Strolling along the Bricktown Canal for the first time in a decade, Michael Young spent part of his visit back in his hometown taking photos of the Oklahoma Land Run Monument, shops, restaurants and other venues along the waterway.
"Everything has changed — there was nothing but dirt over there (south of Reno Avenue)," Young said. "They didn't have hotels here, they didn't have the theater, the stores — it was just restaurants and bars back then."
Young, who lives in Michigan, said he's hoping to return to Oklahoma City — and Bricktown weighs heavily into his impression of his former hometown.
Chad Huntington has been watching the transformation from the office of his window for the past 11 years. As manager of the Bricktown Water Taxis and co-owner of Oklahoma's Red Dirt Emporium and the Bricktown Red Dirt Marketplace, Huntington has been both a spectator and participant in the entertainment district's transformation.
"We've seen Bricktown become a much more diverse and sophisticated venue," Huntington said. "There have been some incredible changes brought on by elements like Harkins theaters and the location of the Ford Center and the emergence of the tourism and convention business in Oklahoma City."
Huntington believes Bricktown, while thriving as the state's premier urban entertainment district, is still widely misunderstood by locals and visitors.
"People just in general view Bricktown through the experiences of how they use Bricktown," Huntington said. "For someone who only comes here after an event or on a Saturday night, they think it only acts or looks like that during the week. And those who come for lunch think that's what Bricktown is. And those who come on weekends pushing strollers think that's what Bricktown is as well."
Huntington believes the success of his shops, in addition to established retailers such as Bass Pro Shops and The Painted Door, show Bricktown is beginning to see retail take root in the district.
Tourism meanwhile, continues to be a strong component to Bricktown's success, with new attractions including the American Banjo Museum. The water taxis, meanwhile, have continued to average more than 100,000 passengers every year since they launched in 1999.
"The boats are a gauge of how Bricktown is doing," Huntington said. "And we continued to maintain very similar numbers throughout 2008, 2009 and into 2010 despite the fact that the tourism market is suffering in other parts of the country."