Reporter Steve Lackmeyer answered questions from readers Friday during his weekly chat about downtown Oklahoma City developments.Read the entire chat recap here.
Topics discussed include: funding for the convention center hotel, what's in store for the First National Center property, when the city will add another skyscraper, new developments south of the river and making Oklahoma City more bikeable and walkable.
On making the city more bicycle friendly and walkable:
I do think Oklahoma City is being sincere in its efforts to promote more bicycling. Project 180, when completed, will provide dedicated bike lanes throughout downtown. The bikeshare program is, from what I've seen, a big success even on 114-degree days. MAPS 3 includes significant completion of the city-wide trails system. Bike racks are set up throughout downtown. As for making the city "walkable" - I sense that it's still a tough concept for city engineers to grasp the change in thinking required to sincerely pursue such a goal. And keep in mind, City Hall leadership is dominated by engineers.
On Capitol Hill and Stockyards development:
The Stockyards are coming along nicely. I'd say the river and stockyards are the biggest winners to come out of the opening of the new Interstate 40. Capitol Hill has incredible potential - but I'm still not seeing the spark or catalyst need to put it in a much deserved equal footing with Film Row, MidTown the Plaza District and Automobile Alley.
On funding for the convention center hotel:
My sources are telling me the city may have identified sources of public funding for subsides expected to go with a hotel that won't involve tapping into existing tax revenues. I am not sure how that is possible, so we will just have to wait and see. The city is doing final interviews for the convention center and is negotiating to buy the parking lots south of the Myriad Gardens for this project.
On the future of First National Center:
To steal from a bit of classic literature, it may be the best of times, it may be the worst of times for First National Center. If one entity buys the entire First National Center and converts the new annex buildings into parking, then yes, it's a bright future for the landmark. But if an entity is planning to just buy the annex buildings and convert them into parking, and leave the historic iconic tower in the current ownership of a man facing up to 10 years in prison for embezzlement in Arizona, then I know of a lot of key decision makers downtown who say this deal is disastrous. And if it's structured this way, the buyer and broker on the annex buildings won't be very popular in some circles.
Keep in mind, First National Center once had attached parking. Over a dozen years ago, when I was still somewhat of a pup reporter, former owners with Irish Realty donated the office buildings to Feed the Children and kept ownership of the cash cow, the Main Street Parking Garage. That deal is seen by many as one of the actions that have kept First National from making a comeback.
On when another downtown skyscraper/tower will be built:
Within the next five years. Maybe sooner.
Rick Dowell has had a mid-rise residential tower in his master plan for the past decade. It's also true that he's the slow but steady turtle in this discussion. He reverse finances his development - a brilliant move that allows for him to proceed with very little risk or vulnerability to economic ups and downs. He's proceeding with construction of the garage extension on Walker Avenue, and then he'll likely finish Dowell Center, the former Midland Mortgage Building on Robinson Avenue, in the next two to five years. With reverse financing on those projects ... yeah, he'll likely have the money to build the residential tower.