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600 W Sheridan and the "Upside" of OKC Talk

by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: June 20, 2013 at 12:50 am •  Published: June 18, 2013
The Hunsucker building as it will appear facing Sheridan Avenue is shown in this rendering.
The Hunsucker building as it will appear facing Sheridan Avenue is shown in this rendering.

John Hunsucker, who is hoping to build a new home for his law firm along Film Row, is starting to give a bit more insight into how he chose to design the building. The discussion, which includes some back and forth, shows the upside of OKC Talk, a local online forum.

Before we get to Hunsucker, let me delve a bit more into what’s going on at OKC Talk. To be blunt, a couple of members with hidden identities and (with at least one) a hidden agenda have created a pretty hostile environment for those who don’t engage in group think and ask unpopular questions (like me).

The group think went into full blast attack this past month on the developer of a proposed Springhill Suites. At the time, they really didn’t have any information about the designs, other than the developer’s ho-hum past suburban projects. So when someone asked me about the “backlash” against the developer and the project, (backlash not my term but someone else’s), I responded that this rush to judgment without information represented the downside of community forums.

Now, let’s reverse course. Was I supposed to say that a rush to judgment without information represented the “upside”? Not gonna happen. Not then, not now. And while the designs that have popped since seem to match up with the fears of the project’s critics, that doesn’t change the idea that there was a rush to judgment. What if they had been wrong? Note, they were convinced that a home being built by Ron Walters in Deep Deuce had an $8 million building permit when it was actually $800,000. The forum was, at first, limited to the same scarcity of information with both projects and made quick assumptions each time.

Am I saying OKC Talk members aren’t free to do this? Of course not. But don’t ask me in a live chat to suggest this sort of rush to judgment represents the best side of such forums.

The vitriol this has brought on me has prompted me to take a break from participating in the forum discussions. It’s hard to keep up with all the things I’ve been quoted as saying – but didn’t (including the idea I had a big story set for last Sunday’s paper).

So why am I bringing all this up?

Because there is an upside to community forums like OKC Talk. I witnessed, first hand, how the developer of a Staybridge Suites in east Bricktown saw photos of the franchise from other cities posted at OKC Talk and then, and only then, was he swayed into thinking he could design a hotel that could be a better match for the entertainment district. The site layout is still not anyone’s favorite, but the complications that led to this go beyond anything I suspect most developers could easily tackle (though some superstars surely would).

600 W Sheridan looked like this when John Hunsucker bought the empty lot in 2007. At the time, Film Row was still an eyesore lined with empty and boarded up buildings, with crumbling sidewalks filled with vagrants.
600 W Sheridan looked like this when John Hunsucker bought the empty lot in 2007. At the time, Film Row was still an eyesore lined with empty and boarded up buildings, with crumbling sidewalks filled with vagrants.

John Hunsucker called me on Tuesday; he shared much of the same information he did on OKC Talk. He bought the empty lot at 600 W Sheridan long before the site across the street was selected for a new downtown elementary. He bought the property when Film Row was still better known as Skid Row. He took a chance, and won big.

It’s time for the Hunsucker Law Firm to build that new home. They’re losing the parking they’ve leased in front of Stage Center. Their lease is set to expire at 1 N Hudson and for whatever reason, Nick Preftakes is not renewing leases (don’t think any of this is coincidental).

Here’s where all this gets interesting. Hunsucker didn’t go with any of the usual architects that oversee projects in the downtown design districts. Instead, he hired homebuilder Scott Coleman.

Coleman is a fine homebuilder. He’s great in my opinion. I own one of his homes (second owner) and the quality is really great. But he is a suburban home builder in an urban design district.

Hunsucker likes Film Row, and his designs include a black granite trim similar to the accents found on other buildings in the area. The façade will consist of a darker reddish brick.

Hunsucker said he spoke with city planners and sought to follow the guidelines. He increased the window sizes and took out other windows to better comply with guidelines. He located the building so that it immediately fronts Sheridan and Dewey Avenues, which also would appear to comply with design guidelines.

He admits the building is one story short of the three-story minimum required by the Downtown Design Review ordinance. So he is seeking a variance to keep the building at two stories, noting to go another floor up would create a hardship and is bigger than what he needs.

Hunsucker is not a stranger to OKC Talk – he actually became a member himself earlier this year and has participated in a couple of unrelated threads. And he definitely saw the comments posted by both friendly critics and those who create a more hostile environment.

The garage he had slated to face Sheridan did not please anyone. Nor did the steeped, suburban style roof line.

The constructive comments at OKC Talk are influencing this project. The garage facing Sheridan is being eliminated from the plans. The space will now be slated for retail, an idea discussed at OKC Talk, which, members noted, might go really well across from the school.

Hunsucker, however, is still wanting to go with the pitched roof. He sees the flat roof lines as inviting roof leaks. The upside of boards like OKC Talk is that good alternatives, good ideas can influence folks like Hunsucker, and can broaden their thinking on how they can achieve the building they want to build while fitting in with the neighborhood.

Coleman is a good builder. And instead of mocking his approach, which is different than what folks downtown are accustomed to, imagine what could happen if he were embraced and welcomed into the fold? Imagine the possibilities if a top notch suburban homebuilder like Coleman got the urban bug and joined the rich mix of downtown development now underway. Impossible? Tell that to Richard McKown, who got downtown its first grocery and built the Level apartments.

Hunsucker is welcoming input into his project and has given out his email and phone number: john@okdui.com or at 405-231-5600.

I’ve heard from some of his future neighbors, and after speaking with Hunsucker, I don’t think the time it take to make such contact will be wasted. Hunsucker’s plans will be heard by Downtown Design Review and the Board of Adjustment on Thursday.

 

 

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist 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 Metropolitan...
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