It wasn't that long ago that downtown was not the place to stage events and festivals. It's a part of Brewer family lore that State Fair Park was considered the choice venue for a Halloween haunted house when the late Jim Brewer took a shot at opening the Bricktown Haunted Warehouse a quarter century ago.
At that time downtown was host to the annual Spring Festival of the Arts, and that was about it. In 2011, however, everyone wants to stage events and festivals downtown, especially in Bricktown.
But special events often require street closings painful to merchants and businesses. They can even bring about competition for visitors time, attention and money. For the most part, such conflicting interests have been resolved peacefully with event organizers agreeing to end their events and reopen streets by early evening.
The Oklahoma City Council is tasked today with deciding, or at least delaying a decision, on whose interests to protect when it considers an application by Montage Festivals to close Mickey Mantle Drive for a
Bricktown merchants — restaurants like Nonna's and Mickey Mantle Steakhouse who have invested millions in creating a permanent presence in the district — stand to lose customers during the street closing.
This loss of business won't be for a charity or a nonprofit venture. Montage is a commercial entity — with no investment in Bricktown — wishing to stage an art festival and make some money regardless of the expense to the district's merchants.
It's of interest that city staff is recommending the application be approved. Would they make a similar recommendation to shut down Memorial Road by Quail Springs or Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Penn Square Mall for a commercial entity as well?
Organizers of the arts festival argue their event will increase business for the merchants, though there is no indication of increased sales for merchants during last year's festival.
This sort of conflict goes beyond special events. Over the past year downtown has seen a surge, and then a pullback, of food trucks from popular restaurants lining up along Park Avenue.
The conflict again comes up — should a mobile food operation with no investment downtown be allowed to park in front of established restaurants with far more at risk?
Supporters of food trucks and events like the arts festival say such street life is critical to bringing more people to downtown. Somewhere in the middle of all this the ultimate solution lies as Oklahoma City finds one new wrinkle after another in its journey to becoming a big league city.
Steve Lackmeyer has covered downtown for The Oklahoman since 1996 and is the author of three books: â€œOKC Second Time Around,â€ â€œBricktownâ€ and â€œSkirvin.â€ His column, OKC Central, can be read every Tuesday in The Oklahoman's business section. For more updates and information, visit his blog at www.okccentral.com and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/stevelackmeyer and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stevelackmeyer.â€