Fifteen years have gone by since developer Randy Hogan first won a hotly contested competition for city-owned land that is now known as “Lower Bricktown.” Wednesday, Hogan will seek approval by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority on his plan for what is essentially the last big undeveloped spot.
His pitch? A one-story building nestled between Toby Keith's I Love this Bar and Grill and Earl's Rib Palace that will be home to yet another restaurant to be operated by the Hal Smith Restaurant Group and associated with Thunder star Kevin Durant.
So, how does Lower Bricktown compare with the “Bricktown Entertainment Center” that was first pitched by Hogan in July 1997?
Let's start with some history. Hogan faced fierce competition from Moshe Tal, an aspiring developer who pitched his own vision of a shopping mall and parking garage that Tal pledged would be associated with David Cordish, the Baltimore developer who later did the Power and Light District in Kansas City.
When Tal was rejected, he followed with a string of unsuccessful lawsuits against the city that dragged out more than a decade.
Hogan paid $3 million for the land, which the city invested back into building bridges and other amenities along the Bricktown Canal as it flowed through Lower Bricktown.
“You could say they got free land,” quipped then Planning Director Garner Stoll.
Despite rejection of another competitor, Sooner Investment, over its plans to do a phased pad site development, Hogan's own project has been just that — with the Kevin Durant restaurant proposal being one of the last “pads” waiting to be built.
The Kevin Durant restaurant “pad” is one of two left waiting to be developed, with the other site south of the future downtown boulevard by the Land Run Monument.
A look at the early renderings and site plans shows several changes, ranging from the addition of the Bass Pro Shops, for which the city was required to build a $21 million home; a larger-than-expected hotel in the form of the Residence Inn; the Sonic corporate headquarters building — where shops and restaurants were to be built; a smaller-than-suggested theater (16 screens instead of 20 with an IMAX cinema); and the Centennial, a larger-than-suggested building, that included 30 condominiums atop a mix of entertainment and eateries.
Renderings submitted by Hogan in 1997 also showed buildings facing Reno Avenue by the entrance fountain all being two stories or higher and connected with two-level sidewalks similar to the design found north of Reno Avenue. What was developed in those spots, however, are a series of one-story buildings with a mix of synthetic stucco and brick in their facades.
Altogether, Hogan sees this mix as a success — one that he notes is 500,000 square feet and exceeding the minimum of 400,000 square feet as required in his redevelopment agreement. He admits retail has been elusive, but adds it has not been a slam dunk in other urban entertainment districts in bigger cities.
The proposed Kevin Durant restaurant, meanwhile, has limited interaction with the canal, designed with main entrances facing the parking to the south and not the canal. Hogan notes that concerns have been raised about whether the building is so short that the rooftop air conditioning and other equipment might be visible to the patio dining at neighboring Earl's Rib Palace.
Hogan calls the design by Rees Associates “outstanding” and said the mix of rock and brick in the facade borrows from buildings he saw in Aspen, Colo. Readers of my OKC Central blog, however, were overwhelmingly critical of the project's design and scope in a poll posted Monday.
When asked Monday why he abandoned previous plans for the Kevin Durant restaurant site that called for a two-story building, Hogan responded that parking in the area already is tight, and a larger building would require structured parking. He said the construction of a new boulevard in the old Interstate 40 alignment south of Lower Bricktown will provide space for some additional spaces — but not enough to allow for denser development.
And that brings us back to why the selection of Hogan was handled in rather quick fashion — a month or so — when this development was first conceived.
Fifteen years ago, city leaders were most concerned about creating enough parking for the nearby Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. Consideration of the development design was secondary in those early conversations.
This leaves Urban Renewal commissioners with questions to ponder Wednesday: Is parking still the dominant consideration at play in deciding appropriate design and development in Bricktown? And is the proposed one-story restaurant they are being asked to approve the best they can require from Hogan after a 15-year wait to see this site developed?