be a lot more careful than they have been in choosing words to describe buildings. We've seen a lot of examples lately where words have been used to degrade old buildings as worthless, particularly by people who are just very uninformed.

Take the Daily Oklahoman's editorial board for example. I'd like to say it's the intent that matters, although I'm not sure what the intent is, and I still think the article does damage because people do read the paper. A column touting the recent big developments downtown had this to say about the SandRidge Commons debacle, in a sentence immediately following Devon: "Another energy company, SandRidge, has its own big plans for downtown — provided it can assuage preservationists who wish to see some decrepit old buildings left alone." First of all, I will mention that calling it "big plans for downtown" following news of Devon Tower gives off the false impression that this is a development that will have a similarly sized impact, when in fact one adds about 50 floors, when another subtracts 50 floors from downtown. The myopia of this editorial is especially evident when you consider that in the same text they praise the historic rehab work that has been done in Bricktown, and they say this of Steve Mason: "An area that was once a stretch of abandoned and dilapidated buildings is now thriving."

So without insulting the intelligence of the average Oklahoman reader, are people really supposed to believe this? So the Oke's position on old buildings is that if they've been restored, that's awesome..but if not, they're decrepit and need to go. I think it's at this point that a reader of average intelligence should question the double standard that seems to put old buildings at a disadvantage, which is a shame considering the intrinsic value that they old, similar to a well-aged wine. As for the word decrepit, one could argue that is true that the buildings could be in better condition--BUT I would contend that decrepit is one of the strongest words you could possibly use to describe a state of disrepair, and what is the point in having a newspaper that is using colorful, vivid descriptions of the state of disrepair which some great buildings happen to be in. It's as if the Oklahoman is actively working against these buildings by invoking these descriptions, using the word "decrepit," which is comparing it to this..the top Google image result for the word "decrepit."

Perfectly describes the KerMac, Braniff, and India Temple, right?

I also see here in the Medical Business District Masterplan Final Report on page 18 it refers to "the success that is being had by housing developers in the downtown office core (mostly converting obsolete office towers) and in the adjacent Deep Deuce and Triangle sub-districts." Since when was the Park Harvey Tower obsolete? Granted, it is much better as apartments, and has been nearly 100% occupied as apartments--it was also nearly 100% occupied as an office building, almost completely by attorneys (due to its location across from the Courthouse). So obsolete? Seems like a strong word to use when you can be easily proven wrong..and I'm not aware of many more office towers that were converted to residential at the time of this study (since there has been the upper floors of City Place).

Also, in an article about the struggle a few years ago to save the historic Gold Dome at 23rd and Classen, this was printed in the Oklahoman: "'They (the building owners) have a building that is functionally obsolete,' said Dennis Box, an attorney representing Walgreen Drug Stores." I've said it before, but if the Gold Dome is "functionally obsolete" (implying that it was beyond bringing back) then maybe "functionally obsolete" is the new cool.

Friday, July 16, 2010


BREAKING NEWS: County officials favor the county getting more money so that the jail can stay under their jurisdiction.

The appropriate reaction: shock and awe.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Announcing Retro Metro

Retro Metro is the latest online resource for discovering information on urban Oklahoma City, and its past. The group is actually a non profit organization with a mission of educating citizens about the city's urban past, and it has a HUGE library of historic images. These guys are so dedicated that they meet regularly and have been working on this for a year that I know of--last January, Steve showed me the preliminary site and I was floored by it. I would encourage everyone to check it out.

Here is a press release relating to the website launch:

July 14, 2010 – A year-long effort to make Oklahoma City history more accessible goes public Thursday with the unveiling of Retro Metro OKC and the group’s website,

Retro Metro OKC is pending 501c3 organization whose goal is to create an online exhibit of thousands of photos and documents relating to our city’s history, culture and heritage. The website debuts with more than 1,200 such materials, and thanks to a cooperative effort with the Oklahoma Historical Society and other area historical organizations, we hope to be adding many more historical Oklahoma City images in the near future.

Retro Metro OKC operates differently from other organizations in that we have no museum, we have no physical collections, and in most instances the materials we display remain in private ownership. In a typical situation our volunteer crews go to a home or business to scan an owner’s collection and the owner participates in the project by sharing information about the photos and documents as they are being scanned. The materials never have to leave an owner’s possession – the owner is simply asked to sign a release that allows for the materials to be displayed online.

The owner of such materials is given a disc of the digitized images and documents – and copies also will be given to the Oklahoma Historical Society and the Metropolitan Library System to ensure they will be preserved for future generations.

Retro Metro OKC’s founding members include historians, authors, planners, a preservation architect, a retired Greater Oklahoma City Chamber executive, a city councilman, a city clerk, business owners, graphic designers and filmmakers. Our common history is Oklahoma City history. Our youngest member is 17; our oldest members are in their 70s.

Over the past year our members have tried to carefully assess the needs and wants of our community. In addition to creating on online display of historic materials, we’re also using our experience, talent and resources to help other history organizations. For us, we check egos at the door. It’s about the history.

Our city’s history is waiting to be revealed and enjoyed. It resides in the photos left to us by our grandparents; it can be found in the postcards, souvenirs and letters gathering dust in the attic, in the stories of our relatives and in the archeology of old places.

Our city’s history can only be truly appreciated and kept intact if it’s found, revealed, shared, enjoyed and passed on to future generations.

Please feel free to visit and email any comments or questions to The site is interactive and allows for visitors to leave comments about photos and documents as they view specific collections. Updates about our activities can be followed via our Twitter account @retrometrookc.

- Steve Lackmeyer, president, Retro Metro OKC

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Shakespeare in the Park

Who doesn't love the arts in the middle of the city? For those who are looking for something to do this evening, check out Shakespeare in the Park. Tonight is closing night for the Taming of the Shrew, one of my favorite Shakespeare plays (I actually I just like the comedies). And yes, Shakespeare in the Park is still going strong despite the reconstruction of the Myriad Gardens underway. For this summer it has been moved to the plaza in front of the Civic Center steps. I personally think it might be an even better setting for the play, with the grandiose Civic Center Music Hall looming large on one end of Bicentennial Park and the best skyline view in the city on the other end.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Double check those facts

Downtown OKC Inc. has this nifty website where they cite a lot of really interesting statistics for downtown. The only problem is, I can't determine how they got 52,000 downtown workers. I especially get annoyed when I use statistics that I presume are correct to support a case for our downtown, and then get called out on my statistics. Turns out, these Downtown OKC Inc. stats are incorrect.

Using the Census' Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics website this becomes evident. By searching 2008 data (most recent available), and placing a 1-mile radius around a reference point at the corner of Park and get 39,682. If you move the 1-mile radius to 4th and Harrison it jumps up to a little over 49,000 including the Oklahoma Health Center, but still not 52,000.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Cityshot LVIII

15th and Utica in the Cherry Street area of Midtown Tulsa. Arvest Bank (left) and Stillwater National Bank (right). Bumgarner projects.

In Tulsa, they dislike these buildings. In OKC..we would probably jump for joy.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Cityshot LVI

Since I've been on vacation this is going to go back to being a photog blog for the purpose of keeping it active. When I'm back we'll go back to agitating everyone by tackling the crippling issues of the day.

Happy Independence Day. In case you're among the one quarter of Americans who do not know what country we declared our independence from, it was Great Britain.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

What happened at City Council?

Nothing, really. The City Council, whether purposefully or accidentally, had an item on the docket not only referencing the park-adjacent convention center location but also committing over $1 million dollars in unused funds from the G.O. Bond to a highway ramp for Robinson. The funds are actually for a "ramp box" which is just a platform for complicated ingress onto the new Crosstown Expressway.

Basically, this whole I-40 project has turned into a disaster. Not only is it experiencing un-Godly cost overruns, but it was supposed to be an entirely depressed freeway like the Connector through Downtown-Midtown Atlanta. Well, surprise, there's a water table. So now it will only be 8 feet depressed, which means that I could stand up against the edge and easily touch the grass up on the ground. There are trucks that are at least 12 feet tall, and my suv is about 8 feet tall--to put into perspective how "depressed" this highway will be. The result is that we basically have an at-grade freeway and not a depressed freeway, which may cause this Core to Shore thing to need some complete rethinking. So much for removing a "barrier."

I also don't understand why the city is now having to pay for highway ramps, either. I thought ODOT was committing everything not covered by the feds. If anything, this is a very telling sign that the city is going to be picking up the entire tab for any kind of replacement boulevard for the present Crosstown. We knew that a while ago just looking at ODOT's 8-year plans, but now there can be no doubt. It would be nice if we could use any "uncommitted funds" from the G.O. Bond towards that, but apparently we're also paying for exit ramps..which I thought were typically included in a controlled-"access" highway. I still think that catapults strategically placed around the city would be far more efficient than what we've got.

I've come to the conclusion that so far this ramp and the $30 million that has been guaranteed to OG+E for the substation land do not preclude the locating of the convention center. There will need to be a Robinson ramp anyway because Robinson is going to be one of the entry points for the new Crosstown. The substation will also need to be gone regardless of where a convention center goes. If you put condos and retail there, those are also incompatible with a power substation next door no matter how fond you are of "grit" (which I am very).

The only thing that precludes the location of the convention center, which we're being told will be a "process," is the city's mindset. When you take the money to buy the OG+E land out of the convention center budget (apparently it was being factored into the $270 million share of MAPS 3), and when you have language on the city council agenda (that is supposedly accidental) referencing where the convention center WILL go, it's pretty evident that there is a "conspiracy," to use Mayor Mick's term for it, if he wants to go there..