Two downtown projects destined to reshape the skyline moved one step closer to construction starting with revised plans approved Wednesday for a new downtown elementary school and a garage that will include apartments and retail.
Both projects have gone through revisions in recent months as they went through multiple reviews by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, the Downtown Design Review Committee and other regulatory bodies.
New renderings created by TAP Architecture released at Wednesday’s Urban Renewal board meeting show an 830-space, 10-story garage rising above the Hightower Building, 105 N Hudson Ave., to the east and the city’s finance building, 100 N Walker, to the west. The garage is being built on a surface parking lot between the two buildings that is immediately south of City Hall.
With a request for development proposals for housing on the top three floors already out and drawing interest from potential developers, no further questions or concerns were voiced about the residential addition to the garage. But Urban Renewal commissioners reiterated concerns about plans for retail space on the garage’s first floor.
Urban Renewal Board Chairman Larry Nichols has repeatedly questioned whether retail on the garage’s first floor could be successfully developed.
The designs show a first floor facade consisting of glass and black marble that is inspired by the first floor retail arcade at nearby First National Center.
“If it fills up, great,” Nichols said. “But boarded up retail isn’t so great.”
Urban Renewal Director Cathy O’Connor said talks are under way with the city and the Central Oklahoma YMCA to open a fitness branch for municipal employees in half the garage’s first floor space.
She said city officials also have indicated they are interested in leasing the remaining space for meeting rooms if the garage does not attract retailers.
Board member Mark Beffort then warned that finish-out costs for the space could hit $80 a square foot.
Rick Cain, director of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, said funding is available to address such costs.
John Rex Elementary will be built at Sheridan and Walker.
Previous designs for the school, also by TAP Architecture (teamed with Cannon Design), drew concern from the Downtown Design Review Committee that the school’s facade was too institutional and didn’t fit in with the surrounding neighborhood.
The new designs, overseen by architect Kenneth B. Dennis, now reflect more of the Art Deco features of nearby buildings along W Sheridan Avenue (known as “Film Row”). Dennis said the design also is meant to serve as a transition between the taller, more densely developed Central Business District and the one-story and two-story buildings along Film Row.
The facade includes more windows and openings along Sheridan and Walker, Dennis said, and also includes an opening into the children’s play area from Sheridan Avenue.
Construction bids are scheduled to be sought for both the 10-story garage and John Rex Elementary School in January, with construction beginning in April. Both projects are planned for completion by mid-2014.