Bricktown for years has presented a bit of a conundrum for city leaders. The century-old warehouse district is without dispute the state's premier urban entertainment destination.
No exact figure exists for how many people visit Bricktown each year, but when I add up attendance at arena and ballpark events, water taxi ridership, hotel room counts and occupancy, and account for draws like Toby Keith's I Love this Bar and Grill, Harkins Theater and Bass Pro Shop, I conservatively estimate Bricktown sees a minimum of 2 million people a year.
The sales taxes generated for the city contribute a nice bump to the city coffers, much of it from out-of-town guests.
Yet for all of the district's success, most folks in the know admit the district is far from reaching its true potential. Many of the upper floors in the old warehouses remain empty. Large empty spaces also detract from the Bricktown Canal. Walk or drive through the district, and you sense the area's merchants and property owners haven't yet figured out they have something to brag about.
No signs direct visitors to the Bricktown Canal. The area's colorful history is a well-kept secret. And debates continue, on and off, about whether pricing for surface parking is hurting the district.
I've covered Bricktown for almost two decades. I've watched it thrive. I've watched turf battles between property owners, I've watched aspiring merchants' dreams crushed. To this day, some property owners and merchants don't speak to one another.
The Bricktown Association remained a constant through all the ups and downs, with success dependent on who was hired as its director and who served as chairman. Quite a few people I know agree that the association was most effective when it was led by Jim Cowan, who left a few years ago to take on a more stable position at the Greens Country Club in northwest Oklahoma City.