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Office market thriving in downtown Oklahoma City, observers say

BY STEVE LACKMEYER Published: July 17, 2011

After going through the scare of losing a major corporate anchor like Kerr-McGee Corp., downtown Oklahoma City is set to witness the biggest convergence of energy companies since the oil boom of the early 1980s.

Downtown observers, however, are predicting a different outcome this time around compared to the crash that ensued in 1983, which saw the collapse of hundreds of small petroleum firms and the emptying of one office building after another.

Larry Nichols, executive chairman of Devon Energy Corp., is enjoying witnessing a complete reversal of fortune for downtown now that his company's neighborhood has grown to include SandRidge Energy Inc., which took over the Kerr-McGee campus. They soon will be joined by Continental Resources Inc. and Enogex, an OGE Corp. subsidiary. Combined, the companies ultimately will add almost 1,000 people to the downtown workforce.

Influx of companies

Nichols predicted the influx of new companies when his company announced three years ago it would build a new 50-story downtown headquarters, and he's looking forward to how the addition of new neighbors will boost downtown's future.

“Critical mass is essential for any city to survive and prosper,” Nichols said. “These companies help create a critical mass, and the more large companies that gather downtown, the easier it is to attract employees.”

Tom Ward, chief executive officer at SandRidge, has spent the past two years overseeing a transformation of his company's new headquarters that included the clearance of several empty older buildings, renovation of the historic Braniff Building into offices and retail, and construction of a new amenities building at 120 Robert S. Kerr Ave. that will include restaurants, a fitness center, daycare and meeting rooms.

In recent weeks, Ward has said his company likely will build yet another office building at Robert S. Kerr and Broadway within the next few years.

The pending arrival of Continental and Enogex is welcomed as yet another confirmation that SandRidge made the right choice in locating downtown, Ward said.

“We are very pleased to see the continuing theme of major Oklahoma companies choosing to relocate in downtown Oklahoma City,” Ward said. “The addition of another 1,000 employees will encourage further investment in the retail market — restaurants, shopping — and will continue to increase the vibrancy of the downtown core.”

Healthy convergence

Mark Beffort, a partner in the group led by Roy Oliver that owns Leadership Square, City Place, Oklahoma and Corporate Towers, is forecasting a Class A/Class B market downtown that will be the best in 30 years.

It's also the healthiest convergence of energy companies located downtown in that time frame as well.

But could history repeat itself?

Oklahoma City's office vacancy downtown was listed at “zero” in 1980 by Spaulding and Slye commercial realtors.

That was at the height of the oil boom. What followed a couple years later was a crash in the energy industry that emptied downtown office towers and left a brand new speculative office building, Leadership Square, desperately searching for tenants.

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