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Downtown Oklahoma City to get new tower

New high-rise will top 20 stories, and will be built on the current site of the Stage Center theater.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: July 25, 2013 at 9:08 pm •  Published: July 25, 2013

The development required an application by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation to have the city formally close the former stretch of California Avenue between Stage Center and the arts plaza.

Williams said construction likely would not interfere with the 2014 festival, but could cause inconveniences during the 2015 event.

Williams said he plans to meet with the Oklahoma City Arts Council to identify opportunities to improve and advance the festival, and also with the Myriad Gardens Foundation to ensure the property's development complements the surrounding areas.

“The proximity of the site to the Oklahoma City Arts Festival is one of the primary reasons we were attracted to the property,” Williams said. “Further, we see the engagement of the arts community being a vital part of this new development. Our project will not only build on the site's rich history, it will greatly aid in the continued revitalization of an important area of downtown Oklahoma City.”

More older buildings may fall

Mayor Mick Cornett is predicting Stage Center won't be the last older building threatened with demolition as downtown development continues at a pace unmatched in the past half century.

“Intellectually we understand it, but emotionally, it is harder to let it go,” Cornett said. “The larger context, I'm afraid, is that we are entering an era here where we have to swallow hard and consider what buildings may have to go to make way for new development.”

Cornett said he realizes such demolition may remind residents of the 1960s/1970s era Urban Renewal when hundreds of buildings were torn down, leaving large empty blocks that remained undeveloped for years if not decades.

“It seems to me the difference is we have a plan for what we're going to put in that space,” Cornett said. “Before it was a weed-and-seed kind of thing, and the seed didn't come.”

The tower announcement coincides with the final day of the American Chamber of Commerce Executives conference, which is being attended by 900 delegates. The theme is “momentum.”

“What's continually interesting is we are building things when others are not,” Cornett said. “Generally you might think a city is having a building boom while other cities are, but that's not true right now. There is just a small list of places seeing this economic activity. We are very fortunate.”

Office space lacking

Cornett said the addition of Class A office space for lease is addressing a desperate need with the downtown market narrowed down to almost zero percent vacancy. Leadership Square, built 30 years ago, was the last such addition of leasable Class A downtown office space.

Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said the tower adds to the story being told to companies nationwide; Oklahoma City is on the rise, and is an attractive candidate for corporate expansion and relocation.

“We've been able over the last five to ten years to craft a story based on reality about the transformation that we've talked about; it's occurring,” Williams said. “You see it with the city being shown by all these third parties with rankings. There is a great deal of momentum going on in Oklahoma City, and this tells that story.”

Roy Williams also recalled how skeptics worried that the downtown Oklahoma City office market might crater when the 50-story Devon Energy Center was announced in 2008.

“They thought there would be a glut in office space,” Roy Williams said. “But it created even more demand. We ended up with more companies wanting to be downtown.”

Rainey Williams, meanwhile, is promising that his development won't disappoint.

“I'm very excited to be doing this project,” Williams said. “I've been in this community my entire life, and we've seen where out-of-state owners didn't work out as well. We're going to build a high-rise that will be world class in every way.”

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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