Luring young entrepreneurs
Fleming, whose task is to balance the mix of new development while subtly introducing new design to the century-old neighborhood, sees Fitzsimmons as key to drawing young entrepreneurs like Woodruff and Frosaker.
“This city has a lot of young talent that are looking for ways to harness their creativity into business ventures and make ideas turn into money,” Fleming said. “We're trying to take a balanced approach with things and not go overboard with restaurants, office or residential, but have a good blend of everything.”
But Fleming also adds that the addition of housing is what drives the neighborhood's evolution from an area that the city declared blighted in 1998.
“It gets people down here on evenings, weekends, and it makes restaurants more successful and provides opportunities for retail,” Fleming said.
Fleming credits Fitzsimmons with helping create the “sense of place” that is making the MidTown Renaissance dream a reality.
With the Park Place courtyard next to the Guardian Garage, Fitzsimmons took a former alleyway and transformed it into a public gathering spot that at night hearkens back, style wise, to the early 1900s.
The adjoining Guardian Garage, 1117 N Robinson, with its large casement windows, was transformed into 37 apartments with high ceilings and mezzanine lofts. The development is fully leased with The Garage restaurant set to open next year on the first floor with dining on the adjoining Park Place courtyard.
Fitzsimmons took a different approach to transforming a long-vacant office building at 430 NW 12 into a 26-unit apartment complex.
When Midtown Renaissance first bought the building, its interior was dated with the last apparent tenant, Southwestern Bell, having moved years earlier.
The building, built in the 1950s, was first a medical clinic whose tenants included legendary doctors Nazih Zuhdi and Charles Freede. Fleming appreciated the line of mature Sycamore trees that fronted the building along NW 12. But he admitted the main attraction was the ample parking lot to the south that is shared with the 1212 Building.
“Look back at photos of it before — it wasn't a very pretty building at all,” Fleming said.
Fitzsimmons' challenge was to take a building that had no apparent historic value, create a modern look while also keeping some of the building's original look intact.
The facade was completely changed, with courtyards created for the north-facing units that have metal grating with Boston ivy that will create green fencing. The stripped down units are built column to column. The entire building consists of refinished cement flooring. And one unit features the original elevator shaft turned into a two-story bed area, with lighting furnished from the shaft's ceiling.
The south-facing units, meanwhile, boast a full view of the growing downtown skyline.
More changes coming
Fitzsimmons' next task is a proposed redesign of the Walker Avenue entryway to the Plaza Court building and a makeover of the landmark's eastern facade.
“We're looking at improving the pedestrian experience,” Fitzsimmons said. “It's about getting rid of the funny little parking lot (along Walker) and creating a new plaza in the turning circle and hiding the trash bins. It will feel like a safer place.”
Fitzsimmons believes such improvements will be needed as Walker Avenue pedestrian traffic increases with the Midtown Renaissance developments and the opening next year of a 250-unit Edge apartment and retail complex being developed by Gary Brooks at NW 13 and Walker.
Fitzsimmons says he draws his inspiration from the neighborhood's history and architecture.
“The history of the area was being the early suburbs, or what pseudo-suburbs were originally,” Fitzsimmons said. “So that's where all the forward-thinking was. And it's always been eclectic. If you look at the Guardian and the Packard, they're historic, but different.”
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At a glance
Building a new Midtown
Other Midtown Renaissance projects: