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Loss of Kerr-McGee, other scares failed to stop downtown Oklahoma City's momentum

The loss of Kerr-McGee as a corporate anchor once would have cratered development of downtown Oklahoma City. But the momentum created by the original Metropolitan Area Projects started in 1993 couldn't be stopped a dozen years later.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: June 15, 2012

/articleid/3684493/1/pictures/1748770">Photo - A file photo shows construction ongoing for the Block 42 high-end housing complex near downtown on Wednesday, April 4, 2007, in Oklahoma City, Okla. Staff photo by CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN ORG XMIT: KOD <strong>CHRIS LANDSBERGER - THE OKLAHOMAN</strong>
A file photo shows construction ongoing for the Block 42 high-end housing complex near downtown on Wednesday, April 4, 2007, in Oklahoma City, Okla. Staff photo by CHRIS LANDSBERGER, THE OKLAHOMAN ORG XMIT: KOD CHRIS LANDSBERGER - THE OKLAHOMAN

Some fell short

But as with all great ambitious efforts, the perfect tale spun over the previous 20 years isn't without some cracks as it's presented to more than 500 visiting journalists from around the world.

Bricktown, while far livelier than it was in the early 1990s, still has too many surface parking lots and empty buildings according to various planning experts who have visited in the past couple of years. A renewal of the downtown business improvement district passed last year virtually offers incentives for such surface lots by charging higher assessments for developed properties.

Planning consultants also note that too many gaps exist between the Central Business District, Deep Deuce, Bricktown, Automobile Alley, the Arts District, MidTown and Film Row. Those gaps are seen as preventing downtown from truly being one cohesive, densely developed area that might allow area residents to enjoy a walk from one area to another.

That lack of walkability, meanwhile, is seen as the reason housing isn't as well developed as anticipated a decade ago when planners suggested Oklahoma City would see the addition of 4,000 or more new housing units. The actual development at this point falls short of that prediction by half.

But it should also be noted that city planners and the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority aggressively promoted development of for-sale housing over rental housing through 2008 — a tactic that has been reversed due to disappointing sales and tightened lending for condominiums.

Not backing down

Downtown Oklahoma City wasn't immune from the 2008 economic crash that devastated the country. Two announced hotel projects in Bricktown and several housing projects were scrapped when financing disappeared. But Devon Energy plowed ahead with construction of its $750 million headquarters, SandRidge continued with the $100 million redevelopment of SandRidge Commons, and redevelopment continued along Film Row — once considered the city's skid row — and along Automobile Alley and in Deep Deuce and MidTown.

Civic and business leaders could have concluded that with the economy faltering and Oklahoma City barely escaping the national recession, 2009 would have been a good time to sit back and enjoy the city's renaissance.

But at this point, the idea of doubling up one's bet was too ingrained in the city's collective consciousness. The question this time around, as before, was whether these bets would again pay off as handsomely as they had before.

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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Steve Lackmeyer is an award-winning business reporter and columnist who started with The Oklahoman in 1990. He has covered downtown development since 1996. He authored three books on the history of downtown Oklahoma City: “OKC Second Time Around,” “Bricktown” and “Skirvin,” and a third book on the construction of Devon Energy Center is due for release in the fall. His OKC Central column appears in The Oklahoman business section every Tuesday.


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