Eight years ago, a mysterious pair of investors — Henry Kaufman and Maurice Kanbar — swept into Tulsa and bought one-third of downtown. Hints of an ambitious makeover of their properties faded, however, as the two longtime friends and business partners ended up battling each other in a nasty court fight.
Imagine such a scenario in Oklahoma City — one that had the effect of freezing redevelopment of one-third of our downtown. Would Oklahoma City be enjoying the renaissance we see today with such adversity?
After a two-year absence, I made a return visit to downtown Tulsa over the weekend. Progress in redeveloping the downtown, in light of odds not facing Oklahoma City, is impressive.
What I saw matched up well with a glowing report released in March by the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce that estimated downtown's development totaled $386 million since 2009. That figure, by the way, does not include the $250 million BOK Center, which is a Mercedes-class arena design compared to Oklahoma City's respectable, but not glitzy, Chesapeake Energy Arena.
While downtown Oklahoma City is about to see the opening of its first small boutique grocery with Native Roots Market in Deep Deuce, downtown Tulsa is celebrating the opening of not one but two groceries.
Downtown Oklahoma City enthusiasts, meanwhile, might ask why we have yet to see the sort of urban infill housing development in Bricktown that has taken place with the five-story Metro at Brady in Tulsa's Brady District. The housing, along with a new park and other noticeable improvements, has turned a district I once saw as a wannabe Bricktown into a distinct neighborhood of its own.
The scars of vacant lots and abandoned industrial buildings separating sections of downtown Tulsa are no longer as apparent as they once were. Development is emerging around the BOK Center arena, as hoped. The Boulder Avenue bridge, closed for years and a barrier between the Brady district and Tulsa's central business district, is getting rebuilt.
Construction of the ONEOK Field, meanwhile (think a scaled down Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark), has taken off the rough edge that once surrounded downtown Tulsa's other entertainment destination, the Blue Dome District.
One can now envision a time when the Blue Dome and downtown Tulsa's central business district are unified in the same way that Oklahoma City's Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley, Bricktown, Arts District and central business district have all fused together.
Downtown Tulsa still faces challenges related to uncertainty over the Kanbar properties (some promised residential conversions have clearly been scrapped), and the aftermath of a demolition spree in the name of surface parking still scars the urban landscape.
But the urban momentum Tulsa craved a decade ago is, without a doubt, in full gear.