Removal of contaminated soil, relocation of underground water lines, and the first glimpse at designs are marking a significant step toward realization of what will ultimately be a $70 million mixed-use development in east Bricktown.
The initial phase will bring 250 apartments to Bricktown — the first large-scale housing for the entertainment district. It's a project seen as having a big potential payoff for Bricktown — but also represents a three-year struggle to overcome obstacles in what may be one of downtown's most complicated properties.
The development, led by Gary Brooks and Andy Burnett, potentially represents the largest single investment in the 30-year history of the entertainment district. It also involves the only use of federal stimulus funds for downtown housing in Oklahoma City. And that award — $4.5 million — grew by another $662,000 on Tuesday in exchange for a promise by the developers to increase the percentage of rent-capped apartments.
The public investment is seen as pivotal to developing the former Stewart Steel Fabricators complex, which was built (apparently without city permits) decades ago above one of the largest underground stormwater lines running through downtown.
The first site work, removal of a series of large steel industrial buildings, was completed earlier this year.
“We're ready to remove all the remaining foundations, concrete and soil contamination beginning in early July,” Brooks said. “The majority of the contamination is metals of sort, mostly 1 to 4 feet deep in the soil. The west part does contain some contaminated water, and we're working with DEQ to clean that up.”
Relocation of the water lines, meanwhile, is expected to start at the same time, with all site preparation expected to be completed by winter. If all goes well, Brooks expects construction to start by summer 2014 — three years after he and Burnett started to look at developing the site.
A two-phased process
The project is set to be built in two phases. The first $39 million phase will consist of a ground floor of retail topped by three stories of apartments facing Sheridan Avenue between Russell Perry and Charlie Christian Avenues. A 423-space garage will run parallel along the north side of the building, with the corner of Sheridan and Russell Perry reserved for a yet-to-be-announced hotel.
A second phase, yet to be scheduled, will consist of more housing and retail that will be built east of Charlie Christian Avenue.
The proposed designs, set to be presented this week to the Bricktown Urban Design Group, call for a traditional red-toned brick on about 80 percent of the facade, and earth-tone aluminum panels to be used as architectural highlights.
Unlike other apartments being developed downtown, about 39 of the units will offer capped rent rates so that it can be affordable to restaurant workers, rowers along the Oklahoma River, and students at ACM@UCO and the OU Medical Center.
It's that part of the deal that drew praise Tuesday from Donna Wickes, community planning and development director with the Oklahoma City HUD office.
“This is a great project and it is setting the standard for affordable housing, sustainable economic development and a great quality of life for everybody,” Wickes said.
Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid said the project relieves some concern that downtown housing is being built only for those with higher incomes.
“There is a lot of celebration across the country with this new urbanist movement about place making and walkable destinations,” Shadid said. “But there also seems to be this Achilles heel, as cities are subsidizing downtowns and bringing back housing density, that there is gentrification. We recognize that and we're trying to address that.”
Future competition not an issue
With total build-out of the east Bricktown housing and retail complex not expected to be completed until 2015, developer Andy Burnett admits the development is one of the longer efforts underway in a downtown that is rapidly seeing an expansion in hotel, housing and retail space. Burnett, also a leading downtown real estate broker, is not worried about what competition might exist when the development is completed. “The obvious concern today is overbuilding in the rental market,” Burnett said. “There's over 1,800 units in various stages of planning in downtown Oklahoma City. We only average 1,300 new units in the entire Oklahoma City metro annually. Combining those statistics with the uncertainty at Sandridge and Chesapeake, you're seeing headwinds that weren't as prevalent 12 months ago.” The market, Burnett said, remains strong. “Downtown Oklahoma City is still the chic option for most renters,” Burnett said. “As the park, white water course, light rail, new retail, hotels and jobs come online, the momentum of downtown will continue to accelerate. The quality of life is getting better daily.”