Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Some cool boathouses

Our new boathouses are pretty cool. But here are some other pretty cool ones. I came across these recently..

These are in Tartu, Estonia.

There does certainly seem to be a trend toward the ultra modern for boathouses. Must be something in the water.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Looking for a scapegoat

A negative news story like the recent ones about Skydance Bridge can't go without finding a good scapegoat, so allow me to assist in helping to find one.

A lot of people piled onto some folks for bad reasons when it first came out that the Skydance Bridge isn't happening. People piled onto Hans Butzer for "cheating the city" by purposely working outside of the project requirements. That's not true, he was within the bounds of the same requirements given to everyone else that competed in the design competition (safe to call it a charrette? Idk) and just won it with what was by far the most impressive submission.

If anything, it seems as though city engineers are to blame for this one. The people who were taking the bids did not understand the different stipulations behind projects receiving this much federal funding. All of the materials to be used in construction must be American-made (American steel = $$$). Then the feds increased the loading requirements (for a PEDESTRIAN bridge!!). I guess they are also refusing to allow the bridge to be constructed in front of Union Station, which will ruin the entire effect of having a continuous pedestrian axis through the Core 2 Shore area. But at least the effect of Union Station being surrounded by desolate nothingness will be preserved.

I would point to city engineers as the ones who were at fault for the Chamber debacle as well (the bad design of the proposed Chamber Forum). But city engineers are not accountable to the public, so good luck getting anywhere out of scapegoating them.

Could it get any screwier?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

$6.7 million means .. $14 million, naturally

Whoops, someone didn't do very well in math. The Skydance Bridge, designed by Butzer SXL, was supposed to cost $3.3 million, which was great because the total amount the city was able to spend was $6.8 million. Then it went up to $5.22 million, eh..that's okay, but hope the city didn't count on the savings it looked like there might be on the project. And then the cost ballooned to $12.8 million and that is the most recent cost estimate.

Did construction costs increase 4 times in the last two years or did someone design it (in a design competition) with no intention of staying within the cost, just to win? Or is there some other reason that the project cost increased 4 times and why is nobody asking that question?

Not taking anything for granted--Butzer could have legitimately expected it to fall in budget. And probably did, he certainly seems like a straight-forward person of integrity, one of the better professors at OU.

But again, how does the cost for the bridge balloon 4 times as much?

Now where we are is that the project is being redesigned by Butzer SXL, who already won the contract, and the city is going to increase their contract pay due to the extra work they're having to do. The pedestrian bridge will be a simple trussed bridge (similar to the railroad bridge beside the I-44 bridge over the Canadian River) and will have a "bird" design. Like Tweety cartoons and stuff on it? I dunno.

It will be redesigned to stay within the $6.8 million construction allowance. I will post my thoughts and criticisms of this deal later, but that's the version of what happened without my commentary. I am curious to see what other people think and have some questions answered first.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Urban irony

The tower u/c is "The Montana"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Brace for the 2nd wave of housing? (fingers crossed)

The first wave of new housing projects came shortly after the completion of the first MAPS package. We saw the completion of many projects, some that had been long in the works, others that were completed shortly after being envisioned. Some of these projects include the Legacy at Arts Central, the Montgomery, Park Harvey, the Seiber, the Harvey Lofts, Block 42, Central Avenue Villas, Maywood Park, the Centennial, and more. Then what's more important is that we saw more proposals coming out constantly so that it looked as if the second wave would come right after the first wave. All in all, I recall the total number of units being proposed between 2005 and 2008 being over 2,900.

The second wave included projects that almost unanimously fell apart at once. The Cotton Exchange. Overholser Green. Bricktown Gateway. The Flatiron. Bricktown Village. The Leslie. Maywood Hall. The Heights. And many more, and that's just residential. There was maybe ONE project from this entire wave that ever came to fruition, and that was The Lofts @ Maywood Park, which has been successful in selling smaller, reasonably-priced units to a younger demographic.

Then all of a sudden there was the silence and the frustration at the silence. Voters were asked to approve $777 million in public improvements on top of billions in the forms of other public improvements being made simultaneously downtown, and the rational is that it would spur the economy by resulting in private development. If that was so, then where's the private development? The first deal that looked like it could be a spin off was OCU moving its law school downtown--a deal which fell apart over the summer as a result of OCU's change in leadership.

Then things started to change. Was it one project? Probably not, because we are fairly certain that the owners of the land bounded by 2nd, 3rd, Oklahoma, and Walnut have been mulling over an urban project for a while. They were already past soils testing, which occurs toward the conclusion of the planning phase, when they were ready to publicly announce their plans. But the announcement of Jim Thompson's Aloft Hotel could have possibly resulted in things heating up and interested parties suddenly getting a lot more interested. The design of the Deep Deuce Aloft Hotel, which is very unique from all the other Alofts which are still very decent, turned heads. To say the least. Could the bold statement architecture of the proposed Aloft have a hand in moving McKown forward? Could it have had a part in persuading McKown to make his project as truly urban as possible?

Regardless, I find it very hard to say that a major investment like this would be unaffected by a game-changing addition such as the Aloft.

Then add a few more folks to the picture. Dick Tanenbaum is getting back involved downtown, who is competing for the attention of OCURA on the Overholser Green site, may have a viable proposal to build something where another successful developer, Chuck Wiggin couldn't. That's 250 apartment units that Tanenbaum says he can break ground on, in January 2011 (very soon) provided OCURA makes the right decision. Add that to McKown's 227. Mickey Clagg is finally about to resume the snail's pace renovation of Hadden Hall, which will bring 18 units onto the market, on top of the 20 or so they finished earlier this year north of Saint Anthony's. There are a few more smaller single home projects, such as 626 West Main, the Waters' residence in Deep Deuce, several homes u/c in SoSA, and a few around the medical district. Clagg says he'll begin 1212 Walker in the next few months, as well. 21 units there.

So add it all up, and there's at least 550 or so units that are about be underway once again, which actually does come close to the first wave in scope, which I think justifies this as the second wave, albeit a few years in waiting, and much smaller than expected. Still, hard not to take 550 units--especially in a cycle in which only conservative, pragmatic projects are getting off of the ground. I think Tulsa is still building more units, and if not more units, certainly at least twice as many individual projects seem quite possible (OKC's count is offset by two gargantuan-sized projects, 250 and 227 units). Do we count The Hill once again, now that it seems somewhat back on track? Hard to tell. One thing's apparent, is that downtown development is possible, even in OKC. Yes, "in this economy" (if that cliche phrase hasn't been banished yet). What I mean by that is that development proposals are still gaining traction, as long as you have the money to do it and aren't relying on speculation, and it's also a great time to get involved because construction costs have gone way down for urban development (although I think to agree this is regional, and depends on how desperate local contractors are for bids, which in Oklahoma isn't very desperate lately). I also think development is very cyclical, and I can see signs where the economy in the states is improving overall, and we've all been preaching about how well positioned OKC is to make some moves once the overall economy begins to rebound.

I think that this is a bona fide wave of residential projects, several that seem to be affecting each other, all the way across downtown from Midtown to Deep Deuce. Why I chose to write about this is simple: This means we could see some more very interesting proposals very soon, as well. Have we seen pent-up demand for downtown housing fully satisfied with the 550 or so new units from the 2010 downtown housing wave? Last I checked the downtown apartment occupancy rate was still 97%, so that would probably be Who's to say that there aren't more interested parties out there waiting for the right time, who no doubt have been encouraged by the Deep Deuce and Midtown projects that could all begin within the next 4 months.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Project 180: Civic Center public square

One of the many things moving forward at a quick pace with Project 180 is the planning of a new public square where Bicentennial Park currently is. For the in-depth info and quotes on all that check out the recent article in the Oklahoman and here on Steve Lackmeyer's blog. He says that this image doesn't really do it justice:

Which is interesting, because the image means a lot more to me than the aerial which doesn't necessarily project how it will feel from the human-scale. Granted, it doesn't show the full picture which the aerial certainly does. But what's interesting is that I didn't even notice that the spherical water feature at the front of the steps to the Civic Center was separated from the elongated pool that makes up the majority of the new park. I actually like how you can walk around it and how it accentuates the focal point for the park, which is the steps of the Civic Center. It is also interesting how they're moving the vertical signage to the corners of the building. In the human scale image, it also almost appears as if the ground slopes downward toward the water features. Is this the case? I also presume they have decided to move the planned Compass Rose statue to the street corner just NW of the City Hall steps on Walker Ave. They will be moving the other public art and plaques currently in Bicentennial Park to other spots in the city.

Here is the aerial overview:

What's really interesting is that they're doing all of this for only $3.5 million, but I don't know if that includes the fundraising they alluded to or not. This space is definitely being cost-efficiently revamped..which also leads one to wonder what more could have been included in Project 180 total. I do really wish though that they would do more to reinforce Walker Ave. Like, include some hedges along it, or some benches, or something to delineate the important street cutting through the area. Speaking of Walker, I noticed that they showed cars going the opposite direction that it currently flows. I thought they were going to make it two-way, or are they just going to reverse the one-way direction it flows in??

Ultimately, as far as this new park scheme making a difference downtown, what is going to have the biggest effect on the environment is developing the vacant lots fronting Bicentennial Park. Having those surface lots along the edge create a lot of poorly defined space that's going to be difficult to make urban regardless of how much you invest into the park's design schemes.

One interesting point:

Consider the spherical water fountain in front of the elongated water feature, and the image on the right which was a part of their study session where they examined other water features they liked in similar public squares. And then check out the image on the left of that, which are lit water spouts (that dance and change colors) on the "New U" on the University of Tulsa's campus. That would be kind of cool to bring downtown, if that's similar to what we see here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hiring a consultant..

Oh look, City Council is hiring another consultant. For the convention center, go figure. Maybe this consultant will tell them what they want? Either they must be really really hesitant to make a stance one way or another, or they just don't like what the last..7..consultants have had to say about the convention center.

I think OKC is becoming the consultant capital of the world. Might be a good business to get into, for anyone looking for a job. Does anyone else think this is ridiculous?