MidTown’s Osler Building, empty since it was acquired by MidTown Renaissance Group in 2006, is set to reopen next year as the latest addition to the Ambassador Hotel chain.
Paul Coury, owner of Tulsa-based Ambassador Hotels, confirmed a closing on the property is set for December, with renovations to begin immediately after acquisition.
Coury, a boutique hotelier who previously owned and operated the Colcord Hotel at Robinson and Sheridan avenues, has long considered the seven-story Osler a prime candidate for conversion to a hotel.
“I had my eye on it for a while after I sold the Colcord (in 2008),” Coury said. “We were looking to have another presence in Oklahoma City. When state legislators decided they were going to review state tax credits, we put it on hold until we knew what the outcome would be.”
The Osler Building, 1200 N Walker Ave., was built in 1929 and was initially targeted for conversion to housing when it was gutted by Greg Banta, the lead partner of MidTown Renaissance until 2008.
Those plans were put on hold as the direction of the MidTown Renaissance development was refocused with more emphasis on obtaining tax credits and tax increment financing to assist in renovating older buildings into housing and retail.
Chris Fleming, a partner in MidTown Renaissance, said the Osler posed some challenges due to its tight u-shaped floor plans and column spacing.
“It sort of looks like a residential building, and we could fit residential inefficiently. But when you take the kitchen requirement out and go with hotel rooms, it works a lot better.”
Fleming said that his group was prepared to move forward with residential conversion, but welcomed the opportunity for “a higher and better use” that he believes will be better for the neighborhood.
When Coury bought and redeveloped the Colcord from office space in 2006, it was his second boutique hotel — a follow-up to his original Ambassador Hotel in Tulsa that opened in 1999. He sold the Colcord in 2008 to Devon Energy Center.
In the ensuing years, Coury has changed his business plan and is now seeking to brand each property as an Ambassador Hotel that includes self-operated restaurants instead of eateries managed by outside interests.
Coury opened the second property, the 43-room Ambassador Hotel Kansas City, after an $11 million renovation of the 96-year-old Grand Bank Building in Kansas City’s Power and Light District. Coury is planning a December opening for the 117-room Ambassador Hotel Wichita after completing a $22 million conversion of Wichita’s 14-story, 86-year-old Douglas Building.
Since first eyeing redevelopment of the Osler, the surrounding neighborhood has experienced significant redevelopment that includes the opening of shops and restaurants across the street with the Plaza Court and Walker Avenue Shops, and the conversion of a long-abandoned building at 1212 N Walker into sleek, modern apartments.
“To me, the area has got a lot of charm,” Coury said. “It reminds me a lot of Brookside or 15th Street in Tulsa where you have residential on one side of the street, and you transition to some retail on the other side, and then you see the central business district nearby.”
The Osler, like the original Ambassador Hotel, is a 1920s-era Art Deco structure with ornate brick and stone work on the facade.
He hopes to open the Osler as an Ambassador Hotel by late 2013. Plans call for a 54-room operation with a restaurant on the ground floor, a rooftop bar with small balcony, and a pool and courtyard on the east side of the building.
Stairway and elevator towers will be added to allow for better use of the building’s floor plates.
Without the survival of historic tax credits that some lawmakers targeted for elimination last year, Coury doubts the project could have proceeded.
“The cost to move the stair towers, replace the windows, add all new mechanical system and fix up these old structures adds a lot of burden,” Coury said. “Tax credits are really important to this project — we wouldn’t be doing it if the credits weren’t available. We believe they are a huge asset for development of communities like this. These older buildings create a more aesthetically pleasing appearance to an older area than anything you could do with new construction.”