Devon Energy files court motion questioning safety of elevators at First National Center

Devon Energy, the largest single tenant at downtown's troubled First National Center, has filed a court motion against the California owners claiming they are failing to maintain elevators and have endangered employees' safety.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: November 18, 2011

Tenant leaving

Another longtime tenant, John Hefner, hopes to leave sooner. He moved his firm, The Hefner Co., to the 25th floor of the original First National Tower in 1999, and by coincidence discovered he had leased the same suite the company occupied between 1949 and 1956 when it was run by his grandfather, Robert Hefner.

Hefner has seen the property pass through three owners. Now he's preparing to move his firm to the ground floor of the 2nd Street Lofts in Deep Deuce by spring.

“Our last hope was that with Milbank Real Estate going into bankruptcy, we would get a new owner who would be both able and willing to make vital repairs and restoration to this historic structure,” Hefner said. “However, the bankruptcy drags on to no avail.”

Though Hefner is in a separate part of the complex, he shares Devon's concerns and complaints.

“On Thanksgiving Day 2010, I had to come downtown quickly to get something I had forgotten,” Hefner said. “It took a security guard to get the elevator system to even come to life. He took me to the 25th floor and held the car. I was back in a flash. The doors ... slammed shut, and we were taken up to the 30th floor where operations stopped. We clawed open the doors, held them open for each other so we could get out, and they slammed shut behind us. We walked down 30 flights of stairs.”

A stream of tenants has left First National in recent years, including longtime arcade tenants Copeland's Office Supply (which closed), Becky's Hallmark, The Buzz Coffee Shop and the 5th Congressional District's local office.

Renovations launched in the arcade, meanwhile, have remained frozen for the past two years, with walls mostly consisting of unfinished sheet rock.

Yashouafar's investment groups filed for bankruptcy in October 2010 after lender Capmark won in its court effort to foreclose on the property. A couple months earlier, Yashouafar told The Oklahoman he believed First National was already a financial success story and dismissed claims he was a bad property steward.

“Through the financial resources made available by the owners,” he said, “the management team has been able to raise the occupancy from the low 20 percent range to almost 65 percent in just four years.”

Court transcripts indicate that financial stability may be in doubt, with about half of the property's income derived from the lease with Devon.

In court testimony this year, Keith Armstrong, a vice president with Capmark, argued Yashouafar's group won't be able to keep up with $1.5 million in debt service on the property after Devon's lease expires.

Timm-Dobson said the owners will look into Devon's concerns.

“Devon remains a valued tenant,” she said.

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
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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