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...

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