As the construction cranes keep popping up throughout downtown, a question keeps nagging at me.
Is this the new normal for Oklahoma City? Is Oklahoma City morphing into something, something we can't quite figure out, or are we on the verge of another crash like the one sustained 30 years at the start of the oil bust?
I was in high school back then, working summers at my father's downtown CPA firm, running bank drops into the Great Banking Hall at First National Center and spending my lunch plugging quarters into the Pac-Man game at Century Center Mall.
I recall watching the two “Galleria” towers rising up in the air (now known as Oklahoma and Corporate towers), and seeing dirt being moved on the Myriad Gardens. I loved following reports by The Oklahoman's late great Mary Jo Nelson on upcoming downtown developments and efforts to preserve historic buildings.
Funny thing happened, however; many of those renderings never became a reality.
And that is where 2013 is very different from 1983. The cranes really are rising up in the air. The scars left over from the Urban Renewal demolition binge of the 1970s are being filled in. A twenty-something who gets a job at Devon Energy in a few years will never know that huge swath of empty lots and surface parking at Hudson Avenue separated the Central Business District from the older, western fringe of downtown.
Driving along Sheridan Avenue over the weekend, I stopped to contemplate how the view was already changing with walls going up for the new John W. Rex Elementary at Sheridan and Walker.
To the west, attorney John Hunsucker is preparing to build a two-story office building with retail on the first floor. A new office tower, at least 20 stories high, is set to be built to the east of the school.
I gazed at the old Hotel Black, now known as One North Hudson, and imagined what it might look like if, as I'm told by some sources, it is converted into housing. And I looked at the reminder of the block at Hudson and Walker and imagined what it might look like with a new parking garage and yet another new tower.
Such development hasn't been announced. But it's not a total fantasy to think it might happen someday.
All of this then feeds into Film Row, which a decade ago was a remote, detached area known as skid row. Depending on who you believe, Chip Fudge was an incredible visionary or just incredibly lucky, or both, when he bought this blighted stretch of W Sheridan Avenue and recast it into another thriving downtown district.
Much of this is occurring organically; Hunsucker knew of none of this when he bought his small piece several years ago.
And there is no guiding force drawing this all up, attempting to force implementation of one plan as we saw back in the early 1980s.
So with all that said, this isn't 1983. We're driving west along Sheridan Avenue with no map and no GPS to tell us where this story will take us.