The shaky national economy has in some cases slowed but not stopped development downtown. Certainly, the banking crisis is being felt. One major Oklahoma bank was quietly looking at opening new offices downtown and has put those plans on hold. Developer Judy Hatfield, meanwhile, found herself having to secure eight presales for her conversion of the former downtown library into condominiums as an additional financing requirement for the project. Likewise, Grant Humphreys had to delay construction of The Flatiron from July to hopefully next month. He, too, faced tougher financing requirements for a project that's set to include housing, offices and retail. And at least one project, a previously announced 12-story "Cotton Exchange” housing and retail development along the Bricktown Canal is in limbo. Developer Gary Cotton already confirmed the project will be smaller than first planned because of financing difficulty.
Still moving forwardIf all this is amounting to a yellow light on moving forward, it hasn't slowed downtown's overall momentum. For Hassan Daneshmand, owner of Italian Express at First National Center, the problem these days is too much business for his tiny restaurant. Just a few years ago, he could have easily found bigger spaces nearby. But that's no longer the case, and even if he wanted to move, good options are limited. Jim Glover and Dan Corder, owners of the Ground Floor Cafe at Leadership Square, are pretty happy, as well. They've seen a sharp spike in business, especially with catering where the sound of "thunder” at Leadership Square is welcomed by Glover and Corder.
Thunder booms into townAnd one of the last great street-level storefronts along Park Avenue was taken up by the NBA Thunder's new team store. Office vacancy is down to 23 percent — the best since the oil boom of the early 1980s. Take out Class C space and one can see why Devon Energy Corp. Chief Executive Larry Nichols saw now as the best time to introduce a new skyscraper. Likewise, one must wonder what the arrival of 500 SandRidge employees later this year into the renovated former Kerr-McGee Tower will do for the north end of downtown's Central Business District.
More facelifts are plannedOlder properties are continuing to get long-needed makeovers. Owners of BOK Plaza will be seeking permission at Thursday's Downtown Design Review Committee to renovate an adjoining garage that for years has had peeling paint and for months was marked up with graffiti. On the same review committee docket are plans for a new Greater Oklahoma City Chamber headquarters. And as reported earlier this month, oilmen John Shelton and Charles Harding are proceeding with a $35 million redevelopment of properties along the north end of the Bricktown Canal. Finally, the hotel building spree continues. The Hampton Inn and Suites in Bricktown is nearing completion, and construction is expected to start soon on a Holiday Inn Express and a Candlewood Inn (also in Bricktown). At least two more hotel projects are close to being announced. If this is a slowdown for downtown Oklahoma City, what would a boom look like?