21c Museum Hotels, a top-rated hotelier that redevelops historic urban properties into hotels that double as contemporary art galleries, is proceeding with a plan that would transform downtown's historic Fred Jones plant an all-hours cultural hub.
The 168,000-square-foot building at 800 W Main was originally built in 1916 by auto pioneer Henry Ford as a Model T production plant and has been owned by the Fred Jones Family for decades.
The redevelopment calls for 135 hotel rooms, a contemporary art museum and locally owned restaurant. The building is on the west end of Film Row, and is surrounded by blighted properties.
Craig Greenberg, president of Louisville, Ky.-based 21c Museum Hotels, said the company specializes in redeveloping historic properties in challenged urban areas and leading an area's revival. Greenberg said a mutual acquaintance introduced him to the Hall family, descendants of Fred Jones.
“The incredible development going on in Oklahoma City and the opportunity to be a part of the city's thriving arts scene make this a very attractive location for a 21c,” Greenberg said. “21c is more than a place for out-of-town visitors to sleep. With a contemporary art museum that is open free of charge and a full roster of arts programming, this property will be a vibrant public space and cultural resource for the entire community.”
Already in planning
Design work is underway, led by New York architect Deborah Berke, who is teamed up with Edmond-based Hornbeek Blatt.
The tentative partnership agreement between Hall Capital and 21c calls for the hotel group to be lead developer and to also manage the completed hotel and museum. Greenberg visited Oklahoma City last week and started conversations with city, state and federal officials to request a mix of public financing needed to make the project a reality.
Some of the assistance, tax increment financing, historic tax credits and new market tax credits, are similar to funding providing for the renovation of the Skirvin Hilton Hotel in 2006.
“I wish we had one”
Deborah Senner, president of Allied Arts, is among those eager to see a 21c Hotel open in Oklahoma City.
“I stayed at one when I was at an arts meeting in Louisville,” Senner said. “I walked in and I thought ‘I just wish we had one in Oklahoma City.' When I learned about this, I was ecstatic. It's so innovative and contemporary. It's an experience, not just a stay at a hotel.”
Senner said during her visit the hotel featured not just the works of nationally and internationally renowned artists, but also displays by local artists. The hotel was abuzz with art showings, yoga and poetry readings.
“It's very open to the community and because it's a hotel, it's open all the time,” Senner said.
Galleries open to public
Greenberg said the museum displays at all the hotels are free to the public, and the galleries double as event space open to civic groups, film screenings and cultural presentations. The museums are typically open 24 hours a day, seven a days a week.
“One of the really fun things about our museum is a focus on works of all media,” Greenberg said. “We have a lot interactive art, which usually involves a form of video, as well as sound art, paintings and photographs.”
Greenberg said no other property was considered as the hotel group looked at expanding into Oklahoma City.
“This building has great history, it has great potential as a hotel museum and restaurant,” Greenberg said. “We welcome the opportunity to become a catalyst for further redevelopment of west downtown and Film Row.”
Greenberg added locating in a distressed urban area doesn't frighten his company — its flagship hotel in Louisville had similar origins.
“We are comfortable being pioneers,” Greenberg said. “Our Louisville property is in a similar situation, on the west edge of the central business district, and in the early 2000s it was a very different place than it is today. We're very proud to have played some role in the redevelopment of that part of the city.”
21c Museum Hotels was founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, contemporary art collectors and preservationists. Their interest in bringing works of art to the public through innovative exhibitions and programs that integrate contemporary art into daily life, coupled with their desire to participate in the revitalization of downtown Louisville led them to open the first museum hotel in 2006. 21c has since opened hotels in Cincinnati and Bentonville, Ark., and plans have been announced for properties in Durham, N.C., and Lexington, Ky.
Officials with 21c are expected to begin the application for tax increment financing and a mix of other public funding in early December.