“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.” — Dr. Seuss,” The Lorax.
Tracey Zeeck and Farooq Karim see themselves as living out the words first uttered by Dr. Seuss four decades ago. They are tackling a problem many have dismissed as unfixable. Experts say $40 million will be needed to make their dream come true. And the pair, who didn't even know each other until this month, have just two weeks to create a plan that will overcome all of these odds.
Zeeck and Karim, however, may be the last, best hope for Stage Center as they prepare to pitch a plan to convert the troubled abandoned theater into a children's museum.
Zeeck, an Oklahoma City public relations consultant, first thought of the possibility in December after her husband, Andy, read a newspaper story about the downtown theater being threatened with demolition.
The Central Oklahoma Chapter of American Institute of Architects secured an agreement with the property's owner, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, to issue a request for development proposals to determine whether any potential saviors could be found. The building shut down two years ago after extensive damage from flooding.
On a chance encounter at the Myriad Gardens last year with the theater's longtime benefactor, Jim Tolbert, Zeeck suggested the architectural landmark could be turned into a great children's museum.
“I told him it was an empty children's museum,” Zeeck said. “Science Museum is an amazing place. And this doesn't change our love for that. But I think there could be five more places for children and families and they could be full all the time.”
Zeeck, herself the mother of a 4-year-old, has spent the past few weeks talking to organizers of a children's museum in Phoenix and learning the ins and outs of funding and operating such an organization. She said she seeks nothing other than support for making her dream come true.
Farooq Karim, vice president and senior director of design at Rees Associates Architecture, came to a similar conclusion after being approached by fellow architects seeking to save Stage Center.
Karim was well familiar with Stage Center — a building designed by John Johansen, a member of the famous “Harvard Five” and a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. His firm worked on a performing arts feasibility study for the property several years ago.
As the father of two boys with developmental delays, Karim came up with the idea of a children's museum while driving to Dallas. He later learned about Zeeck's efforts.
“It just snowballed from there,” said Karim, who has made the project a pro-bono effort and has enrolled fellow professionals in creating mock-ups and animation that usually would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars.