Friday, September 17, 2010
I originally came out as a huge proponent of Overholser Green. I argued that it was more appropriate for the location, given that the original proposal had a historic motif that fit in well with other nearby large upscale apartment buildings on the far north edge of Mid-town, such as the Seiber and the Aberdeen, among others. I thought it was urban enough that it was also appropriate for what we're trying to create in Mid-town. I also liked that it appealed to this imaginary pool of hundreds of people out there looking for million-dollar condos downtown.
I thought such a pool of people existed..why? Because that's what OCURA said, that's what DT OKC Inc. said, that's what the Chamber said, and that's what tons of other people who knew their stuff were all saying. It made sense: In order to maximize demand at every single price point we would have to work our way down, first focus on the most upscale stuff and keep out anything under $1,500/mo because that may turn away some of this prospective demand. In hindsight it sounded so great and I was so convinced by this line of thinking that I am shocked I was not advocating for downtown to be surrounded by gated entrances and ramp up efforts to keep creative types out. After all, they bring undesirable elements, and we were truly pursuing downtown development while at the same time using an economic model not at all unsimilar to Edmond real estate. Marva Ellard was obviously right all along, well before the establishment realized it, and that's to her credit..unfortunately we'll just have to wait a while till we see her next project, hopefully.
I have obviously since changed my mind. In fact I wouldn't have if I hadn't seen the mistake of all these condos selling for almost a million dollars. I wouldn't have fallen for it in the first place had I understood basic economics, but luckily, some modicum of economic understanding does come hand in hand with learning about urban planning, architecture, and sustainability--the things I CAN talk about. You start from the ground up, always, everyone knows that, and downtown was a NEW and untested residential market for the most part.
How do we apply this knowledge to public policy? Simple, bid selection. When it comes to the big downtown projects I really believe that OCURA has never engaged in a corrupt deal. They've engaged in TONS of bad, knuckle-headed deals though. Their incompetence, perhaps unfamiliarity with their own rules, and general lackluster due diligence sure screwed Anthony McDermid as well as the people of OKC who drive past a mud field backing up to I-235 every day. It's simple though, they have always preferred $$$ condos in selecting bids, because that's what we thought we needed. And to this day, they are still operating like that due to how slow they are to catch on. Even DT OKC Inc. under its new leadership has caught on and is about to release a new housing survey that will give us some more realistic advice on how best to grow downtown. I hate surveys and I think they're a waste of time, but if it truly shows what we already know, hopefully that will be the evidence that OCURA needs to slowly reshift its strategy over the next few years. Evidently they are still grasping on to the faulty economics preached in the earlier half of this decade.
Bringing it back to Overholser Green, Chuck Wiggin is still trying to get this project off, despite that Overholser Green isn't even close to resembling what was originally approved. Even without any new news on the matter, the fact that the project is already up for its second (or third, I forget) timeline extension tells you that the project is dead and it is time to move on. There is nothing going to happen here. Give Wiggin another extension and he still can't guarantee that anything will happen, and his only response/excuse is to explain why we're in a recession--this despite that his units in the Mayo 420 project in Downtown Tulsa are selling just fine. What this is about is pride and giving too many chances to Wiggin just because he has already invested $200,000 personally into this project. I understand that, and it is important to take care of important development figures because we very much want Wiggin to continue to be involved in downtown development and he's done several great projects in the past. Sour grapes over this benefits nobody, but it could even be to Wiggin's benefit that his contract be yanked by OCURA and he be forced to move on as well, before he plunks down even more change into a project that is still doomed.
Sometimes there's nothing wrong with a site, just after reformatting a project over and over, it's just time to throw the towel in and take a step back and remove yourself from the situation. The old Mercy Hospital site is a great site, but it needs a fresh set of eyes to look it over. Enter Dick Tanenbaum, stage right. Tanenbaum, who has pulled off a ton of incredibly successful downtown apartment buildings (and learned his lesson with the unsuccessful condo conversion of the Montgomery), wants to build 250 apartment units, moderately priced, with mixed-use retail on site. And he says he can get it off the ground by early next year, in fact, he already has conceptual drawings that he can show interested parties. Ladies and gents, we have a winner.
When Wiggin claims that he should be granted an extension that he still may not be able to make any progress by even if he once again completely revamps the project to some unknown format that would be more economically feasible, which could be anything and OCURA would likely not insist on due diligence with that, and on the other hand Dick Tanenbaum can show you exactly what he wants to build and says he can get it off early next year--how can you not move on from Overholser Green? I think that nobody wins by looking at this as a Wiggin v. Tanenbaum issue. Nobody wins by looking at this as an Overholser Green v. Whatever, or even Overholser Green v. Mercy Park, issue.
The two most important points that win the argument at the end of the day in my opinion, and have been sorely overlooked are:
1. This site is holding up progress elsewhere along Walker Avenue, and it is time to get a move on and finally get something going on here. The businesses along Walker Ave, such as Midtown Deli, Irma's, etc are surviving just on the lunch crowd and have only been staying open in hopes that the residential population around there will grow and be able to support dinner hours in the future. Banta would have developed the Osler and 1212 long ago had the Mercy Hospital site been redeveloped sooner, and now that those properties are in the hands of Bob Howard and Mickey Clagg, I see no reason for them to move on those properties until redevelopment commences on that site as well. I do however see every reason for them to prioritize those projects next ASAP once someone, anyone, breaks ground on the site further up Walker. That is the project that is holding a lot of the Walker Ave projects behind.
2. Even if Wiggin does revamp his project and get it off the ground, we have no say in that if he's given a contract extension, and that's not right. Developers should be awarded bids based on the project that they will build, and it is not right for developers to present a concept just to get the competitive bid and then completely reformat the project, even if they have a good excuse. The reason Wiggin got the bid was because OCURA liked his project the best, and that should be an obligation to build THAT project. OCURA should yank his bid just for deviating from the original plan, alone. OCURA should definitely not renew his contract just so that he can deviate even further from the original plan and not even present anything new to give us an idea of WHAT he's going to build, other than promise that he is working on it. OCURA should also grow some gonads, because this is how they've always operated from the start of time.
(This post is under review and will change from time to time, and I will add pictures later, so check back.)