A drastic revision is being unveiled in plans for apartments and retail — one that may cost developers more money but one they also hope will make for a better east gateway into Bricktown.
Gary Brooks, who is developing the former site of Stewart Metal Fabricators, told Urban Renewal commissioners this week that the new architectural plans were drawn up in cooperation with Urban Renewal design consultant RTKL and attorney Leslie Batchelor.
“We'd like to say my team knocked this out of the park when you first looked at it — we didn't,” Brooks said. “One of the challenges on this site is because we do have federal funds involved, we have some workforce housing. My partner Andy Burnett and I are committed to making this affordable for the average worker downtown.”
That consideration, Brooks said, led him to impose a budget cap on his architects.
“It hurt us from coming up with the best design for the project,” Brooks said. “One of the problems with (the first design) is it was very long.”
The new design cuts the complex in half with a promenade running north and south between Sheridan Avenue and an alley road that will run between the development and The Hill neighborhood. The new design also cuts in half the view of the garage from The Hill.
The new designs also add several thousand square feet in retail space. Estimates also show, however, that the new design could increase the cost by $15 a square foot.
“We're going to build it,” Brooks said. “We're going to figure out how to do it.”
The back story
Brooks and partner Andy Burnett began work on the 250-apartment, 18,000-square-foot retail development two years ago.
The former Stewart Metal Fabricators plant at Joe Carter and Sheridan Avenues stood empty after closing in 2003. The company started in 1934 and employed 400 in the heyday of the telecommunications boom of the late 1990s.
Brooks and Burnett were not the first developers to see the property as a prime site for housing — but they were the first not to be scared away by the contamination that lurked beneath the surface.
Engineers determined the soil was filled with years of metal shavings and also hydrocarbons likely left by oil derricks that spread over east Bricktown in the 1920s.
Brooks was at first reluctant — neither he nor Burnett had ever developed a contaminated site that was eligible for federal Brownfield assistance. Burnett, who had successfully brokered the sale of several Bricktown properties, convinced Brooks the reward was worth the risk.
“There have been so many things on a site like this over 150 years,” Brooks said. “It appears as if one part of the site was used as a dump at one point. It was intimidating to me … When I was first going into it, I didn't know what to expect and I was told it would take a long time to get a clean bill of health.”
Brooks isn't feeling intimidated anymore, and estimates the contamination removal will be completed by December, allowing for construction to start next April.
Planners boosted project
Brooks credits a team of planners with the city for helping make the project possible, starting with Matt Gabrielson, who helped the developers obtain $4.5 million in federal Neighborhood Stabilization funds.
Assistant planners Amanda Alewine and Chris Vargas, meanwhile, helped the developers obtain low-interest federal Brownfield loans to clean up the contamination.
“The expense of developing it, and without the Brownfield program and others, this might have been a site that might have sat vacant for another decade or longer with just the market getting it done,” Alewine said. “Banks don't typically like to lend toward properties that have contamination — they take the property as collateral.”
Alewine considers the former Stewart Metal site to be among the most challenging Brownfield sites to be redeveloped in Oklahoma City.
“This is a little more complicated,” Alewine said. “It's not that we don't have complicated sites in the city, but they haven't been tackled as this has. And this is located in a prime location for development … This has a number of agencies involved, and that also makes it more complicated. But without all this work and effort, this site wouldn't have been able to be redeveloped.”
If all goes as planned, Brooks expects the first phase of apartments and retail will be open in 2015, with plans for a hotel and a second phase of housing to follow.
Brooks credits the Urban Renewal design review process for helping him create a development that he hopes will exceed expectations, and he is no longer intimidated by the prospect of tackling contaminated properties.
“From the time we first began the process with the city and the Department of Environmental Quality to when we had signed off documents and started remediation was only seven months,” Brooks said. “It was a great surprise. I expected it to be much longer and much harder. ”