Properties that were at the core of the original development of Bricktown are set to change hands, triggering what the developers say will be a shift in the entertainment district’s development and direction.
The Baden, Glass, Confectionary, and TapWerks buildings, along with three adjoining parking lots, were at the heart of the original Bricktown development launched by the late Neal Horton in 1980. The properties were sold to Don Karchmer and Jim Tolbert in the mid-1980s as Horton’s effort was besieged by the oil bust and ended in bankruptcy.
“For years I’ve read about and marveled at Neal Horton’s early efforts in the once-abandoned warehouse district we now known as Bricktown,” said Zach Martin, who along with partner Andy Burnett is set to buy the properties. “When Horton fell on hard times, Don Karchmer and Jim Tolbert picked up the ball and carried the buildings forward.”
Martin and Burnett have built names for themselves over the past decade as brokers, and more recently as developers. They guided the sale and development of the Oklahoma Hardware Building, 25 E California Ave., into becoming the home of the University of Central Oklahoma’s Academy of Contemporary Music and Michael Murphey’s Dueling Pianos, and the sale of the Kingman Building, 100 E California Ave., which is now home to restaurants, a candy shop and offices.
Room for growth
More recently, the pair, along with partners Jeff Johnson and Tom Ward, purchased the district’s Mideke Building, 100 E Main, which is undergoing a renovation that will make it home to Ward’s Tapstone Energy, with shops and restaurants being sought to replace the now closed CityWalk nightclub.
That development, Martin said, inspired the latest effort.
“Bricktown has come a tremendously long way in 10 years, but it still has a lot of vacant floors and gaps to fill,” Martin said. “I see with the Steelyard (a hotel, housing and retail complex in east Bricktown) coming online, new parking garages being looked at, that we have a new wave of development coming and we can fill in some of those gaps. And with the Mideke Building set to fill up with 140 jobs, talk of Spaghetti Warehouse having several groups trying to go after that, there are significant opportunities ahead.”
Martin said he and Burnett are the lead partners in a separate limited partnership that has a contract to buy the Karchmer and Tolbert properties next month and that it is not tied to the group that bought the Mideke Building. No demolitions or tenant changes are planned as part of the transaction.
A long future
“We are buying these as long-term hold investments,” Martin said. “We plan to upgrade the buildings into first-class properties, retain existing tenants whenever possible and continue to lease out the properties for multi-tenant use.”
Martin said the TapWerks building, 121 E Sheridan Ave., will undergo an extensive upgrade to allow for development of a possible “speakeasy” style bar in the building’s basement and conversion of the rarely used third floor into event space.
Upgrades also are planned for the Glass, Confectionary and Baden buildings, 114-120 E Sheridan Ave.
“These centrally located buildings are right in the middle of the action. With downtown class A office space at 97 percent occupancy, I believe the investment and upgrades we plan to make to these buildings will really pay off,” Martin said.
Karchmer, meanwhile, said he is by no means exiting real estate development in Bricktown. He is hoping to finalize plans soon for a garage with possible housing on top along Main Street just east of the BNSF Railway Viaduct.
He also bought out a partnership with the Brewer family for the Melting Pot building, 4 E Sheridan Ave. and the adjoining parking lot to the east and is negotiating a deal that would renovate the empty top three floors into office space.
Karchmer said the efforts of Burnett and Martin, combined with the Steelyard hotel, retail and housing project set to be built later this year along Sheridan Avenue east of Russell Perry Avenue by Burnett and Gary Brooks, represent a wave of new, younger developers starting a new era for Bricktown.
“What’s very encouraging to me is that the young, local real estate professionals are still seeing a long future in Bricktown,” Karchmer said.”This is not an out-of-town REIT (real estate investment trust) buying up properties. This is very good for Bricktown.”
Group renovates Bricktown
When Oklahoma City was first settled on April 22, 1889, Bricktown was home to federal troops who maintained order before a city government was established. The area later became a warehouse district that continued to thrive through the 1950s. The area went into a long decline through the 1970s until several properties were purchased and targeted for redevelopment into an “old town” style district by Neal Horton, Bill Peterson and John Michael Williams.
The partners started renovating the Glass and Confectionary buildings when the oil bust hit in 1983, triggering an economic depression in Oklahoma. The development went bankrupt, and most of the properties were bought by partnerships involving Don Karchmer, Jim Tolbert and Jim Brewer.
While Karchmer and Tolbert focused on completing the building renovations along 116-120 E Sheridan Ave. for office tenants, Brewer sought to turn Bricktown into an entertainment district by opening a “haunted warehouse” in the former Hunzicker building at Oklahoma and California Avenues. He also opened a karaoke and dueling pianos bar, O’Brien’s. When Spaghetti Warehouse opened a restaurant at 101 E Sheridan, the area’s future was secure.
Horton, left destitute and at one point homeless from his misfortune, remained interested in Bricktown in his later years and, in bad health, arranged a tour of Bricktown in late 1992. That tour never took place. Horton died in February 1992, just months before voters approved the Metropolitan Area Projects that would create the Bricktown Canal and Bricktown Ballpark.