The Oklahoman’s Steve Lackmeyer fielded reader questions during his recent weekly OKC Central Live Chat. Each week, Steve hosts a live chat, giving readers a chance to ask questions about Oklahoma City development and growth as well as an opportunity to ask direct questions of OKC newsmakers like Mayor David Holt and Dan Straughan, the executive director of the Homeless Alliance. There won’t be a chat this week, but you can join Steve most Fridays at 10 a.m. to add your comments and questions about downtown development.
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The Hill in Deep Deuce is an example of tax increment financing not delivering what was promised
Q: What are your top three projects that were absolutely worth their TIF (tax increment financing) money and a few that you don’t think should have gotten it? My vote for the worthiness would be Wheeler, Skirvin and FNC. Not sure on the other.
A: Yep. I can agree with you on your top picks. When it comes to disappointments, the classic one was Las Rosas neighborhood in south Oklahoma City.
Back then it wasn’t uncommon for large TIF allocations to be paid out in advance and this was done for Las Rosas to get started with streets and infrastructure.
The neighborhood was started with the best of intentions. The late Tom Parish was trying to do a development that would benefit the southside urban core. Timing wasn’t great, however, as it was launched just prior to the Great Recession and the project was not completed, though Habitat for Humanity did take over where Parish left off.
The other one that comes to mind is The Hill in Deep Deuce. I’ve written about this before, how scientist Bill Canfield’s upscale housing development was chosen despite a lack of experience in real estate and a recommendation for a far-more experienced competing developer by a consultant hired by Urban Renewal to evaluate the proposals.
I have great respect for the late Urban Renewal commissioner Stanton Young but I will note he was likely biased in favor of Canfield due to their mutual interest in the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park and had great sway over the commission board.
As with Las Rosas, The Hill’s streets and infrastructure were built with TIF advances. But the development was never fully built, Urban Renewal finally cancelled the development contract, and so far no deal has been reached with a new potential developer, Andy Burnett, to finish the project.
Reconstruction of Classen Curve apartments not likely anytime soon
Q: Are they ever going to rebuild the Canton?
A: I have doubts. Construction costs have risen dramatically since the Canton was built the first time, you have a garage that may or may not be salvageable still standing, and an array of lawsuits are flying over whether OGE and its contractor caused the fire. Someday the numbers will make sense again, it’s still a great site for apartments.
Housing may be a possible reuse of empty buildings at Chesapeake Energy campus
Q: Is the Chesapeake campus mostly empty? What else could fill that space? I think those buildings would make a nice condo complex.
A: Chesapeake, with a greatly reduced workforce, is still headquartered at NW 63 and Western and some space is being leased to a state agency and an unrelated energy company. But there is still a lot of empty space, there are empty buildings and empty garages. I agree with you. Turn the old-style university-like buildings into housing and refocus office leasing on the more modern office-style buildings.
We’re seeing success with upscale housing being built nearby just west of Classen Curve. The campus has a daycare center, restaurants and a gym that were all once heavily used by the 4,900 people who once worked for the company and could be put back into use with an upscale apartment or condo development.
Why is Oklahoma City not “up with trees”?
Q: Why doesn’t Oklahoma City have an Up with Trees movement like Tulsa has? That would be a real benefit, especially since they say we have just experienced the coolest July we will ever have for the rest of our lives.
A: Part of the answer is climate-based, the other half is philanthropic focus. Tulsa (and a good chunk of east Oklahoma City and Edmond) are geographically in an area that is far more conducive for trees, plants and landscaping whereas north, south and west Oklahoma City was historically prairie land.
That’s not to say we can’t change that. Look at old photos of where Heritage Hills, Crown Heights and other green areas are located and early in our history they were pure prairie.
More recently we’ve seen a lot of success with greening up downtown. Think of the large old growth trees at the Myriad Gardens. They weren’t there when I was a kid. Think of the plantings along the Bricktown Canal. Drive Main Street and other streets redone as part of Project 180.
Let me add, much of this can be credited to the constant push for greening up our city by civic leader Jim Tolbert in his multiple roles as a longtime leader at the Myriad Gardens and as a board member at Urban Renewal.
When it comes to the philanthropic effort, I do see a lot more effort put into plantings in Tulsa. Of course it’s easier to do such plantings in Tulsa thanks to its climate and terrain. The Oklahoma City Community Foundation planted hundreds of trees along the Oklahoma River in celebration of its anniversary and has ongoing efforts to promote plantings.
The Tree Bank Foundation was started in 1987 with a similar mission and grew to include a statewide mission in 1992. Maybe that was a bit too ambitious. The foundation reported planting more than 224,000 trees before folding into Oklahoma City Beautiful last year. Such efforts require volunteers and funding. Maybe you can be a part of creating a greener future for the next generation.
Pasteur Apartments being built across from Lift Apartments one of several Midtown infill projects
Q: What is happening at NW 11 and Shartel? It seems to be a Midtown Renaissance project but I can’t find discussion about it anywhere. 72 new units I’ve heard?
A: The Pasteur Apartments is a project I’ve not written much about. The 78 micro-apartments are being built by Pasteur Building owner Rohan Gupta on what was a surface parking lot between Shartel and the Pasteur Building parking garage. Once completed, the four-story building, across from the Lift apartments, will create a great dense urban street.
With OGE Energy Center dead, future for Together Square is uncertain
Q: From your understanding, what is the long-term plan for the old OGE site west of Myriad? There was a proposal to build towers there years ago by Rainey Williams and we know how that ended up. If the new arena ends up getting built on the site of the old Cox Convention Center and the REHCO land developed by the Bob Howard, that suddenly becomes some of the most valuable land in downtown Oklahoma City.
A: I suspect OGE Energy Corp. will sell the land but not until it can be paid back what it spent buying the property and clearing the old Stage Center. Seven years have passed since the utility reported the towers were being put on “hold.” It wasn’t the first time OGE Energy Corp. abandoned plans for a new headquarters. I will refrain from saying anything else that might hint of what I think of what happened. But the idea of building two apartment towers and two office towers on the park is definitely dead and buried. For now it’s a nice pocket park with basketball and miniature soccer courts.
Hyatt likely to bring more business travelers to historic property
Q: 21c changing over to Hyatt. Thoughts?
A: With the additional of art collections from the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art the loss of 21c Museum Hotels and replacement with Hyatt and rebranding as the Fordson Hotel is a win due to the focus on business travelers. The attraction of 21c Museum Hotels was diminished when the boutique chain was sold to a global conglomerate. Oklahoma City won’t be the only market to end its association with the brand.
Airport area could be an ideal site for new county jail
Q: Good morning Steve! Read recently that the County is reopening the search for a location for the new County Jail. I’d favor one of the locations near the airport since I think it would have the least negative impact on an industrial area vs. a residential area. What are your thoughts?
A: The airport area is my pick. Placement of a jail can seriously alter value of existing and future residential development. The proposed jail location is in an industrial area and if the jail can be designed to where there is no sound or environmental impact from nearby air traffic, it simply makes good sense.
No start in sight for Strawberry Fields
Q: Any Strawberry Fields updates?
A: The lawsuit with some of the investors is ongoing. We’ve yet to see any more progress on the request for TIF money to pay for infrastructure. This development has been going on for years and while the property acquisition, consolidation and clearance is impressive, we’ve seen repeated promises of start dates come and go.
Who is an OKC Central Live Chat dream guest?
Q: Question for you and your readers: Who would you like to see as a guest on this chat?
A: Blair Humphreys, Brad Henry (RTA), and my dream guest, Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby. I can see getting Humphreys and Henry on board. I suspect getting Anoatubby as a guest would be akin to finding the Holy Grail. Of course, I plan on approaching all three over the next few months.
Jewel Theater fundraising ongoing
Q: I read the Mellon Foundation donated $1 million to restore the Jewel Theater. When will we see work on that started?
A: The project is not fully funded yet. Look for upcoming announcements about a documentary about the theater and a fundraising drive. The Jewel Theater is important historic landmark; it is the only surviving historic Black theater from when our city was segregated by Jim Crow laws.
The Oak unlikely to spark revitalization of 50 Penn Place mall
Q: Do you think The Oak might help to revitalize the retail levels of 50 Penn Place?
A: No. That mall structure simply doesn’t work in the 21st century when most malls are struggling just to stay open. We should keep an eye on Penn Square and pro-actively look at ways to make sure it isn’t hurt by The Oak.
One grocery chain could be a viable, popular addition to downtown Oklahoma City
Q: With the addition of the Boardwalk development and other things going on, when do you think a downtown grocery store would be viable? I am not talking about Homeland on 18th and Classen or 36th and Lincoln, something really downtown or Midtown.
A: Not anytime soon. The grocery store model has changed dramatically since Walmart approached multiple developers a dozen years ago. Delivery and curbside pick-up, and operations like Kroger and Jack Be diluted the demand for a physical grocery downtown and the margins for physical grocery stores are not great anyway.
I do think an Aldi in the right location would be a big success. There is a large gap in central Oklahoma City and these stores have a popular formula with their “aisle of shame,” unique selections and brands. Aldi also has proven products can be off-brand and high-quality.
Look at a map of Aldi locations and it shows a large core of the city without stores. Place a store in the Core to Shore area or along Broadway (make sure it has highway visibility) where it can attract central core residents and nearby historic neighborhoods and I predict it will be a success.
Conversion of 50 Penn Place into housing could be best response to Oak development
Q: What’s next for the OAK area? Do you think we are looking at Phase two starting before Phase one is completed? With the acquisition of Red Carpet, do you think they will push to also acquire 50 Penn Place and redo the whole retail area? I worked at Belle Isle back in the day and would love to see a resurgence of the mall area.
A: I spoke to developer Ryan McNeill a couple of weeks ago and he indicated we will see some more retail announcements soon. He is not indicating a pause in development. The hotel, apartments and garage are topping out and very visible now, and work has started on the Capital Grille, Restoration Hardware (now known as RH) and Arhaus. Red Carpet is continuing to lease its corner while planning is ongoing for what to do with the property.
If this happens, I really think 50 Penn Place would be foolish not to do a significant redevelopment. If I were them, I would turn the 16-story tower into upscale apartments. I would retain retail on the first floor of the mall. I would turn the top two levels of the three-story mall into amenities for the tenants – a fitness center, pickleball and basketball courts, work space and theater rooms. Think the Presley, but with a high rise. Dick Tanenbaum, this would be right up your alley!
I would then take the surface parking facing Pennsylvania Avenue and turn that into additional apartments, condominiums or retail to create a truly mixed-use dense development.
Gold Dome conversion into music venue still possible
Q: Anything happening with the Gold Dome? It has been sitting with a chain link fence around it for years now. Also, what will go where the old First Christian Church was on NW 36?
A: When I last checked the music venue deal was picking up new life after stalling for awhile. I am very hopeful we will hear good news soon.
As for the First Christian Church, I’m hearing nothing. Only the corner is zoned for commercial development, the majority of the land is zoned for single family residential.
Any developer who thinks they will be able to buy all this land and get it rezoned will, I predict, be sorely disappointed. They will find very few friends among neighboring residents, preservationists and at City Hall who were very disappointed the church chose to demolish the structure after promising through their attorney no such plans were underway when they started removing asbestos.
Neighbors of former church site probably wish for new neighbors
Q: What development do you think would happen here that the surrounding neighborhoods would like? Retail would bring more traffic, small scale housing would bring housing prices down, industrial would bring riff-raff to it. What is the solution? Another church?
A: Single family housing and a church.
Q: I’ve heard rumors of a new “Master Plan” for the JFK neighborhood, east of Page Woodson. Any news on this or timeline for Washington Park MAPS upgrades?
A: The plan is not done yet, but it is exciting to see the momentum taking place and to know great care is being taken to ensure we won’t see this result in gentrification and uprooting of this historically Black community.
South of 8th is an organized effort being coordinated by Open Design Collective in conjunction with the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority. I reported earlier this year Open Design Collective successfully applied for a $1 million grant to renovate and preserve the Jewel Theater on NE 4, the last surviving historic Black theater in the city. We also have development, with some retail, about to extend to NE 4 as part of the final phase of construction at Page Woodson.
MAPS 4, meanwhile, includes funding to turn what was once a YMCA branch during the Jim Crow era into the Foster Center for Northeast Small Business Development and Entrepreneurship. The master plan has a lot going for it already. I can’t wait to see the final product.
Arena campaign will not be named “MAPS 5”
Q: If we vote for a new Thunder stadium to be built using MAPS 4 taxes, wouldn’t it make that essentially MAPS 5? It feels disingenuous to vote for MAPS 5 when nothing has been completed in MAPS 4.
A: I’ve already had some discussions with Mayor David Holt about this. We’ve had challenges in the past when it came to branding of the temporary one-cent sales tax that is typically used for MAPS initiatives.
The mayor will remind you that there was a six month gap between MAPS and MAPS for Kids, and that after MAPS for Kids, voters agreed to approve a shorter term sales tax to fund improvements to arena as part of the Thunder playing in Oklahoma City. That tax, as I recall, was called “Major League City,” not a MAPS brand.
MAPS 3 was passed next.
Voters were asked to start a short-term temporary sales tax to follow MAPS 3 to launch a major improvement to streets, bridges and infrastructure and improve funding and pay for capital needs related to public safety.
Our former city hall reporter, Bill Crum (he has since retired), drove Holt crazy calling this initiative MAPS for streets. Eventually the campaign was branded “Better Streets, Safer City.” But let’s be real – the tax really was a MAPS for streets in spirit if not name.
Now we are in the still early stages of MAPS 4. MAPS 4 is very different from its predecessors in that it addresses social issues in addition to capital needs. The tax, which began April 1, 2020, is expected to raise $1.1 billion and will end in 2028.
We’re seeing the new coliseum being built at the fairgrounds, and we’re about to see a lot more projects starting up this next year, including the Diversion Hub just west of downtown. What Holt is proposing with the arena tax is somewhat unprecedented in that he is indicating voters will be asked to approve a tax to begin when MAPS 4 ends in 2028. This is an ask far in advance of when the current tax is set to expire.
We initially reported this as a potential extension of the MAPS 4 tax. Holt expressed concern over that language, saying this won’t be a MAPS tax. When you hear him say that, he is suggesting it will be under a different branding. It will also be different in that it almost certainly will involve some sort of debt to get work started sooner rather than later. Pay as you go could delay construction for a decade or longer. We will learn more, I think, next month.
Steve Lackmeyer started at The Oklahoman in 1990. He is an award-winning reporter, columnist and author who covers downtown Oklahoma City, urban development, transportation and economics for The Oklahoman. Contact him at email@example.com. Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a subscription today at subscribe.oklahoman.com.