Monday, May 30, 2011

Core2Shore is in need of changes

Core2Shore was a planning scheme developed in 2005, 6 years ago, before many things which have already become reality were even thought of back then. Back then the Myriad Gardens was a scraggly collection of rusty old botanical gardens surrounded by bad development on all sides. One of those main things that have become reality is a Myriad Gardens that is far better than anyone could have imagined, with Devon Tower on the north side of it, and land that is very much in play on the south side of it. So yes, things have changed regarding the park situation.

It seems like the C2S park should either be replanned or re-proposed somewhere else. But we're already committed to the current site, having acquired and razed almost all of it for the development of the new park. We have a mayor who is still very committed to it opening along with the new boulevard, but even if the boulevard isn't moved back (unlikely), even if we started the park right this moment, I still don't see how it could be finished properly by then. And then there would be sequencing issues that would make it impossible to find a winning strategy--this is because the downtown Ford dealership site was selected for the convention center. Do you start with the park first, then leave the future convention center site empty? Then you have a huge empty parking lot in between the two parks for a pretty long time (5-8 years probably). Or do you start with the convention center and just completely bump the park? That doesn't sound very good, and then you still have delayed how quickly private development can materialize in C2S, needing that park as a catalyst. And then no matter the timing, the two parks will be in competition with each other, at least directly for revenue stream opportunities.

So we do need to take a step back, but I am not going to advocate to move it to the end of the timeline (a spot that I still feel needs to be occupied by the convention center), but I do recommend taking a pause and coming to some quick and decisive conclusions. Yes, that is possible. Maybe the park needs a year or two to be reformulated, and should probably be moved behind a few other projects. Honestly, I didn't think the city knew what it was doing with this park in the first place. Allow me to make my point.


To a real park:

These are pics that I took last time I was in Chicago, at the amazing new Millennium Park. By comparison, I don't even know what OKC is trying to do with this park. What it seems like we're trying to do is a low-budget imitation that is basically a monument-free park. The funny thing though is that when it comes to parks like Central Park or Millennium Park, it's these monuments that amaze people and attract millions and millions of visitors a year. So why should we skip that part? If we're going to spend $120 million on a park it needs to get us more than some land, some flower gardens, and a lame ring-monument thing. There is zero wow-factor here whatsoever. The Myriad Gardens would make a stronger impression than this.

I also simply don't understand how MAPS3 and Core2Shore is starting to come together. A convention center in between two urban parks? Really? I think in 20 years we will be seriously scratching our heads about why we did that one. It makes so much more sense to connect the two parks somehow, and a convention center, while nice, is probably not the best way to do that. No joke.

The current plan:

This needs to be overhauled. I think it needs to be completely rearranged in a way that draws more on the new things that have been added. I'm not even talking about all of downtown, I mean just this small area centered around the proposed convention center site. New things that we know now are..

The downtown elementary school: We knew it would be the last MAPS for Kids project, but we didn't know where it would be. Turns out it will be closer to the rest of downtown than Core2Shore.

Devon Tower: Hard to not see how this one revolutionizes the game.

Film Row resurgence: Who would have ever thought Skid Row might come back? And there's another one along SW 3rd that could also have huge potential for historic preservation.

Cox Center: There appears to be a really strong consensus for tearing it down in the coming years and returning it to the street grid, "extending Bricktown" into downtown, and creating a new pocket district here.

Transit hub: We know this will tie the city's transit system together on the site or adjacent to the Santa Fe Depot.

Downtown boulevard: Right now we know it will be the width of NW Expressway at Council (insanely wide) BUT we also now know that the city can appeal this. It has to be done with the Federal level, but that's okay. The city will now do this.

Rest of downtown: We are now slowly realizing that we still have a LOT left north of the current I-40 that needs to be filled in first, and there is a strong consensus to try and get downtown areas like Deep Deuce and Bricktown "finished" before moving on to focus on another new area very removed from these areas.

Enter my proposal for the project:

The main change I am pushing for is swapping the park and convention center. IT makes more sense for the convention center to not be separating to distinct parks. Also, because the Myriad Gardens has really been revolutionized, it now makes a lot more sense to just focus on what we have right now. Even back during C2S v. 1.0 I didn't understand why the Myriad Gardens weren't just continued all the way down to the river. Now that we have the strategic opportunity to acquire the downtown Ford dealership site, we should consider what is its best use? Park, or convention center? It's hard to not bump the convention center in this case.

We can invest our resources into one super-awesome park that can truly put OKC's best foot forward in every respect. This creates potential landmark frontage to anchor the new boulevard as well, which I can't stress enough, CAN be changed if there is a will to really do it. There are also some awesome opportunities in this new super-park that wouldn't exist without just expanding the Myriad Gardens to the south and west. First of all, there is the opportunity to still have Reno and Hudson continue (just very narrowed) through the new park. Having a thoroughfare cut through a park can be a great way of creating sense of place. Then there is the Stage Center, which is now in need of being saved. Find some funds to restore the Stage Center, and that can now be included as an institution in this new super-park. Also, I would remind people that the Myriad Gardens were never finished in the first place, and there are many other things that could still go in (like that desert biome, for example). Then last but not least in this regard is the Arts Festival. We could have the opportunity to create special-tailored park areas to suit this incredible local asset, our annual arts festival, among the nation's largest arts festivals.

I also just like the way a park fits in here a lot better. On the NORTH side of the boulevard. The school is nearby. The new district where the Cox Center currently is, the new transit hub just on the other side of tihs. Major mixed-use retail development opportunities elsewhere along the boulevard. This is a MAPS3 impact area that totally revolutionizes the area is currently downtown's most under-performing.

I also agree totally with the idea that development still needs to stretch to the RIVER at some point soon. That does need to be connected. But I think we can do that better with a system of pocket parks and LIGHT RAIL to encourage development down there. If we chose to also use some of the M3 park funds for new "pocket parks" in addition to the new super-park, we can stretch more of this around to other areas of the urban core.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The streetcar timeline

"This is a 50 to 100-year project, and we all want to get it right." - Mike Mize, ADG Consultant (20:21 into this week's MAPS 3 Oversight committee)

Are any of us ever going to see feasible urban transit in our lifetime?? It would be nice to see before I die, and I say that as someone in my younger 20s.

Can anyone see why in spite of "all this wonderful progress" it is still compelling to just give up and walk away from OKC? Who is to say it's not a sham? To get a new convention center at any cost...

What does MAPS 3 stand for? What does OKC stand for right now?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Breaking MAPS3 news

Jeff Bezdek is reporting on OKC Talk that the MAPS 3 Citizens Oversight Committee approved the "Option 1" timeline. I know that this puts SOME OF the streetcar project within expected timeline delivery, but not sure about other projects, since the streetcar is obviously my main concern at this point. I think Option 1 might be the original timeline proposed earlier by ADG, the local consultant for MAPS3. This original proposal put the park first, the streetcar second, and the convention center last.

Will edit this as more details become available.

edit: Evidently "Option 1" is different from the original timeline. Option 1 moves the convention center up 21 months in the timeline. It moves the Lower Park, Phase 4 river improvements (the "cosmetic improvements") , and Phase 2 of the streetcar project to the end of the timeline (anything beyond a 4-mile starter loop).

Well there you have it. Done deal.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

How good developments go bad

This will be a post dedicated specifically to how developments get proposed, or rumors about, and then the developments halt and get to the point where they're dead on arrival. Since it's just a blog post, I'll make it short, and just focus on the primary reasons I've seen since I've been giving up my life to track OKC developments (kidding--well, mostly). The main reasons are unaccounted economic changes, incompetent development teams, what I like to call "strict 2009 adherence to 2007 ideas," and another big one is the limbo caused by big-ticket public projects, many of which are still up in the air.

I will also try and relate this back today, with the implications of post-MAPS3 passage Oklahoma City. Remember: We were supposed to see all of this amazing amount of spin-off development.

This is the Flatiron project, on Harrison Avenue, just north of Deep Deuce--proposed by Grant Humphreys who has been a successful, innovative urban developer. So what could have gone wrong (because this project is definitely been dead for a while, in spite of past efforts to revive it)? Humphreys was somewhat over-extending himself, especially at a time when he was still heavily leveraged in the Block 42 project which he finished a few years ago and has recently still been selling off the last units in that project. Block 42 was an innovative project for OKC because it combined townhomes and flats in a building with a striking urban design, so price points were high. It was also competing with several other projects within the immediate 3-block vicinity. The Flatiron project also called for a lot of mixed-use space, and I imagine it was difficult to find high-end commercial tenants to sign-up for an outpost location at a time when even Bricktown was losing retailers. It's a shame because it would have been an awesome project, but Humphreys will be back downtown, and is currently working on Carlton Landing at Lake Eufala.

The Cotton Exchange is an especially interesting project because it's up there with the old "Factory" proposal as the projects I most wish could have happened. I won't get into the details of how much I love this project, but it would have been a great one. It offered prime commercial space right on the canal as well as with frontage on Mickey Mantle, and it also offered a good amount of residential which Bricktown badly needs. The Centennial was a huge success, so it begs the question why OKC can't support this kind of quality mixed-use development, even though we surely haven't seen much of it. The developer, Gary Cotton, was in trouble though. He didn't have the resources to pull the project off--he had a little bit of equity from the sale of the Bricktown "Mercantile" building. He needed other investors but didn't want to listen to other ideas, from what I've heard. It's still a shame that this didn't go forward because he was using the brokerage team that The Centennial used (which sold out, and still had many interested clients), and because other experienced Bricktown businessmen were offering lots of advice. He also benefited from not just lots of Oklahoman and blogosphere coverage, but even got TV news coverage, which downtown development rarely gets.

Many people got very excited when Tom McDaniel announced that OCU wanted to move its law school to the gargantuan Fred Jones auto factory, which is an awesome historic building. The deal died when Tom McDaniel stepped down as president of OCU and a new guy came in, who didn't like the idea so much. But it's hard not to note the sequence of events: Chamber officials promise there will spin-off MAPS development, Tom McDaniel announces OCU will develop law school downtown if MAPS passes, MAPS passes, Tom McDaniel becomes chair of MAPS Citizens Oversight Board, downtown law school plans are nixed. I would chalk this one up to political problems, if the new leader of OCU doesn't like the idea, then I don't see how anyone is going to "force" him to follow through.

For years, the Union Bus Station was a magnet for vagrants, which caused problems for the developers on both sides of the facility who wanted it gone. First, Dick Tanenbaum, redeveloper of The Montgomery on Walker, wanted to buy the bus station and close it down, and put a jazz club inside of it. It would have been a win-win, downtown didn't need the Greyhound station anymore, it was a blight, it attracted vagrants, he could have renovated it and turned it into a historic gem and just put a jazz club inside of it, which would have turned a problem for the neighborhood into an asset for the neighborhood. That's what you call making lemonade out of lemons. Obviously Tanenbaum, a veteran Central Oklahoma developer, had the resources to make it happen. One problem: The owner was pesky and had no intentions of moving, and was difficult to deal with. So Tanenbaum gave up and turned his files over to Nick Preftakes who was on his way to acquiring the whole block anyway. Preftakes also found the owner to be pesky, but by using his properties positioned all around the station, he was able to make it difficult for the bus station to remain there, and forced its closure that way. One problem now: The owner still doesn't want to sell to Preftakes, and harbors a grudge, seemingly. Well let's be honest, when Preftakes put up a property fence just to make it difficult for buses to make wide turns, that wasn't very nice. So I'm not sure Preftakes is going to get to include this parcel in his block in the end, anyway. I just hope the building gets restored somehow, and not leveled.

How could I not bring this one up? haha.. The Braniff Lofts proposal, from 2006 and 2007, would have been a really vital piece toward preventing a controversy (and a tragedy) that would soon follow. A group of investors local of investors ("Corporate Redevelopment LLC"), many with significant Downtown OKC experience and have been mentioned often on this blog, were negotiating with Kerr McGee to acquire these abandoned buildings surrounding their headquarters for redevelopment purposes. The plan was to, at the very least, use the Braniff building AND the KerMac building and convert the two into lofts--the developers at the time were convinced they had a winner, and many onlookers are still convinced the proposal could have been a winner. The deal fell apart because KMG was acquired by Anadarko Energy who refused to honor the deal between the investors and KMG. SandRidge acquired the block and demolished the buildings to make way for a corporate plaza. These buildings, except for the Braniff Building which was lucky enough to already be on the historic register, are goners and lofts or mixed-use of any kind on this block will never have an opportunity to happen. I would chalk this one up to corruption at many junctions.

It appeared to be one of the turning points of downtown development when the Downtown Ford announced it was closing and was demolished. The land owners, Fred Hall and Bob Howard announced potentially ambitious plans to redevelop the large site into a huge mixed-use development. The Jones-Hall family has been involved in other deals, and was involved in the OCU deal that fell through, and Howard has been engaged in redevelopment of of Mid-town lately, so there is no doubt that the development wherewithal and resources were in place. The site could have possibly been the largest mixed-use downtown development to date. "It's no surprise, and it fits our long-term plans to develop that site into commercial retail and housing," remarked Hall, at the time. It was lauded as a success of MAPS spin-off. Why did the deal fell through? Because it got gobbled up by a MAPS subcommittee that insisted the convention center needed to go on THE most promising piece of real estate in all of OKC.

I'll make this my last one, and I think it's a big one. No matter how you slice it, The Triangle masterplan died. At a time when the possibilities for bubble-style downtown development appeared endless, the plan seemed fail-safe. A group of investors including Bert Belanger, Ron Bradshaw, among others, would team up to do a ton of development in a small area. However each one encountered difficulties selling units of their first project and then 2008 hit, and it became apparent that downtown development could not go forward purely driven by speculation on condo units. The group broke up, although they are still individually engaged in development in the "triangle" area, although hardly according to the original plan. And some new investors have popped up and added projects such as LEVEL and Aloft.

So, here you see a multitude of reasons. In every one of these cases, it is a shame that the development died, although this is not always the case--sometimes developments are bad and projects dying would be good. However, there HAS to be a way to meet over these kinds of things and compromise. Bad developments need input for improvement before they actually apply for the permit. Good developments need input to ensure their success. This goes both ways, the process shouldn't JUST be about putting pressure on bad projects. Furthermore, a lot of these reasons are preventable. Switching to a more sustainable economic model for real estate would have prevented a lot of the post-2008 development lethargy we were seeing until recently--the economy never stops, sometimes it contracts, and even that presents an opportunity (for more modest real estate deals). For instance, people still need housing when they can't afford a mortgage, which is why for-rent housing has thrived in the post-2008 economic climate. Capitalizing on that could have prevented a lot of these projects from collapsing. Also, a LOT of stuff is in limbo when we have these big-ticket items in limbo. Do you think somebody wants to build a mixed-use or housing investment when they aren't yet 100% certain where the streetcar route will go? Do you think somebody wants to invest in a huge hotel project without knowing where the new convention center and likewise, streetcar lines, will go? Of course not!

One thing that has been an absolute failure thus far is MAPS accounting for the spin-off development. It was one of the most persuasive reasons why we passed MAPS3. We wanted to buy into a vision for building a city, not just for building a single park or an isolated convention center. These things aren't being coordinated AT ALL. There is no single planning document that has more than one big-ticket public investment component in it. There are however millions of planning documents, district masterplans, streetcar route ideas, convention center proposals, and so on and so forth. Nobody is proposing that this stuff come together. Furthermore, a lot of the interests behind certain projects need to step down and realize that their project isn't the center of the universe. The end goal is spin-off development, not having a city built around a convention center. When you eat your most promising site for mixed-use development to put the convention center on it, you miss the mark. You can have your cake and eat it too. The convention center subcommittee needs to address the goals of downtown as a whole just as every other subcommittee needs to be concerned about it. Ignoring the big picture is setting us up for failure at a time that immense resources have opened up such an enormous opportunity.

Every MAPS3 subcommittee needs to be tasked with the exact goal, and it needs to be an overarching goal of what we as a city hope to create with this opportunity. Each subcommittee needs to be opening its meetings discussing this goal, whether it be attracting investment, or improving quality of life. There needs to be a singular vision shared by all. Right now what we have is a convention center subcommittee that has run amock with the process, stepping on other projects to make sure that at the very least the convention center gets done, and running completely contrary to the goal of MAPS.

These guys need to sit down and analyze universal MAPS goals. They need to ponder what they as a convention center subcommittee can do to improve quality of life and attract mixed-use development to downtown. I'll tell you one thing: You can do a LOT more to accomplish this than by eating the best real estate in the entire city for your convention center, which is going to happen anyway. That makes no sense whatsoever.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Oh really, Oklahoman?

The Oklahoman Editorial Board has called the convention center project the "crown jewel" of MAPS3. Oh really?

So this is not about livability or quality of life issues, I take it? Screw the streetcar, is basically what this means. There is no way to read what the Oklahoman spin-machine is churning out with this and not come to the conclusion that they are advocating to move the convention center up at the expense of the streetcar. Here are the reasons why the Oklahoman is egregiously WRONG.

1. The convention center means nothing to average people in OKC who will never interact with it, but will however be able to use the streetcar or visit the park as much as they like.

2. The streetcar was by far the issue that carried the ballot, whereas voters generally reacted quite unfavorably to the convention center--it alone would have failed by a huge margin if it weren't riding the streetcar to ballot victory.

3. Basically because the city just threw "the people" a bone with the streetcar and the park, those projects should at least come first.

4. You can build a city around a modern transit system and a central park. How do you build a city around a convention center? That's nuts. But by pushing it up in the schedule, or by giving the CC (convention center) the most important piece of real estate in OKC, we are basically trying to plan a city around a CC. That is insanely idiotic.

5. Talk about flat-out betraying the people, who thought they voted for a livability ballot that would have put parks, people, and transit first. Nope, it's all about the convention center apparently! And to think that the big wigs were going to throw the people a bone for once!

6. The streetcar project will be seriously endangered if it is pushed back. First of all, it is up against huge opposition even after it was passed on the ballot as a modern streetcar system--this gives its opponents more time to strip its funding for the CC. Secondly, the streetcar project can get us 6 miles of track if we do it now, with today's construction costs--in the future this is unlikely. Thirdly, and the biggest point, is that we would receive matching funds from the federal government that would potentially double what we can do, so by starting now we could possibly get 12 miles of track just for $120 Million. The CC however has $280 Million, which is a huge amount of money--AND there is no federal government matching funds program for convention centers. So from a strategic standpoint, which sounds better?

7. The investment attracted by the streetcar is not only likely greater than that attracted by the CC, but it's also real. The streetcar creates its own sphere of downtown--in streetcar cities, there is always an incredible real estate bubble within 3-4 blocks of the line. In Portland every $1 spent on streetcar was turned into $18 in real estate investment, a lot of which came from outside Portland. OKC real estate, a classic case of divestment, could use such an investment catalyst. Often the only real estate investment brought in by a convention center that can be directly traced, other than restaurants that receive customers sometimes, is a taxpayer-subsidized convention hotel. In other words, nothing to brag about for ROI (return on investment). Also, the economic development benefits of conventions is starting to come under fire--lots of research being done to prove that the projected convention visitor numbers are way too high. The reason--it's become a rat race with every city. The economic development figures that the MAPS3 subcommittees are using DO NOT factor in real estate investment, where streetcar is clearly huge, and do not factor in the fact that every other city in the U.S. is throwing tons of money at conventions as well.

8. All of the first few MAPS projects (MAPS1, and 4 Kids) had cost overruns that voters had to approve additional funding for. They just don't want the convention center last because they suspect voters would vote against additional funding just for a convention center. However, the streetcar project is highly expendable to them. Let that be the project that cost overruns will put in jeopardy, is their thinking. So essentially the people would get what they didn't want out of MAPS3, and not what they wanted more than anything, which was transit. That sounds equitable, right?

The Oklahoman editorial also throws around the word "Momentum." That's a difficult phrase to get past right now. How could you dare argue against the infallible "momentum" that we so cherish? It's a buzzword trump-card that they have going. But I'll tell you one thing: In the 60s during urban renewal, they made a lot of huge mistakes that they now regret in the name of "progress." But how could we possibly go up against the beating drum of "momentum," the word that we use today instead of "progress." Our voices of reason are being marginalized by dollar signs and delusions of people who want that damn convention center come hell or high water, as they say.

You thought you voted for a streetcar system, a park, an amazing riverfront, sidewalks, bicycle trails, and senior centers. WRONG. You voted for a convention center, first and foremost. Perhaps now we see the reason the council did not want to commit to a timeline before the votes were cast.

Or perhaps someone will come in and do the right thing and push back against these powerful convention center interests.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"C2S North" site chosen

The "Core2Shore North" site was just chosen for the new convention center. That is the former Bob Howard Downtown Ford dealership site that a few months ago was going to be the site of a huge mixed-use development.

So now we will have a convention center in between two parks.

Too weary to go into all of the reasons why this is a horrible site, for OKC that is, I mean it's great for the conventions... well actually, first we're going to have a big vacant lot between the two parks for ten years until we break ground on the CC. Unless they get to move the site up, in which case, we won't get as much mileage of streetcar track because of this decision. Or something else would be impacted.

There might be some interesting solutions that can alleviate the negative convention center impact we're about to add downtown. I'm more interested in pursuing that public debate than attempting to oppose yet another high-profile decision that was already made mostly behind closed doors.

The question NOT asked

It's funny that right now, the convention center subcommittee of the MAPS3 Committee is meeting and they are going to make a very big decision that will impact downtown and Oklahoma City for a long time to come, as they name the location of the new convention center, a Phase 1 investment of $280 Million (Phase 2 I believe will make it approach $400 M). But it's really funny because there's a really important question that was never asked at any point during this process, and is probably not going to be asked today.

What is the best convention center for the REST of OKC, that doesn't revolve around the convention center?? They never considered that a convention center could possibly be less than ideal for any of these sites. We have proper analysis based on what is good for the convention center and for the convention attendees, and tons of studies done on that, tons of debating was done, great questions were asked. But I contend that is 1% of what should have been considered.

The other 99% of the puzzle that they totally ignored or didn't care about was the rest of OKC that won't go into that convention center. They didn't consider what was best for the park. Best for Core2Shore. Best for downtown retail. Best for downtown housing. Best for downtown nightlife. Best for downtown in general. They looked at this solely from the perspective of what is best for conventions, and that's it.

So ladies and gentlemen, here you have it. The #1 priority of MAPS3 and for all of downtown, our entire downtown investment strategy, is based on conventions. For better or for worse, this is the concept that we are using as the basis for the future downtown. Let's just rename it the Convention Center District right now, because that's the most important thing.

If not, we would have considered other things. Hard to argue otherwise. Maybe they would have considered at some point where the convention center would have best fit into an overall downtown masterplan that puts all of these huge investments and projects into one plan. Why can't we do that?!?

Monday, May 9, 2011

Quick tour around Europe

Thought I would share some photos from a few of my trips thus far, just for those who enjoy the urban photography. Starting in the North...

Stockholm - fashionable, sophisticated, well-planned

Tallinn - charming, historic, modern, contrasting

Helsinki - poorly planned, functionalist, cold

Moscow - monstrously huge, bustling, monumental

Saint-Petersburg - beautiful, artsy, charming, classy

Next-up, Western Europe. Until next time, stay classy Okies.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The next big development

The announcement of the Union Bus Station's closing this week prompts a discussion about this block, and more specifically, the plans of a particular developer who has slowly been acquiring all of this block. So far, with the exception of 1 city-owned office building, and this bus station that is now closing, developer Nick Preftakes has been consolidating ownership of the block--a move which began right before the announcement of Devon Tower. Such timing has many in the community questioning to what extent Preftakes and Devon are privy to each other's plans.

The most-prime piece of downtown real estate
It seems obvious that a large development is going to occur soon. I have been wondering intently for the last 2 years what exactly is Preftakes' plan for this block. There are many reasons why this is now becoming the most prime piece of real estate in downtown. They are as follows:

1. The incredible remaining historic fabric of this block, which includes three historic mid-rise buildings, and many other smaller historic buildings that form a cohesive streetwall along both Main and Hudson.
2. The nearby $750 million investment of Devon across Hudson, including the Hudson Ave frontage which will include storefronts in the new Devon garage, the Devon auditorium, and a landscaped pocket park. Thousands of new employees.
3. The improvement of Sheridan Ave further west in Film Row, which used to be known as "Skid Row"
4. The rising prominence of the Arts District and the opportunity gap for more development in that district.
5. The overhaul of the Myriad Gardens to the immediate SE as a true, active space, and more than just botanical gardens. It will now contribute to the vibrancy and activity of downtown.
6. The new downtown elementary school proposed for the site immediately to the SW, this will serve as one of the primary anchors of the downtown residential community, particularly those more family-oriented future residents.
7. The Stage Center across the street, and the countless other arts amenities within a 2-3 minute walk.

It is clear that the redevelopment of the block needs to occur with someone who embraces all of these reasons for the block's importance, and more. You can't redevelop this block and oppose Devon Tower or the Myriad Gardens, just as you can't redevelop this block and not recognize its historic importance. Granted, no buildings on this block formerly served as a state capital, but it is significant in the sheer volume of historic fabric that remains mostly in-tact on this block. Anyone who doubts this, please find a block that has more in-tact historic fabric. These buildings are unique and have a huge amount of character, they provide an opportunity for a unique development.

By embracing the urban and gritty character, a developer could connect this block to the history of the city and to the people who make up downtown--a move which would ensure the success of a future development. Compare it to the local attachment of Bricktown. People like historic buildings, especially when it is "made" historically relevant. Bricktown, before it was "Bricktown," was just an old warehouse district, obviously nowhere near as historically relevant as everything else we've lost. But in having so little remaining built environment from the original city, we're willing to wholeheartedly embrace a looser definition of historic relevance, and that is why we now have the Bricktown historic district.

We should push for more "Bricktown" opportunities, and this could be one. The block's mid-rises, red-brick buildings of enormous quality, could make brilliant loft redevelopments. It would cost money, it would create revenue. Yes, it would involve a development deal, and making it work. The smaller buildings should be preserved, at the very least, the ones fronting Main and Hudson--these buildings fill gaps, provide invaluable character, and contribute to a cohesive streetwall--one of the things that make that stretch of Hudson and Main so attractive. The lower-rise buildings actually make perfect retail spaces--here you have a group of buildings that seems to be strategically positioned for retail, with consolidated ownership so that several retailers could come in and build necessary retail synergy,and lots of urban grit and style--the space in the former Carpenter Square Building (pictured) just screams "Urban Outfitters," whereas I could see the GAP locating in one of the Main Street storefronts. With plenty more room for other retailers, and the ability to add rooftops (housing) above, this is a great place to build mixed-use critical mass that is severely lacking downtown.

The point though is that this would be a different kind of historic district from Bricktown, which is what makes it a cool idea--this block has a decidedly more Art-Deco flair, and much denser, taller buildings. Not so much industrial, but more cosmopolitan, potentially. We don't have this kind of historically-preserved cluster in OKC--I would compare it to Washington Avenue in Downtown St. Louis, the Old Bank District in LA, or the Mercantile Bldg in Dallas. This can bring a new dimension to OKC. This could give us historic clusters of many unique flavors, with the gritty industrial vibe of Bricktown, the hey-day auto showcase vibe of Automobile Alley, and the Art-Deco cosmopolitan vibe that this block could showcase. Here, a developer could actually brand his development with its own district identity, although it should probably have an arts-based theme. This could be a huge boon to branding.

It is important that the Union Bus Station also be preserved. This is a building that could possibly make an awesome diner space. The awning next to the bus-loading area would make an awesome outdoor seating area overlooking the Myriad Gardens. The building, with its historic signage and its folksy Art-Deco architectural elements make it an awesome place to commemorate downtown nostalgia. This, if anywhere, would be a great place to open up a cool diner. It seems to be just the right size for that, too.

The question is, would Preftakes be more interested in historic preservation, or in new development? Well in the past, he's done both. Preftakes got started in the 90s, as one of downtown's very-first housing developers, with a loft project right off North Broadway. But should Preftakes be looking for brand-new revenue streams in this block, I would say there is room for new things, but in very confined spaces. The lower-rise storefronts could be added-onto, with new housing on top with staggered facades. It just depends exactly how much space is needed to make the project large enough for significant variations. In a smaller building you can't provide different price points, in a larger development that is more feasible. In the 3 mid-rise "towers" on the block, one could easily get 100 residential units, probably many more if they are smaller apartments. In the lower-rise storefronts there is room, depending whether the floors above will be connected and included in retail spaces (i.e., for larger retailers), you could presumably squeeze 100,000 to 200,000 sf of new retail space. That seems enough to get a retail critical mass going. As already discussed, the bus station is the perfect size and configuration for a new restaurant. In the middle there is currently a parking lot--the middle lot seems to be a good fit for structured parking that would even have about 100 feet of frontage on Walker--for ingress and egress. Along Sheridan, one building has already been demolished in the last year. The Lunch Box is presumably next. If new development space is necessary, here along Reno (between the bus station and the Hightower Bldg) is a very large lot that could make way for new development, across from the Stage Center. Here, a developer such as Preftakes could build whatever he wants, whether it be office, or an even larger concentration of residential--a use that would seem strategic given the nearby Devon Tower.

Please, no SandRidge!
But one thing is clear, the historic context of this block must be preserved. I would be okay with letting the Lunch Box go to consolidate some empty lots fronting Sheridan for new development. Actually, I would rather that one building have not been demolished, and I would rather see the Lunch Box either stay there or a cool new use for the building, but this is the extent of demolition that I'd be willing to see. I can see where it might make more sense from a development-financing standpoint to consolidate those lots. But one thing is clear, this block is primed to become one of the largest mixed-use developments that downtown has ever seen. The rumored involvement of a particular energy corporation across the street also brings intriguing possibilities. For one, I am excited that players with so much available capital are interested in doing things downtown. I look forward to seeing what comes next.

But, please, no SandRidge! We still have huge respect for Devon! We're talking about a name that could presumably have its way (as opposed to a particular wanna-be "energy giant" under the leadership of a strongly disliked personality), but here is hoping that "Devon's way" continues to be the best way for downtown.