Building his vision
Developer chooses unconventional spot to revive restaurant, surrounding area

By Steve Lackmeyer Published: July 25, 2008
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t it's also quiet, it has trees, and you're just a half block off from the hustle of Broadway. You're downtown, but you don't feel like you're downtown here.”

The Iguana isn't new to everybody — Mason previously operated the restaurant along the Western Avenue entertainment corridor several years ago until nearby parking was eliminated by construction of a Panera Bread. The menu at the new restaurant includes specialty salsas and other favorites of the old location.

So far, Mason's gamble is paying off with the Iguana meeting its performance targets just two weeks after opening. Not only are lunches busy, but Mason and Parrott are surprised at the restaurant's strong performance at night.

"I thought dinner would be more of a challenge — not just to get people downtown, but also onto NW 9,” Parrott said. "But word of mouth has been great and we're getting a lot of great repeat business.”

Mason is hoping to continue his gamble with the three adjoining homes that all date back to the 1920s. "Mentally,” Mason says, he has the houses leased to a pastry shop, a sandwich shop, a purse and accessories store and an old-fashioned 3.2-beer joint similar to the Red Rooster along NW 36.

After spending $1.2 million turning the garage into the Iguana, tasks ahead with the homes include putting an I-beam under one home and abandoning the bad foundation altogether.

"My wife advised last November to tear them down,” Mason said. "But I want to save them. I don't know — she might have been right. But I'm assembling the costs now ... My wife is smiling, saying ‘I told you so.'”


More Development Ahead?
Mason isn't the only developer active just east of Automobile Alley. Bert Belanger also has been busy buying up former sex offender housing and an old nursing home at NW 12 and Broadway Drive.

"This is just the beginning,” said Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. President Brett Hamm, who is working with Urban Neighbors to create a railroad "quiet zone” for the area.

"There is a significant opportunity just east of Broadway that several developers are looking at for housing and retail,” Hamm said. "And just like in the rest of downtown, every developer is looking for hidden places like this to capitalize on our momentum.”


Combining old and new
The new Iguana Mexican Grill consists of two different buildings. The two dining rooms are inside a 1905 garage, where engine hoists, the original wooden sliding door, brick walls and windows have been kept in place.

Robert Painter, general manager, said even the added lights were chosen to match what would have been used when the garage was first built.

The front half the restaurant consists of an outdoor patio with shade provided by old Sycamore trees, a lobby, kitchen and bar decorated with paintings and light fixtures produced by local artists.

Mason credits city planners for working with him on creating diagonal parking lot entrances that allowed for preservation of old Sycamore trees that surround the restaurant. The city also repaved the block of NW 9 and added street lamps.

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