Ben Sellers admits he didn't quite envision having such an easy time luring retailers to the first floor of the Mesta Park Building when he bought it a year ago.
“It was a bank-owned property,” Sellers said. “It was a good building, it has unique architecture. But it was half occupied. It was tired. It needed renovations.”
As NW 23 between Interstate 235 and Classen Boulevard — long known as Uptown — continues to revive, developers like Sellers are encountering a community ready to join in the area's renaissance.
For Sellers, the interest began with a contact by a local Realtor that led to brief discussions about leasing part of the first floor to a frozen yogurt shop. While that deal fell through, Sellers soon was being contacted by Reese Travis, chief executive officer of Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt, about leasing the spot to a new franchisee.
The building at 600 NW 23 is immediately west of the popular Big Truck Tacos and across from a new shopping center dubbed “The Rise” that is set to be developed this next year by Jonathan Russell and Land Run Commercial Real Estate.
“This is a great location for a new store,” Travis said. “I know the locals in that area are going to embrace the welcoming, vibrant and family-friendly environment Orange Leaf has to offer.”
Joshua Newberry and Ben Chamberlain, owners of the franchisee Dynamic Equity Group, said they saw the site as the next natural expansion for NW 23 retail.
Just last weekend they held a fundraiser for Wilson Elementary, which is within walking distance, and they have high hopes they will see traffic from the surrounding historic neighborhoods.
“I grew up in this area,” Chamberlain said. “We went to church at NW 13 and Robinson. We were always in and out of here. There are already successful businesses here — Good Egg Dining Group (owner of Cheever's and Tucker's) and Big Truck Tacos — they just need more of it.”
Newberry noted their search started in nearby MidTown, but the lack of immediately available storefronts led them to NW 23. It wasn't long after he and Chamberlain signed a lease with Sellers that Newberry persuaded friend Justin Price to look at the remaining space on the ground floor of the Mesta Park Building facing NW 23.
By that time, Sellers had added an extended patio that took advantage of the raised elevation and extra setback between the building and the street.
Price, like Newberry and Chamberlain, started his search for a new restaurant location in MidTown. As a fourth-generation operator of Jo's Pizza restaurants, Price wanted to open his newest restaurant in the urban core but had limited his search to MidTown and Bricktown.
After looking at the outside of the building, Price contacted Sellers and discovered the owner was just inside. The two started a discussion that quickly led to the remainder of the first floor getting leased.
The rest of the building redevelopment wasn't so easy. Sellers said he encountered several challenges with contractors, the installation of a passenger elevator and other improvements needed to update the building from it's 1970s appearance and function.
Both the new Orange Leaf shop, which opened earlier this month, and Pizza 23, which is set to open in early December, pay tribute to the area's history.
A mural of Uptown landmarks greets visitors when they first enter Orange Leaf, while patrons of Pizza 23 will be treated to large historic photos of the strip taken from the 1930s to 1960s.
With all the development under way along NW 23, the landmark Tower Theater that stands in the middle of the corridor remains empty. Marty Dillon bought the theater and surrounding retail buildings in 2005 thinking he could pull off a quick start of design and renovations.
Instead, Dillon has struggled to find financing for the project even with the prospect of the second floor office space becoming home to his family's business, Party Galaxy.
Dillon said Tuesday his latest plan is to renovate the building in phases, starting with renovation of the street level retail and office space first, and then developing the theater at a later time.
“It's been ridiculous,” Dillon said. “My main focus is running Party Galaxy. I've never had this much trouble getting something off the ground.”
With the upcoming redevelopment by Jonathan Russell and the work completed by Sellers and others, Dillion is hopeful that lenders will be more supportive of his efforts with the Tower Theater.
“There is so much more going on along NW 23 — there's more momentum and a lender will see that as a positive. Nobody wants to lend to a project when you're the only player down there. So this gives a lot more value to a lender.”