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OKC Central Chat transcript, April 19, 2013

The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer took questions from readers in today's OKC Central Live Chat. You can join Steve's Q&A's on Fridays at 10 a.m. and submit your questions about the happenings in and around downtown Oklahoma City.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: April 19, 2013 at 1:17 pm •  Published: April 19, 2013

The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer took questions from readers in today's OKC Central Live Chat. You can join Steve's Q&A's on Fridays at 10 a.m. and submit your questions about the happenings in and around downtown Oklahoma City. Below is an unedited transcript of the chat.

Steve Lackmeyer 10:02 a.m. It's a beautiful morning in Oklahoma City.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:02 a.m. Let's get started, shall we?
Gary T 10:02 a.m. Good morning Steve! In order for people to want to use sidwalks, they have to feel safe walking and I usually don't feel safe walking in a lot of areas, not because of the neighborhood, but because of the closeness of the sidewalks to the street. I always felt safe walking in NYC, Chicago, Charleston, London or Paris because most of the sidewalks had streetside parking as a buffer between the 10 foot sidewalk and the cars traveling at 30-40mph. Now I see that the city is putting in new sidewalks on the south side of 23rd street, just west of Villa but once again, they are butting right up against the street. Is this how all of it is going to be for the sidewalks portion of MAPS 3? Is there any hope to get them pushed back away from the street?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:04 a.m. Oh gosh.... not to be repetitive, but once again, we're dealing with engineers and not planners calling the shots. If this is a concern, I urge you to contact your city council person. Is this how all the MAPS 3 sidewalks are to be done? I don't know.
Gary T 10:04 a.m. When can we expect the Guernsey Park Restaurant behind Cuppies and Joe to open?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:05 a.m. I know that the renovation of the space pretty far along, but I'm not privy to an opening date for the restaurant.
Ray 10:05 a.m. Did you get any great scoops from the people on the trip to KC?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:06 a.m. I'd say I gained a better understanding of the people on the trip, their ideas, their ambitions for our city, how they think. I also learned a lot about Kansas City's influence on Oklahoma City and what we can still learn from our neighbor to the north.
Ray 10:06 a.m. Is there going to be a city run parking garage in Bricktown soon?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:06 a.m. It's very possible. Discussions are ongoing.
Gary T 10:06 a.m. What updates are you working on for the next couple of weeks?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:07 a.m. Stuff I don't want my competition at the Journal Record and the Gazette to know about at this time!
Gary T 10:07 a.m. With the Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites hitting its max height and all the buildings cleared for the Brooks/Burnett project, East Bricktown is really starting to get going. Can you tell us more about what might happen on the south side of Sheridan between, Joe Carter and Lincoln?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:09 a.m. We know that part of the property has been purchased for a couple million dollars by the owners of the Wormy Dog Saloon, which is widely considered to be one of Bricktown's leading live music venues. Expect them to develop their property into a greatly enhanced live music and entertainment complex. As for the southeastern portion, it was bought by an individual who planned to build hotels on the site, but I am seeing no evidence that this development is progressing.
Gary T 10:09 a.m. Apparently the old white house to east of the Clark Building in Deep Deuce has filed a demolition permit to have it torn down. Any idea what is going to be done there?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:10 a.m. Yes. The owners plan to turn the lot into parking in the interim but say their ultimate goal is to develop the site.
Gary T 10:10 a.m. What are the plans for the building facing Walnut butting up against the railroad tracks south of Aloft? It looks like it is a little over 2,000 square feet. Could be a good place for a small restaurant/bar? When I brought it up on, some readers thought it would be a great place for a daycare with the growing population downtown.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:12 a.m. It's a great little building that has stood empty for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any cooperation between the property's owner and the developer of the new Aloft Hotel to the north and access to the building will be greatly hampered by the new development. I suspect the only viable use for the property now is either as a home or an office that doesn't need a lot of public access. Or, maybe, a coffee shop that can exist off of walk up traffic.
Ray 10:12 a.m. What is the deal with the UHaul Building in Bricktown?
10:14 a.m.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:14 a.m. There's a beautiful building hiding under that aluminum siding.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:16 a.m. I've been inside the building. The casement windows are intact. The wood floors are intact. This building could easily be adapted and restored to its original appearance. Developers have attempted deals on numerous occasions. So far, the U-Haul folks have not been willing, for whatever reason, to make it happen.
Ray 10:16 a.m. Is the Dowell Center Tower leased or empty? What is the status of that building?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:20 a.m. Rick Dowell moves at his own pace. He gets his projects finished, but it's on his timeline. To his credit, he took a building that would have remained hopeless under other ownership and cleaned up a lot of problems. Dowell Center, which was previously known as the Midland Mortgage building and also was once home to Kerr-McGee, is actually two buildings combined into one. The west half was originally known as the Petroleum Building:
10:20 a.m.
The Petroleum Building
Steve Lackmeyer 10:21 a.m. Kerr-McGee bought the building in 1963 and converted it into its second corporate home the following year. The conversion into the Kermac Building would include adding a matching 20-story tower to the east, removing the original building's Art Deco facade, and completing it with what was then described as the most modern design of its time.
10:22 a.m.
Kerr-McGee expanded the Petroleum Building to the east.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:22 a.m. The building then took on its current appearance:
10:23 a.m.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:24 a.m. In terms of 1960s architecture in downtown Oklahoma City, this was and remains one of the better developments in context of what was built here during that time period. It still has some stunning space on the top floor. But....
Steve Lackmeyer 10:27 a.m. The overhaul also would lead to the tower's ultimate demise; Kerr-McGee built the east side of the tower on a long-term ground lease, and covered the new steel addition with asbestos.
The building was sold again to Midland Mortgage, which renamed the tower Midland Center. In 1986, the tower was still full so much so that managers later said, "We were literally renting janitorial closet space." That year the building was sold again to Prudential Reality. But two years later, with the economy faltering, occupancy was down to 50 percent. The property, still anchored by Midland Mortgage, was sold to Texas investors. With asbestos declared a threat to public health, the building value was dropped from $7.2 million to $2.5 million in 1988. Midland moved to the suburbs in 1990, and two years later owners closed the tower and abandoned it, letting it go to auction for back taxes. Even as it was being abandoned, it still had 40 percent occupancy with a clothing store on the first two floors.
So we could have ended up with an out-of-state slumlord buying it, sitting on it like we've seen in downtown Tulsa and creating an eyesore. But, in my observation, we got lucky. Rick Dowell, quirky, risk taking, and very smart, bought it and took on the challenge of cleaning up the asbestos, fixing the title challenges, and creating a property ideal for redevelopment.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:28 a.m. We may be thankful in the end that Dowell has taken his time finishing this project. He was looking at reopening it as office space. But maybe, just maybe, he'll eventually see that it could be far more successful as housing - which could be a game changer for the central business district.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:28 a.m. How's that for a long live chat answer?
Ray 10:28 a.m. Have you heard of any new homes being built in the SOSA/Cottage District of Midtown? I noticed many of the older homes have been destroyed and are not grassy lots.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:29 a.m. Yep. Several older homes are being cleared for more modern style houses. I'll do an update soon.
Nick 10:29 a.m. Morning, Steve! When are we going to hear about Midtown Renaissance's next project (maybe 10th St.)?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:29 a.m. I'd like to get the story today!
BethanySooner 10:29 a.m. Steve, what was the most significant thing that your group learned from the Kansas City excursion? Anything that they were excited about implementing here in OKC?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:31 a.m. They were very, very concerned about the plans pushed by the MAPS 3 transit subcommittee and its consultant to have a rail couplet on Robinson and Broadway instead of just one direct line. I also, for the first time, have a good grasp on the difference between bus rapid transit and regular bus transit. I was also reminded just how shockingly bad our public transit system is.
BethanySooner 10:31 a.m. The article about 6k jobs exiting the urban core was shocking, but I'm skeptical. I would want to see the actual list of businesses with the employee numbers before I'm buying that. Have you seen the details for this report?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:34 a.m. Yes. I've read the report. It's based on census data. I'm going to be blunt - I do not believe, at all, that downtown lost 6,000 jobs between 2000 and 2010. Kerr-McGee was the only big loss for downtown, and they only employed a few hundred people. I'm not a big fan of rankings, national studies, for this very reason. It's very difficult for me to do a story on that report when in my heart I know there's something wrong with that study. I know downtown Oklahoma City, I've covered it this entire time. We DID NOT lose 6,000 jobs downtown.
BethanySooner 10:34 a.m. Other than restraunts, it seems like it has been awhile since we have heard any major announcements from developers. Are there several in the que that are about to made known to the public, and if so, in what districts?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:35 a.m. We will see more housing in MidTown and Deep Deuce. We will see some more attractions in Bricktown. We will see, potentially, more housing in the Central Business District. And we will see more retail along Automobile Alley.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:36 a.m. Nick, I'm looking into the questions you've asked.
Nick 10:36 a.m. Is the Journal Record building proposal going to happen?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:37 a.m. I'm sensing great hesitation on behalf of the city to do the deal; they seem to think they can get a better offer. I hope to have an update soon.
Pat 10:37 a.m. Hi Steve, SC ? Are you still not worried ?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:37 a.m. I am not worried.
Nick 10:37 a.m. What's the latest on the Embassy Suites for the HSC? Are we going to get some changes to the site plan?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:38 a.m. It looks like construction may finally start on the Embassy Suites in the Oklahoma Health Center this summer. But there may still be some design tweaks requested by the Urban Renewal Authority.
Nick 10:38 a.m. Also, are you hearing any more about the location of the GE Oil and Gas Research Center?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:38 a.m. Talk on the street, and take this as just that, is that the University of Oklahoma in Norman may have an edge on getting this project.
BethanySooner 10:39 a.m. It seems like just last fall we were looking at the possibility of a Mystery tower, Sandridge tower, Devon II tower, Continetal Resources tower, a Rick Dowell housing tower, and a Convention Center Hotel tower. With everything that has transpired in the past few months, other than Sandridge do you feel that these are realistically still in play? (and my apologies for mentioning the word TOWER so many times)
Steve Lackmeyer 10:41 a.m. I still say a second Devon tower, a convention hotel tower and a Dowell mid-rise apartment building are all very possible. I'm not sure I've ever said publicly a Continental Resources tower was likely, though it's certainly possible at some point. There are other names in the mix as well. The only thing I doubt will happen now is the previously announced SandRidge building at Broadway and Robert S. Kerr Avenue.
Nick 10:41 a.m. What do you make of the news that SandRidge is likely to be sold?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:41 a.m. I'm worried.
Nick 10:42 a.m. And what do you think of Aubrey's new ventures? Can he and Tom Ward save SandRidge together or has that bridge been burned by the open invitation Aubrey gave to Reuters?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:43 a.m. Oh, I don't know. Tom Ward clearly still has high regard for Aubrey McClendon as evidenced by a letter to the editor he had published not long ago in The Oklahoman. As for McClendon, he's already fast at work building up a new company - read about it in Brianna Bailey's story at NewsOK.
Gary T 10:43 a.m. What are your thoughts on the Sunbeam Family Services building that is going to be built on Classen between 13th and 14th?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:43 a.m. Sunbeam is a great organization doing a lot to help kids in distress.
Gary T 10:43 a.m. Is there any hope for development of the old Rainbow Record store on 23rd and Classen and the buildings to the north and west of it? The Asian district to the north is doing great with the streetscaping and overall building. 23rd Street has come a long way in the last 10-15 years when that was an actual record store.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:44 a.m. It sure would be nice. But there isn't a lot of parking for the property.
Nick 10:44 a.m. Do you see housing eventually spilling east from Midtown and north from Deep Deuce to converge in Automobile Alley? That area would be really awesome with an influx of residents. Speaking of, is the city progressing on a quiet zone?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:45 a.m. I believe, if the current trend continues, MidTown, Automobile Alley and Deep Deuce will seamlessly flow together with one continuous mix of housing, retail, restaurants, hotels and offices. I'll have an update on the quiet zone next week.
Nick 10:45 a.m. I heard the Bomasada people were back in OKC a few days ago. Anything on that front you can share?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:45 a.m. They're looking.
Guest 10:48 a.m. Steve - Pretty sloppy "blog entry" regarding the 9:03 recovery. It was a Penske rental not a U-Haul
Steve Lackmeyer 10:48 a.m. Actually, it was a Ryder truck.
Nick 10:48 a.m. Do you have your 8 ball for the Mystery Tower questions? I kid, I kid!
Steve Lackmeyer 10:49 a.m. The 8-ball warns I should be prepared for pot shots from anonymous guest accounts logging into the chat this morning.
Guest 10:49 a.m. Hi Steve. Are there any plans for an urban wilderness area in OKC? The kind with dirt trails like Turkey Mountain? Even off the Oklahoma River would be ok with me. I like Draper and Martin Park but something centrally located would be pretty nice.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:50 a.m. Anything is possible along the Oklahoma River. That's an intriguing idea.
Nick 10:50 a.m. There appears to be some sort of work going on on the south side of St. Anthony hospital. Any ideas what it is?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:50 a.m. Yep. They're starting work on the $53 million expansion that will include structured parking and a new ICU and Emergency Room.
Nick 10:50 a.m. The east Bricktown project is going to be a game changer if designed well. The site already looks so much different with all the metal buildings gone.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:51 a.m. I agree.
Guest 10:51 a.m. Hey Steve! Thanks for all you do! It seems like a few years back when the Devon garage was built, there was space along Hudson that could be used for retail/ restaurant. Is that not the case, or is there a plan for future business there?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:52 a.m. Those retail spaces were pretty much forced on Devon by the Downtown Design Review Committee. Will we see them actually leased out? I don't know.
ABD 10:52 a.m. Morning steve! Hate to complain to you, but I am not feeling the lot, or should I say lake, at the corner of NW 10th and Hudson. Very odd the way they grated that land there. If I am not mistaken, this is owned by MidtownR, correct? They generally take much better care of their properties than this. Know of any plans for this?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:53 a.m. Yes, the land is owned by MidTown Renaissance Group and I too am surprised by the condition of the site. I can't imagine a pool of sitting water that could become a breeding ground for mosquitoes will be welcome by residents of the nearby apartments developed by the same owners.
Nick 10:53 a.m. There were some surveyors at the OUHSC doing some sort of work a couple weeks back. Are you aware of anything being built on campus?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:54 a.m. Was the surveying along NE 8? If so, that may be for the Embassy Suites hotel.
Guest 10:54 a.m. Any more news on the old jail house on the east side of Shartel?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:54 a.m. The debate continues behind the scenes at City Hall. The police want it gone. Planning wants to see it redeveloped.
Nick 10:54 a.m. There have been a couple of for sale signs posted in Bricktown lately. Are they selling the lots or the buildings or both?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:55 a.m. I'm not aware of what properties you're referring to...
Nick 10:55 a.m. Why isn't someone buying and developing the corner lot that Chris Johnson owns, right across from the ballpark? Is his asking price outrageous?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:56 a.m. I guess now you've answered my question. I'm not sure Chris Johnson knows what he's going to do yet. That is very pricey dirt due to what Johnson, and folks before him, paid for it.
S. 10:56 a.m. When can we see more safe parking available for the area of NW 16th and Blackwelder?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:57 a.m. The Plaza District is aware that parking has become an issue. They recently experimented with rickshaws to help ease the situation.
Will 10:57 a.m. The Dowell Center is another old building with a historic past but sadly can never look like it once did.
Nick 10:58 a.m. Is there any way Dowell could redo the exterior to like it was originally?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:58 a.m. Nope. That original facade is long gone.
Will 10:58 a.m. You must be in a history mood eh Steve? :)
Steve Lackmeyer 10:59 a.m. On weeks like this.... yeah, I'll admit, I'm looking for an escape from the present. Too much death, suffering and tragedy ....
Okie 10:59 a.m. Any thoughts, hints, lessons you heard from KC about their street car for OKC?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:59 a.m. As I said earlier, they are at odds with how we're implementing our system.
Elise 10:59 a.m. Even if some of the architectual details are sort of odd, I am grateful to Mr. Dowell for what has transpired around 4th and Walker. He has done a good job moving the development of downtown to the west.
Guest 10:59 a.m. Did u get a chance to see the effects of Googles high speed fiber network while in KC? Google recently announced a similar buildout out in Austin, and OKC sits directly in between the two cities. Potential opportunity for OKC?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:00 a.m. I asked about it. The feedback I received is it's pretty early in the game to know exactly how it's going to impact Kansas City. Speculation was that the Google fiber system will boost Kansas City's profile as a hub for creative firms and start-ups.
Nick 11:00 a.m. The city might be getting greedy if they think they can get a better offer...
Steve Lackmeyer 11:01 a.m. On the Journal Record building. Yeah.... that's a concern among some.
Elise 11:01 a.m. Oh, sorry. I didn't put my name on the question about the urban wilderness. Or the old jailhouse It was me, Elise.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:01 a.m. Welcome to the chat Elise!
South OKC Guest 11:01 a.m. When is the scheduled opening date for the Aloft?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:01 a.m. With changes recently approved for the facade, I suspect it's back on track for an opening later this year.
South OKC Guest 11:01 a.m. Any thoughts on whether the new Crossroads Mall plans will draw more business to the area? Personally, I don't have much hope in them.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:03 a.m. Don't be so cynical! I think it's got a great shot at making Crossroads relevant again - it could even become a great tourist draw for south Oklahoma City. I look forward to seeing it in action.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:04 a.m. For those not up to speed on Crossroads, the owners are looking to convert the mall into a retail, entertainment and social hub for our South and Latin American populations.
Guest 11:05 a.m. When can we expect things to start moving on the Century Center remodel?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:05 a.m. My understanding is work has begun.
Nick 11:05 a.m. The riverfront development seems to have slowed considerably lately. When do the rest of the attractions begin construction?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:05 a.m. This next year...
Nick 11:05 a.m. Steve, forgive me, but I thought the St. Anthony's expansion was to be on the north side? Is this related site work?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:06 a.m. No. The expansion is to the east along Walker Avenue, with surface parking to be built to the south.
South OKC Guest 11:06 a.m. Any plans mentioned for redevelopment of the Capitol Hill area (SW 25th from Shields to Walker)?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:06 a.m. No. But at some point, Capitol Hill is going to be one great historic district.
Elise 11:06 a.m. On the old Rainbow Records building. I study it when I'm sitting at the stop light - The back part of the building to the north could come down, leave the wall up facing Classen, and you would have protected, off street parking for several cars. I love that structure - so dignified.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:07 a.m. It is a great building.
South OKC Guest 11:07 a.m. With the popularity of the Stockyards area (Cattleman's, Langston's, Little Joe's, Mercantile, weekly auction/tour, etc.), why hasn't someone inquired about renting the Cattleman's Events Center, securing a liquor license and offering what Oklahoma is known country music and hospitality?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:07 a.m. They've tried several different concepts for that building. For whatever reason, the magic of Cattlemen's just doesn't carry over...
Guest 11:07 a.m. The city workers who park at the Sheridan/Walker parking garage cross in the middle of the street to get to the city offices instead of walking 15 steps to the crosswalks. It is extremely dangerous and I regularly see near accidents. Why has nothing been done about this? It seems the countless traffic officers in the downtown area would have noticed this by now.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:08 a.m. I don't know. Confession: I'm known to jaywalk myself. I apologize!
Nick 11:08 a.m. Steve, the surveying was along Stanton L Young Blvd on the HSC campus so I don't think it was related to the hotel.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:09 a.m. It seems as if they are always in expansion mode. But I just don't know what you're referring to.
Nick 11:09 a.m. The Bricktown for sale signs have popped up on the lot at the NE corner of Reno and Oklahoma Ave and there's one above the yogurt shop at California and Oklahoma Ave.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:09 a.m. OK, well, that may be the Brewer's property. Could it be bought? Sure. But I'm not positive it's actively for sale.
Nick 11:10 a.m. Steve, we haven't heard much about the new midstream partnership between enogex and the company from Houston. Any timeline on that?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:10 a.m. Not to my knowledge.
Guest 11:10 a.m. Do you think that the "New Crossroads" will clean up the surrounding area?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:10 a.m. It has potential to bring new life to the area.
Nick 11:10 a.m. Steve, do you have anything interesting coming out in Sunday's paper?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:10 a.m. Nope.
Nick 11:10 a.m. Any parting thoughts on mystery tower? Anything new at all just to mess with the loyal masses..?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:11 a.m. Not really.
J 11:11 a.m. Oklahoma City University is moving its Law School downtown. Set to open in 2014. Do you think that it will open on time and do you think the funding is available? Will it play a roll in the development of that section of downtown?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:11 a.m. The ramifications of the OCU law school moving downtown are far more substantial than most people realize. I see no reason why it won't open as they plan for in 2014.
Nick 11:12 a.m. Steve, now I'm really confused. I thought the ER expansion was coming out to the east alongside Kaiser's... But the work I saw was on the completely opposite side of the complex.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:12 a.m. The question was about dirt work going on to the south. That would indicate to me the block in question is around the old Century Hotel apartments, which is being turned into parking as part of the expansion.
South OKC Guest 11:13 a.m. Great job, Steve! I always look forward to Friday mornings to find out what's moving and shaking in Oklahoma (other than earthquakes and severe weather)!
Nick 11:13 a.m. Has the city made any more progress with them regarding the train depot for the intermodal hub?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:13 a.m. Not so far.
Guest 11:13 a.m. Any updates on the Arcade Building in the Film District?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:13 a.m. No. But I hope to get something soon.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:13 a.m. OK folks, I'm logging off now. Have a great weekend.
by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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