Jim Brewer has been Bricktown's P.T. Barnum for 20 years — a virtuoso at hyping an old warehouse district as the greatest attraction in the state. Rarely has he been absent long from the entertainment district, but Brewer has been missing for months now because of declining health. Those who know him are trying to reconcile Brewer's legacy. He's made headlines often, heralding the next big thing — or in the middle of fights with architects, engineers, rival developers and even City Hall. His peers talk about him with both admiration and frustration. He's stopped on the street by strangers who credit him for what Bricktown is today. And for a while, he was hailed as the unofficial mayor of Bricktown. Yet others look at the buildings he bought, cheap, that still sit empty. So who is Jim Brewer? In a recent interview with The Oklahoman, the rough-and-tumble promoter broke down in tears as he revealed a rarely discussed upbringing far more humble than most might suspect. "He is a complicated guy,” said former Mayor Kirk Humphreys, who has faced Brewer as both an adversary and ally. "He's different things to different people.” Humphreys admits his own relationship with Brewer is a bit odd. While at City Hall, the pair battled over development plans for Lower Bricktown and Humphreys' insistence that parking lots be paved. Yet today they are friends and partners in development of the former Downtown Airpark along the Oklahoma River. "He's tough, but he's also tenderhearted,” Humphreys explains. "And if I were to end up in a foxhole, I'd want to have someone just like him at my side. When you're his friend — you're his friend.”
Introduction to BricktownAn old southside acquaintance, attorney John Michael Williams, approached Brewer in the mid-'80s with an opportunity to buy into a bankrupt old town development east of downtown — Bricktown. Williams called Brewer an easy choice for someone to take over the development started by Williams' partner, Bricktown's founding developer Neal Horton. Williams concluded Brewer had cash and the toughness and will to take on a good challenge. The rest is history. Brewer began buying properties from desperate bankers and proved he could draw people to Bricktown with a haunted warehouse that is still opened every fall. And when the opening of a Spaghetti Warehouse drew long lines, Brewer seized the limelight by opening "O'Brien's” across the street. He started festivals for just about every holiday and told anyone who would listen that Bricktown was the new hip urban destination for the entire region.
Successes and feudsOver the next 20 years Brewer's promotional efforts drew countless restaurants and clubs into the district and also led to some disappointment when his predictions and promises fell short. His temper and passion sometimes resulted in creating long-lasting feuds with some tenants and business partners, but also played a key role in the two-level design of the Bricktown Canal and placement of a giant flag pole made from oil piping. Now the debates involve discussions with Humphreys over another destination: heaven. "He's been trying to convert me,' Brewer said. "He invited me to go to Billy Graham, me and my wife, with he and his wife. And then to his church. And I did. I enjoyed it. But he's religious ... "He has a standard deal with me: ‘Jim, I want you to tell me what God's gonna say to you when you tell Him you're ready to come into heaven.' I say ‘I've got an answer: I've been committed, baptized, I think I've been fair with God, and I want in.' "And I think He'll let me in.”
AT A GLANCE
Bricktown holdingsMuch of it is up for sale, but for now, Jim Brewer and his family are among the largest property owners in Bricktown. Here are their holdings: •103-105 E California, Hunzicker Electric Building. •115 E California, former Varsity Grill (currently empty). •425 E California, Coca Cola Entertainment Center. •429 E California, Brewer Enterprises. •4 E Sheridan, Melting Pot and adjoining surface parking lot. •127 E Sheridan Ave., parking next to TapWerks. •311 E Sheridan, Wormy Dog Saloon. •315 E Sheridan, new building under construction. •323 E Sheridan, empty nightclub building. •319 E Sheridan, Spyce. •Surface parking lot at Oklahoma Avenue and the Bricktown Canal. •1 E Reno, surface parking.
Bricktown festivalsJim Brewer is behind almost every major annual festival held in Bricktown, including: •Reggae Fest. •Bricktown Blues and BBQ Festival. •St. Patrick's Day festival. •July 4 festival (moved last year to the Downtown Airpark Brewer co-owns with Kirk Humphreys).