Much is yet to be learned about the GE Oil and Gas Technology Center set to be built next year near downtown, but designs for the $110 million project indicate the company is looking to be a community player and enhance its visibility in the energy industry.
The architectural firm chosen in September, Miles Associates, competed for the job.
During selection, the firm's founder, Bud Miles, learned that GE executives visited the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University, and were impressed with the Devon Energy Hall and the ExxonMobil Lawrence G. Rawl Engineering Practice Facility at OU.
Both award-winning projects were designed by Miles' firm.
After a site evaluation that included two other locations, the company chose a spot between NE 10, N Walnut Ave., Harrison Avenue and N Stiles. The property is considered one of the most prime pieces of undeveloped real estate left in the health sciences district, where Miles has overseen dozens of projects over the past 30 years.
Oklahoma City's status as an epicenter of the energy industry played a role in being chosen for GE's ninth global research center. GE might not be known as a player in the industry, but its buys in oil and gas the past five years totaled $14 billion.
“One of GE's goals with this building was to tell this story, that GE is a member of the oil and gas industry,” said Cory Baitz, one of the project architects. “Through this building and location, they can start to spread their message that they are a part of this industry as well.”
Mark Little, GE's chief technology officer, said Friday the company's hiring of Miles Associates is part of a plan to use local resources.
The location is north of OU, south of OSU, and within walking distance of the state's prestigious Oklahoma School of Sciences and Mathematics.
Just across Interstate 235, downtown is home to energy companies including Devon Energy, Continental Resources and SandRidge Energy.
After Miles Associates was commissioned for the work in September, a team of up to 12 people, including six architects and two interior designers, were assigned to completing a quick turnaround.
“What we wanted to do is connect to the community,” said Mike Ming, general manager of the Oklahoma City research center. “Using a local architect who understands our needs and understands the local community connection of the building and the employees enhances the connection to the community.”
Building a showcase
During the design work, the architects learned that GE wanted a showcase space — one that would greet potential clients from around the globe.
“They're not just doing research for themselves, they're doing research for other companies,” Miles said. “Customers may have a dedicated suite of rooms and will stay for several days.”
As was accomplished with the design work at Devon Energy Hall and the Rawl engineering practice center, architects sought to create a building that emphasizes collaboration with clients and the community.
“One of their main goals with this building is to connect with the main players in the industry,” Baitz said. “They want to be close with the people they will be collaborating with.”
A five-story atrium is part of that function, designed to connect the research and office half of the building with a three-story showroom that is topped by a two-story cafeteria. The atrium is designed to visually connect directly with the downtown skyline.
Miles believes the GE project will spark other development along the I-235/10th Street corridor, which itself connects the health sciences district with St. Anthony Hospital, Automobile Alley and Midtown.
Construction on the 95,000-square-foot building is set to start this spring and open by spring 2015.
Civic leaders agree the impact of the GE complex is far more than a $110 million building and 130 employees.
“I think it's going to probably end up being much more significant than what we think of in terms of economic impact and jobs,” said Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “I think it's also going to draw a lot of attention to the city.”
That attention could lead to other development by GE and its partners.
“When a company like GE decides to build an international research facility here, I think other companies will think maybe there's something going on there that we ought to look at,” Williams said. “What we don't yet know is what spins out of this, if and when commercialization occurs from some of this research, as well as will it attract other partners.”
Such development has been common at GE's other global research centers.
“We start typically with certain aspirations,” GE's Little said. “Typically over time, we will exceed those expectations rather dramatically. I hope that's in the future for us here.
“What also happens is GE builds businesses around these research areas. Increasingly we are focused on enhanced manufacturing technologies, so it would be natural for us to think of building these here.”