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OKC Central Chat transcript, April 4, 2014

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 4, 2014 at 11:42 am •  Published: April 4, 2014

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.

NewsOK 9:33 a.m. Good morning! Steve will be logging in at 10 a.m., but you can start submitting your questions now.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:02 a.m. Good morning!
Gary T 10:02 a.m. Good morning Steve and Happy Friday. Love to see 23rd full of so much life last week during Open Streets. Do you think this will help with the idea to redesign 23rd street to make it more pedestrian and bike friendly? I would love to see 23rd from Western to Robinson become two lanes with angled parking, bike lanes and wider sidewalks. That would at least be a start.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:09 a.m. NW 23 in Uptown was one of the city's earliest streetscape projects, along with Automobile Alley. I think, looking back, that although both projects were well intentioned, they were done in a way that would not take place today. Correcting Automobile Alley's deficiencies is far less complicated - angled parking spaces are being added this weekend.

Fixing NW 23 is more complicated. It had angled parking spaces. They were changed to parallel spaces and a median was added about a dozen years ago. That was, according to many I know, a mistake. The median only encouraged faster traffic. The change in parking reduced spaces. To fix NW 23, the city council, mayor, city manager and city engineers must come to a change in thinking. For years they've put traffic as their top concern. If the traffic flow was rated at a failing grade, that was the top priority to fix. But a failing grade for pedestrian flow has for years been of little concern. Only when both performances are judged equally will you see, in my opinion, an effective solution to NW 23 that would likely require the removal of the median, the addition of a turn lane, and the removal of an eastbound and a westbound lane so you end up with a three lane street (engineers reading this are horrified at such a suggestion for a major street like this). But it can be done. Through traffic, if frustrated enough by a street like this, will switch to other corridors and disperse more evenly.
Gary T 10:10 a.m. Do you think H&8th will have to expand south or westward to accomodate the growing crowds?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:10 a.m. I don't know. I think it's fine as it is.
Kim 10:10 a.m. Lots of great outdoor events these last week, with H&8 and Open Streets. Did you have have a chance to attend either one? Do you think the city would ok closing 23rd St down on a monthly basis for such an event?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:11 a.m. I was not able to attend Open Streets due to extreme allergies. But I monitored it closely. I am not aware of any major hassles resulting from Open Streets, so why not allow it to happen monthly on a Sunday afternoon?
Kim 10:12 a.m. They Open Streets get the message across to city leaders that 23rd Street needs to become more pedestrian friendly? If so, how soon before real changes such as crosswalks, pedestrian right-of-ways and lower speed limits take place?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:13 a.m. Efforts are underway to come up with ways to make NW 23 more pedestrian friendly. Hopefully this effort won't take four years as was the case with re-striping Automobile Alley for angled parking.
Gary T 10:13 a.m. Do you think it will take a while for FNC to sell? What would be your best idea for its use?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:14 a.m. I fear First National Center's owners have unrealistic expectations for how much they can get for the property. Best use? Easy. Hotel, housing, offices and conversion of the east, center building to parking and retail.
Gary T 10:14 a.m. The Chase building is sitting at 40% vacancy right now. Do you know what that is attributed to?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:14 a.m. Ownership.
Gary T 10:14 a.m. Glad to finally see Koko's and Bella Vici going in to the empty retail spots in the Maywood Lofts. Do you think we will start to see an increase interest in that area now that it is rapidly expanding?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:15 a.m. Yes. NE 2 is seeing a tremendous pick-up in pedestrian activity, outdoor dining and life on the street. When the Aloft Hotel opens, this area is going to be a hot spot.
Gary T 10:15 a.m. What's the latest on the quiet zone downtown?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:15 a.m. Planning and engineering is underway.
BethanySooner 10:15 a.m. Good morning and congratulations on receiving the Dean A McGee inaugural President's award. You are certainly most deserving for your coverage and 'cheerleading' regarding OKC's revitalization efforts over the past several years. Are there any major announcements that will be made this month that are of the game-changer variety?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:16 a.m. Thanks BethanySooner. Yes, we're about to see some pretty important news come out this next week. Keep reading the paper!
CeCe 10:16 a.m. What do you think the short-term and long-term effects of Buy For Less's investment and the TIF district creation along NE 23rd Street will be?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:18 a.m. The northeast community is very loyal to merchants and retailers who do right by their neighborhoods. I think this development, if done right, will be a source of pride for NE 23 and will spark other development in the area with much needed help from tax increment financing and other tools available through City Hall.
BethanySooner 10:18 a.m. Have you seen any firm plans regarding the area around the new 21c Museum Hotel as far as accompanying development?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:18 a.m. Developments are in the planning stages. The area is going to take off.
Josh 10:18 a.m. Steve, I recently took my family to Open Streets which was a great event. As we walked down 23rd I noticed a lot of progress, but still a lot of work to be done. How long do you think it will be before every building between Robinson and Shartel is occupied with a restaurant, retail or a bar?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:21 a.m. Good question. We're seeing a lot of infill about to take place, but some properties remain stubbornly shabby or simply dead. The car wash needs to go. The great old gas station that is a tire shop at Robinson might be a more attractive anchor if renovated into a trendy bar or restaurant. I don't know of anyone who thinks the plasma center fits in with the new Uptown. I have no idea when Mary Dillion might finally allow something to happen with the Tower Theater. When these major properties are addressed, however, everything else will likely quickly fall into place.
Josh 10:21 a.m. Any updates on the Tower Theatre? There were a lot of people taking pictures of the sign and around the sign this weekend. If the owners were there they must have seen the interest people have in that building.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:22 a.m. People keep talking to Marty Dillon. But nothing has me jumping up and down excited thinking a deal is imminent.
RAFAEL 10:22 a.m. Do you know when OG&E and Rainey will have the latest on their new building/development?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:22 a.m. I suspect we'll start hearing new details after the Festival of the Arts.
Henry 10:23 a.m. Open Streets was huge. What do you think of permanent street shutdown somewhere for a block or 2: Maybe Plaza, Paseo, Film, Broadway?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:23 a.m. You are just determined to make these chats as miserable as possible for city engineers....
BethanySooner 10:26 a.m. Will the parking garage that is proposed with the new OGE building also serve a potential tower built on the Preftakes block just to the north?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:26 a.m. At this time, I don't think so.
RAFAEL 10:27 a.m. What is the pile of dirt in between the two Dowell developments?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:27 a.m. I'm going to need more specific detail on this question.
CeCe 10:27 a.m. I noticed a lot of the abandoned houses and trees had been cleared between NE 4th Street and NE 1st Street between Lincoln Boulevard and Washington Park.

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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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