Business Writer Steve Lackmeyer fielded a variety of questions about downtown developments during his regular Friday morning chat on NewsOK.com. This is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: What are the three biggest surprises you predict for Oklahoma City development in 2013?
Steve Lackmeyer: You guys are getting more and more clever. So how do I answer this without giving away the surprises that are not yet quite ready for prime time? OK, here goes.
There will likely be a downtown announcement that for me, personally, will be very profound, a very joyful moment. Cool businesses are coming downtown ... and development interest is far more heated than people realize.
Q: When will we know something about new towers downtown?
Lackmeyer: I know it seems as if the wait is going forever, but I've heard nothing to change what I've said in the past ... deals are in motion.
Q: In regards to the convention center, why was the Cox Business Center not renovated to near the degree that they are saying they need now. Was that just a band aid? Anything they are saying they need for the future will probably turn out just like what we have now. Especially for a dying industry. Any thoughts?
LACKMEYER: Structurally, the Cox Center was, and is still, a mess. You are correct — the original MAPS project envisioned a lot more of a renovation and expansion.
But the price of that plan skyrocketed due to the complexities posed by the underground parking, structural loading, etc. Quite frankly, the site doesn't work. As for the convention business being a dying industry, I don't think even its harshest critics allege that's the case.
Q: Are you excited about Midtown Renaissance Group's purchase of the property in MidTown you wrote about? Do you think we see something mixed use on this site, or an entire block development similar to the Edge?
LACKMEYER: Bob Howard, Mickey Clagg and Chris Fleming have had great success with MidTown housing to date. It's not unthinkable that they might endeavor a bigger housing development on NW 10 and Hudson.
Q: Native Roots is currently the only grocer in the downtown area. Are any other grocers planning on opening in that area? Possibly a Trader Joe's? I had seen in the paper last week that there might be interest from them in an Oklahoma City location.
LACKMEYER: I think it's possible we could see Trader Joe's locate in the urban core, but not so certain it would be in the heart of downtown.
Q: What's your opinion on the proposed streetcar route?
LACKMEYER: I've seen a lot of debate and consideration go into the proposed route, (and) it seems to serve quite a bit of the high density sections of downtown, but also passes along some great undeveloped sites as well.
I question whether Oklahoma City fully appreciates how much operation and maintenance will cost, and I wonder if residents understand the MAPS 3 campaign and ballot made no such provisions for operation and maintenance of the streetcar system, the new park, the new convention center or the wellness centers. Far less consideration went into such matters than was evidenced in the original MAPS initiative.
Q: Besides the restaurants that have opened recently, like Kitchen 324, can we expect any new restaurants in the downtown area in 2013?
LACKMEYER: Yep. The popular Cow-Calf Cafe in Edmond is opening up a second location in the Park Harvey Building.
Q: What are some short-term things that have you excited that you can actually share with us?
LACKMEYER: The skyline in Bricktown is about to change far more dramatically than people may realize. Picture it with three to four new six- to 10-story hotels built up along the east end around the Hampton Inn.
Picture the proposed Holiday Inn Express on Main Street.
Picture the Stewart Metal Fabricators site built up as mixed-use housing and retail. This sort of development should secure Bricktown's long-term future and spare it the fate that befell the West End in Dallas. Deep Deuce and MidTown, meanwhile, are in a race to become truly wonderful mixed-use urban neighborhoods.
Q: Can we expect any new retail development in the downtown area?
LACKMEYER: We've seen quite a bit of small shop expansion already, and I'll update that soon. I think we'll see a continued influx of small shops in and around Automobile Alley.
Q: Steve, what would you say was your biggest disappointment of 2012?
LACKMEYER: I think many downtown would say they were very disappointed to see First National Center remain in control of mysterious, out-of-state ownership.
Q: Can we expect Film Row to really get rolling now that Chip Fudge's companies are moving in?
A: Yep. Film Row is about to get very, very cool.