Changes, improvements attract young residents to OKC

For some young professionals, Oklahoma City has become an urban oasis.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: December 8, 2013

Jennifer McCollum was the one who stayed in Oklahoma City.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, McCollum's friends, all part of what would be termed Generation X, fled the city for opportunities in other states.

“They all left,” said McCollum, public relations professional and author of the popular JenX67 blog. “They went to places where jobs were more plentiful, where life was more exciting, where there was more to do. There wasn't any anticipation among my generation that there was any reason to stay.”

College professors in Oklahoma were urging their students to leave. Oklahoma City's job market was devastated by the oil bust, and combined with a dying downtown and struggling arts community, those born between 1961 and 1981 left Oklahoma City concluding its best days were far behind, never to come back.

But those prodigal sons and daughters are returning, their love of their hometown rekindled by a city revived by the original Metropolitan Area Projects launched on Dec. 14, 1993.

Leaving Austin

They include David Wanzer, 44, born at Oklahoma City's St. Anthony Hospital, raised in Guthrie, who left for a more exciting life in Austin, Texas, in 1994.

“I was 25 years old, I had just graduated with my architectural degree at OSU, and quite frankly, there wasn't much going on in Oklahoma City. It was a pretty sleepy town.”

While in Austin, Wanzer fell in love with his now-wife Dara, 42. During their occasional trips back to Oklahoma City they witnessed an ongoing transformation.

“I saw a momentum shift happening, especially in the late '90s,” Wanzer said. “It was exciting to see the changes occurring in the city.”

In 1999, David and Dara Wanzer began to talk about making the move from Austin to Oklahoma City.

Dara Wanzer, an East Coast native, had no impression of the city but was committed to making the move with her future husband.

“I didn't know what it would be like,” Dara Wanzer said. “I have friends outside of Oklahoma City who still have no idea what it is. I tell them it isn't cowboys, I don't ride to work on a horse — it's a very metropolitan city.”

Local attractions

David Wanzer is now a designer, developer and investor, whose work has included infill housing near Classen Curve and the Slivr Building now under construction on Film Row (the former “skid row” where Wanzer's early research on the area helped form the foundation of its resurgence). Dara Wanzer works for Integris Health.

“He sold me on the dream,” Dara Wanzer said. “I love Oklahoma City. I've lived here longer than I've lived anywhere now. And it just continues to change.”

Three to four times a week, the couple visit downtown restaurants, bars and entertainment venues. They catch Thunder games at the Chesapeake Energy Arena, RedHawks games at the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark and still relish memories of a 2003 concert by Coldplay at the Civic Center Music Hall.

“Sometimes we come down to Bricktown just to come to Bricktown,” Wanzer said. “We'll walk the canal, watch people, grab a bite to eat and enjoy a drink.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Reporter Sr.
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist 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 Metropolitan...
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