Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Real infill coming soon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great Blog Nick!

I didn't realize until you said it, that Richard was doing the Deep Deuce Project. He is involved in a lot of great projects and more to come! I can't wait for that project to get started! Deep Deuce will become just as active as Bricktown and hopefully these developments will help fill the retail below the Maywood Lofts.