Thursday, April 28, 2011

Very nice downtown PP

Here is a very nice PP presentation entitled, "What's going on downtown?" that Russel Claus put together.

Yes, it has 72 slides, but it's a really good 5-minute read because you can just look at the pictures. Some of the before-after pics, such as Iguana, Shop Good, other NW 9th stuff, are absolutely amazing.

Looking back is a good thing.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Allied Powers

JoeVan Bullard resigns as Urban Renewal Director. Well, this was probably coming, with all of the heat OCURA has been under.

But it seems like that was rather anti-climatic. At any rate, everything that follows is incredibly confusing. We've been operating with OCURA for many decades now. First OCURA was powerful and all of downtown development revolved around it, and since it's become less omnipotent and more of an agent that the city can use to encourage more private development in an area.

Now here's a curve ball. Larry Nichols is back as Chairman. If you recall, Nichols resigned right after Devon Tower was first announced to avoid a conflict of interest in the land deal that followed. Now they propose to collapse OCURA into this new overarching "Alliance for Economic Development" which will operate as a non-profit tasked with extraordinary influence by City Hall. They say they want this to help them pursue large-scale Core2Shore redevelopment, which makes sense.

It's still hard not to feel uncomfortable with a restructuring of such power. Let's not pretend that the proposed Alliance will not have extraordinary power. Even if it just assumes OCURA's role, that is still a lot of power, especially as the city will probably acquire more pivotal development plots of land. Then they're wanting to bring even more responsibilities into the fold of this new organization, essentially every economic development responsibility that either City Hall, the Chamber, or the CVB are currently already pursuing. That's a LOT.

Kathy O'Connor and others have said that this Alliance would not wield any power. It's statements like that which make me want to run away as far as possible from this thing. I would feel a thousand times more comfortable if they were straight-forward about the power (aka "responsibilities") of this organization.

And that's not even getting into the point of contention regarding the make-up of this Alliance..

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

OCURA: How important is experience?

This is the funny thing, is that somehow OCURA or the committee advising them has warped the term experience, according to reports on Steve's blog into a positive for the Henderson proposal. The Henderson proposal includes an enormous suburban setback from Walker Ave and zero retail or anything else listed as desirable in the report.

But the experience is a particularly interesting point. If one were using actual logic diagrams to pin who has experience as a developer before, I think the report would have looked so much more different. I'm not even talking about the grids that are usually routinely used in these kinds of site decisions. I'm just talking about making a decision using logic. Neither of which were clearly done here, hell, apparently the developers weren't even allowed to make a 10-minute pitch for their project.

But, the point here is experience, and who's got it.

Mike Henderson:
Successful developer, overwhelmingly suburban
Familiar with OCURA processes
Had problems meeting deadlines in past
Had financial problems in past
Integrity issue, completely changed Legacy
Questions about delivering exactly what is proposed
Requesting HUD financing for development

Dick Tanenbaum:
Successful urban and suburban developer
Successful with apartment projects
Successful with mixed-use projects
Successful with historic projects
Not requesting HUD financing for development
Builds exactly what he proposes (in this case, a suburban complex)

Chuck Wiggin:

Successful urban developer
Successful with many DT Tulsa projects
Successful with historic projects
Successful with apartment projects
Successful with mixed-use projects
Familiar with OCURA processes
Had problems in past with deadlines
Mixed history in OKC, after Overholser Green
Requesting HUD financing
Did propose changes to OG after approval

Marva Ellard:

Successful urban developer
Especially committed to historic preservation
Successful with many DT OKC projects
Successful with apartment projects
Successful with historic projects
Familiar with OCURA processes
Got out of The Hill before it went negative
Ended up being proved right by OG
Builds exactly what she proposes

So it's funny, because if you're looking at people's PAST experience, it seems like OCURA is heavily lauding Mike Henderson. A more accurate tally would look more like, scored from 1-10:

Ellard: 10
Tanenbaum: 10
Wiggin: 8
Henderson: 6

Now obviously a lot more goes into this, because I'm not going to recommend Tanenbaum's development this time. I honestly have to wonder if he thought anyone else would submit a proposal, judging by what little attention he put into his project compared to other applicants. But if you're going by experience alone, obviously Henderson actually does not have a clear lead there. Anything but, in fact.

(I like the Wiggin and Ellard proposals.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Eastern Bloc" architecture = bad?

As many know, I've been a ways from OKC lately. Indeed so much has been happening lately, as many decisions are going to be coming to a head here soon. My personal life has mostly consisted of extensive travels across Europe, then returning to the north for 3-4 days at a time to placate my professors, and then departing again. For example, I spent last week in Russia. Moscow is amazing. I got back today and I have 3 days here, leaving Thursday for the Netherlands, where I've already spent quite a bit of time in the last few months. So it's been a busy time for me. Uppsala. Stockholm. Tallinn. Helsinki. Germany. Amsterdam. Copenhagen. And in the last week, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

One of the things I am struck by is the prevalence of so-called "Eastern Bloc" architecture (or more commonly called "Commie Bloc" colloquially) not just in Russia, but everywhere in Europe. Even in Stockholm, in my opinion Europe's most advanced city by a long shot, the "Eastern Bloc" is the prevalent suburban building form. Maybe it's a cold country thing, but just the idea of it doesn't seem very attractive. Likewise, Europeans are often repulsed by the idea of America's cutesy little cookie cutter houses with just enough wasted space to pretend to be landscaped. Considering that's what I grew up in, obviously I'm not repulsed by it, as much as I wish OKC would move beyond that kind of prevailing housing style. It's just the vernacular architecture, as it would be called academically.

It's very unfortunate that I haven't had much time to weigh in on the rapidly moving developments shaping downtown OKC, or even to provide some kind of narrative of my travels on here--though I will start doing that soon, especially when I stay in one place after this upcoming Netherlands weekend trip.. But one thing that's struck me is how the "commie blocs" really aren't that bad. Actually, a lot of them are renovated and fairly nice inside. Most are usually surrounded by parks that are maintained by more than one person, obviously. In effect, imagine if one neighborhood instead bundled all of its front yards and back yards and gardens into one huge green space in front of everyone's front door.

Even in Russia, where sometimes commie bloc suburbs are the slum neighborhoods (compare to American inner cities), many blocs are actually in very desirable neighborhoods. Generally, a Russian city will be comprised about half-and-half of historic center city, architecture often ranges from baroque to art deco, and beyond which are the suburb blocs. Beyond the suburb blocs is a new phenomenon of American-style suburbs, which is surprising to see, but growing very large--indicative of a very large country with rapidly expanding resources and a penchant for flaunting that. As far as the blocs go, they themselves come in many different varieties.

There are Stalin blocs, Krushchev blocs, Brezhnev blocs, and so on. Stalin may have been the most evil man to walk the planet, but at least he hired some impressive architects. Krushchev was the one who really got the ball rolling on blocs in a huge way. Krushchev was a liberal who focused on undoing the damage done by Stalin and embarked on building quality blocs to solve the USSR's housing shortage at the time, with many families still sharing cramped flats in areas that were prime real estate. Brezhnev was a conservative who presided over the USSR at a time with terrible inflation and other economic problems beginning to manifest, and the durability of blocs built under him decreased as the size of the blocs dramatically increased. Brezhnev blocs were built with the intention of replacing them every 30 years, the only problem with that is that the Soviet Union no longer existed when that 30 year timeframe elapsed and now ownership in the blocs is too haphazardly distributed to individuals (in many fmr USSR countries the flats were just handed over to the occupants at the time) to be able to organize massive improvement projects.

So in this sense, I can't help but draw parallels to American suburbs, which are often very temporary structures as well. You build one ring of suburbs, then as that clump of cookie cutters deteriorates over 30 years, the people with the means to do so just move further out while the rest of us are saddled with this problem of unattractive and generally unusable neighborhoods.

Compared to that first ring of suburbs that have since deteriorated in OKC (think inner south side, Del City, NE OKC), do you really think that these blocs in East Berlin look that bad?

These blocs are about as archetypical as you can get, blocky style, square buildings, 5-stories, potentially ghastly colors, etc. They have been well-maintained and renovated, they are in a nice part of East Berlin, granted, but as other areas of Eastern Europe continue to improve, I'm optimistic more and more of these blocs will be renovated as such and probably sold for high rents, as is happening all over Eastern Europe already. Try getting a small studio flat inside Moscow for under $1 Million (actually, it's close to impossible).

Actually, when I see those buildings and others like them, I think that they look kinda cool and urban. They've dressed them up and given that these were actually built along a streetwall reinforcing a great street, for me it is a positive environment. There are probably some very expensive lofts, offices, or galleries in this building. Just think, what kind of adaptive reuse could someone get out of Del City-style neighborhoods?

This design for the Wiggin proposal for the former Mercy Hospital site in Mid-town has been called "Eastern Bloc" architecture. Or actually, I like the OCURA committee report's euphemism for that: "Institutional." Really? It is a blocky building, with edgy urban accents, and brick masonry. If this is "Eastern Bloc" architecture, then all of Bricktown is Eastern Bloc motif. Or, excuse me, I meant to say "institutional."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

So much for that

Skirvin proposal, we hardly knew ye...

For the best. The committee now seems to be heavily leaning toward the former Bob Howard Downtown Ford site. The OG+E substation site has mysteriously risen from the grave.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Skirvin Proposal

I was currently in the midst of a large convention center post, with some thoughts on the progress so far from the MAPS 3 Convention Center Subcommittee. Well, evidently I was not about to have time to do such a blog post, if the Skirvin Partners would have anything to do with it. Do I think their proposal changes the game? Not in the slightest. But it becoming public does preclude anything else I might say, so perhaps it is best to just start with the now locally-famous Skirvin proposal.

I am going to cover this proposal in a completely unbiased way, since this is going to be controversial. I will give my strong opinion of this in a later post...

Background: OKC is building a new $280 million convention center. A centerpiece of the project that is not included in the budget will have to be a convention hotel, a hotel with minimum 700 rooms that can expand the convention center's ability to compete for vital larger conventions. The convention hotel, not being included in the budget, will have to be funded somehow. It will likely receive up to $60 million in city subsidies, money which will have to come from somewhere, but money which the city will likely get some ROI from (eg., it will probably be a loan).

Enter Skirvin:

The Skirvin Partners propose that their hotel be repositioned to serve as the city's convention hotel. It is a proposal for siting the convention center between Bricktown's Main Street and Deep Deuce's 2nd Street. Essentially, across the street from the new Maywood Lofts on 2nd, and across the street from the Sherman Iron Works bldg in Bricktown.

The Skirvin currently has about 225 rooms. That's a far cry from a convention hotel, so they propose adding a second tower just to the north of their property (where there is currently a bank drive-thru) that will have 425 rooms. Then things get interesting with the razing of the Santa Fe Garage, which provides 1,518 parking spaces for downtown workers. Then to replace these parking spaces, it's proposed to build an 800-1260 space parking garage on 2nd Street, where the Sherman Iron Works bldg currently is (Main/Oklahoma in Bricktown), possibly incorporating the historic building into a parking structure.

The Santa Fe Garage, which would be razed under this plan, would be replaced with a structure that features a large open "gateway," available office space that the Skirvin suggests could be ideal for the Chamber of Commerce, and more structured parking. This parking would accommodate between 575-895 spaces. Then it would ALL be incorporated with a large pedestrian bridge that crosses E.K. Gaylord and the BNSF tracks, connecting the new "Skirvin complex" and the convention center across the tracks.

One of the complexities happens to be that the site between Main and 2nd streets is currently a rail yard, one that is currently slated to become a high speed rail corridor. There is a proposed arc that cuts across the entire site (the non-utilized tracks currently veer to the north, but this would be a new arc that veers to the south merging with the BNSF tracks). The arc is important because ODOT's proposed high-speed rail corridor from OKC to Tulsa terminates where the Turner Turnpike terminates. So in order to get it further into downtown OKC, it has to come from the NE. So this will essentially be where the line changes from utilizing the BNSF track (that divides downtown and Bricktown) to where it veers to the NE toward the "Adventure District" and on to Tulsa.

While it is certainly true that high-speed rail is far from being funded at this point, especially given the current debt situation of the government, it is a salient fact to point out that there are still local plans to go forward with rail connections to the Adventure District and MWC/Tinker. These regions to the NE and E would be connected via this arc as well, with or without high-speed rail to Tulsa. Placing a convention center over this railyard could prove to be a fatal setback to rail connections to the NE. You could raise the convention center and allow the rail lines to pass underneath uninhibited, but doing so would likely put a convention center with the desired specifications well beyond the reach of $280 million.

Lastly, the Skirvin Partners have pointed to two factors that they feel make their proposal the best one for the city: 1, with the city having to come up with $60 million somewhere if they try and bring in a traditional convention hotel, they would be asking for "far less" of a subsidy. 2, they claim that Downtown OKC would not be able to absorb a new hotel with "more than 600 rooms" (ideally the convention center needs to have more than that) and they claim that using 225 existing rooms coupled with just 425 new rooms minimizes the risk of throwing off downtown's hotel room balance.

Some thoughts on this proposal coming up soon in a broader analysis of the convention center process so far...

Monday, April 11, 2011

An incredible realization

I just came to an incredible realization that I think really speaks to how hopeless the cause for real transit in Oklahoma is.

Remember Rocketplane? Oklahoma, as a state, was willing to throw millions and millions and millions and millions of taxpayer dollars down the drain to line the pockets of some greedy scumbags who wanted to use Oklahoma as a hub for "space travel." And the idiots at the state capital bought this. We can't have normal transit for normal people, here on earth, but they were happy to subsidize "space travel" for rich people, which never happened anyway.

How sad is that? Maybe what Oklahoma needs is for a snake oil salesman to come to town and sell mass transit to the state legislature. Maybe there HAS to be a greedy scumbag to profit behind the scenes in order for something to have a shot in the state legislature.

This is not funny, at all. This is a reason to take up drinking, actually. It's absolutely indefensible. This, as we're currently debating a proposal from the Skirvin Partners that would put a convention center over the only place that downtown OKC could ever have a high speed rail connection going the other way out of town.

It's just how things work, I guess.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Full Circle?

Just wanted to keep my badgering of Full Circle fresh, but actually, wanted to say one last thing since I am about to finally change the poll.

What will happen to Full Circle? I see three options. Stay in 50 Penn. Move north (Classen Curve). Move south (inner city/downtown). Well, I suppose there are two other cardinal directions they could move, but I'll go ahead and claim ESP by saying I have secret information that Full Circle will not locate in offense to Bethany.

Who knows what they will do. They all seem to be an equal shot, meaning 1/3 likelihood of staying in 50 Penn, which is not very likely, and same for moving to Classen Curve, or moving downtown. There are reasons for each. But 50 Penn ownership was recently transferred to another out of state owner. More and more of the retail court is becoming vacant. All that's left in 50 Penn now is Full Circle and Belle Isle Brewery.

50 Penn is an otherwise strong property, fully-leased for the office tower. But its days as a retail destination are truly over, despite that Full Circle has invested a lot in the location which has truly become more charming as its aged. Is the charming bookstore vibe important to them? If so, obviously an old building downtown will be better for recreating that than a new Rand Elliott-designed building in Nichols Hills.

It makes sense to move. They're in a losing situation by sticking it out in 50 Penn. Moving could be an absolutely monumental opportunity if they chose downtown, specially, Midtown or A-Alley, some of the north-downtown neighborhoods with proximity to Heritage Hills. This is somewhere that Full Circle could really thrive, and also be a catalyst for a complimentary retail mix that was far more symbiotic than 50 Penn was even in its heyday.

So what will happen? Stay? Go? Go Classen, or go downtown? Who knows. I would really hope to see them go downtown. I just think that could really create a special bookstore. There are so many great old buildings that would be awesome for Full Circle. We talk so much about how badly we want downtown retail to happen and be locally-driven at the same time. Full Circle would be a proper anchor (read: not like Bass Pro) that downtown could grow up around. Moving downtown is a move that would provide for a long, and interesting future for Full Circle. Moving further north to the newest suburban thing?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The reason for Shadid's landslide

I think there are a lot of interesting reasons why Dr. Shadid won in the runoff by a margin of 62-38, especially after trailing by a good margin in the primary election. In no particular order, here are my guesses...

1. I think the negative campaigning of Swinton was getting ridiculous. Accused of being a vegetarian?? Wow.
2. I think people realized that Shadid did represent a fresh, more progressive perspective, and I think people liked that.
3. I believe people (esp in Ward 2) are growing more and more interested in crazy ideas such as sustainability.
4. The most important MAPS project to the people is the streetcar. They want that project in hands of an advocate, not an opponent.
5. I think more urban voting demographics are tending to gravitate toward younger candidates these days.
6. Shadid was always incredibly succinct and well-worded when he spoke. Swinton relied more on Okie euphemisms a lot.
7. Shadid laid out exactly how he felt about all the issues facing the city. He had positions, he articulated them. He wasn't wishy washy, unlike his opponent.
8. And of course the specter of OKC Momentum didn't hurt..

Any reasons I missed?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

One last thing

May the best candidate win today. Good luck, Dr. Shadid.