The Bricktown Association's history is one of turbulence, financial uncertainty, and political battles for control that raged on and off for 20 years between merchants and property owners.
The most dramatic reorganization in its history is set to take place, ending an era in which Bricktown was, in some senses, operated as its own small town.
Back in the early 1990s when I first started covering the district, the tug-of-war was between the “mayor” of Bricktown, Jim Brewer, and the McLain family.
Brewer was a major property owner whose holdings included buildings now home to Tapwerks, Captain Norm's, Peach Wave, Zio's, Harding & Shelton, and most of the district's surface parking lots.
The McLains, meanwhile, owned the block of properties at Sheridan and Oklahoma Avenues that is now home to Bricktown Brewery, Brix, Abuelo's, Standley Systems, Advanced Academics, and the American Banjo Museum.
For the most part, Brewer, who died in 2008, generally prevailed in this rivalry, though both groups enjoyed extensive influence over how City Hall governed and invested in the city's first urban entertainment district.
Merchants sought to take more control during Brewer's later years, and at one point the Bricktown Association was briefly taken over by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
Throughout its history, the association struggled with financial stability. Directors came and went. At one point, Brewer had a falling out with then-director Frank Sims, and was none too happy with my reporting. Spotting Sims and I walking along Oklahoma Avenue, Brewer pulled up in his big red F-150 Ford pickup, opened the window and gestured as if he were holding a shotgun. “If I had a gun right now,” he boasted, “I could hit both of you with one shot.”
The window then zipped up, and Brewer drove off. A couple of years later, Brewer trusted me with the most important story that could be told — that of his life as he lay dying of cancer.
That era is officially ending as the association has agreed to have its operations taken over Downtown Oklahoma City Inc.
The association's board voted to turn over control of accounting, fundraising, event planning, marketing, communications and district management to the organization, which is funded through the downtown business improvement district.
The agreement eliminates association membership fees, making all Bricktown property owners and tenants members by virtue of their ownership or tenancies. The agreement is also expected to end years of financial turmoil, political infighting and general apathy.
The association will still have a “district manager” who will replace the old association director and marketing administrator positions. Mallory O'Neill, who was previously event manager at SMG overseeing the Cox Convention Center and Chesapeake Energy Arena, began working with merchants, property owners and visitors Monday.
The district manager hire relieves a longtime concern of some Bricktown interests that they would lose a person who is able to monitor daily matters in the busy neighborhood.
While O'Neill is tasked with being the association's eyes and ears on the street, she is backed by a team at Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. that has won accolades for their efforts at organizing events and engaging the downtown workforce and residents on a daily basis.
Their most recent events include the first-ever Rock the Boat festival along the Bricktown Canal, creating a small temporary park on Sheridan Avenue in Bricktown and installation of a third Bricktown gateway sign at Main Street.
Just a few years ago, Bricktown was leery of turning over its operations to a then-struggling Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. But times are changing, and Bricktown's potential as a fully developed mixed-use entertainment district, long hampered by the association's own weaknesses, might soon be realized.