Jim Cowan has spent the past 16 years as a restaurant manager, owner and now director of the Bricktown Association watching growth spurts, controversies, success stories and failures in what is considered the top entertainment district in Oklahoma.
A lot has been said, written and speculated about the district's future — but what it doesn't have, Cowan says, is a current master plan. That may be about to change, however, as Oklahoma City negotiates a consulting contract with Robert Charles Lester & Co., a 41-year-old real estate advisory firm with offices in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Orlando, Fla. The Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday authorized city staff to begin negotiating a contract with the firm. "The last master plan was done in the early '90s,” Cowan said. "It is structurally useless. There were facets of it that the Bricktown Urban Design Committee uses today. But otherwise, there isn't that much else being used.” Oklahoma City Planning Director Russell Claus, who sat on the committee that selected Robert Charles Lester & Co., said he was impressed by the firm's staff and experience. The firm is one of the country's largest real estate consultants with projects that include the $1.2 billion transformation plan for Los Angeles' Grand Avenue district and master plans for the Camden Yards district in Baltimore and the Glorypark development in Arlington, Texas. Both Claus and Cowan agreed Bricktown is in jeopardy of having too many restaurants and bars — one of the many tasks ahead once a consulting contract is finalized. "Part of the intent of this plan is to try to seek some diversity here,” Claus said. "We have too many eggs in the same basket,” Claus said. "We want to appeal to a broader sector of the community.” Cowan noted that despite Bricktown's appearance of success, it's still half vacant.
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With Bricktown in foreground, the Oklahoma City skyline is pictured on a sunny March afternoon. By Jim Beckel, Oklahoman archive