A plan to raze Oklahoma City's 90-year-old Film Exchange Building was put on hold Thursday following protests that the building is historically significant and should be incorporated into plans for the future Core to Shore park south of downtown.
The two buildings in the 500 block of S Robinson Avenue are located along what will be the eastern edge of the park, and the very earliest plans presented by designer Mary Margaret Jones with Hargeaves Associates showed a park with the buildings being removed.
But after questioning at Thursday's meeting of the MAPS 3 Citizens Oversight Board, Jones said extra effort was taken to see if the building could be preserved.
“We took a hard look,” Jones said. “There was extensive work done on the buildings' structural attributes.”
Jones said she also took developers and nonprofit groups on tours of the buildings, with no one expressing an interest in the buildings. David Todd, director of the MAPS 3 program, insisted the buildings are structurally unfit for redevelopment.
Those assurances did not sit well with critics of the demolition, including Councilman Pete White.
“It seems Oklahoma City, as much as any city in the country, should learn from the problems of destroying a historically significant building,” White said. “We just can't seem to stop doing it. No matter what happens, there's always another reason.”
The building was the second Film Exchange built by the Vitagraph Film Co. The operation moved to Film Row on W Sheridan Avenue in 1936 and the building later became home to the City Rescue Mission.
Asset Group, a disaster recovery firm, bought the property shortly before the 2009 MAPS 3 election with plans to renovate the Film Exchange building into its offices. Cathy O'Connor, who was assistant city manager at the time, met with the company's executives about their plans.
O'Connor, now president of The Alliance for Economic Development Oklahoma City, said Thursday that while Asset had building plans ready for renovations, the company's plan to use adjoining property for trailer storage did not comply with downtown zoning.
Jones said the building is too big for a cafe and does not work for offices, and a lack of parking makes it even more challenging for redevelopment.
“We're afraid that there's the potential with no one interested in it, that it could end up sitting there looking like this,” Jones said.
Todd, however, admitted the city faces no rush in pursuing demolition; construction of the park isn't set to start until sometime in 2014 with an opening now being pushed back to 2015.
Bradley Wynn, author of a book about the city's early film exchange community, urged MAPS 3 board members to take a closer look at the building's history and it's redevelopment potential — a pitch the board embraced.
“This particular building is unique because it was there at the beginning of the neighborhood that was there, and it is a reminder of that neighborhood,” Wynn said. “I know this building doesn't look like much, but it has a lot to offer.”
Michael Dover, a board member who approved the demolition while hearing the demolition application as a member of a MAPS 3 subcommittee on Wednesday, said he had second thoughts after pleas made by Wynn and White, and by an unidentified young man who spoke to the subcommittee after its vote.
“It was so exciting to hear a young man, probably in his 20s, with these same concerns,” Dover said. “I just don't see the sense of urgency that we have to make a decision to demolish these buildings at this point. I would like to see more of conversation take place.”