A year ago this month, Jose Rodriguez was excitedly traveling the country buying vintage video arcade games and preparing for a New Year’s Eve launch of his Flashback Retropub at The Rise shopping center in Uptown.
That dream has soured for Rodriguez and his partner, Mark Temple, as the redevelopment at NW 23 and Walker Avenue has experienced a series of delays that now has some tenants expecting work won’t wrap up until this winter. Their dream of a 1980s bar and arcade may still happen — but it likely won’t open at The Rise. Another tenant, Fedora cigar bar, is relocating to Automobile Alley, but not with the acrimony taking place between Rodriguez and the developer of The Rise, Jonathan Russell.
Russell acknowledges he is frustrated with the delays as well, but still has the support of most of the tenants as he battles against an unexpectedly complicated site.
“We changed a couple of tenants, but we’re set to open 100 percent occupied, and we’re moving forward,” Russell said.
Russell said that after celebrating the discovery of decades-old, intact historic facades on the two buildings being redeveloped, reality set in with the discovery of two old sewer lines in the alley running to the north of the main building.
“We didn’t know we were going to have to relocate a city sewer,” Russell said. “To get finished, we put all of the utilities in first. We then found out we needed to get the sewer removed first. And then we had to deal with other discoveries of things that had been underground since the 1920s and lines that weren’t on any city maps.”
The complications, Russell said, took a toll on the project timeline.
“It’s time consuming,” Russell said. “Every time you find something, you have to come up with a solution, the engineer has to draw it up, it has to be taken to the city, and then that takes time. It would have been cheaper and easier to tear this down. It would have been done 18 months ago that way.”
Rodriguez said his complaints go beyond the delays — that he also encountered frequent changes to plans for his space as walls began to go up. He said he agreed to a short extension of a mezzanine level that was to serve an upstairs tenant — but was surprised to find out an overhang that was just enough to fit over the arcade games was built several feet deeper into the bar space.
“From what I’ve gathered, there is someone who wanted extra space,” Rodriguez said. “They didn’t have it, so they tried to make new space. I understand he’s trying to make more revenue, but it was coming at the expense of another tenant.”
Rodriguez said Russell did not communicate with him about the continued delays, and the space changes would have left the bar with some areas with an unacceptable 8-foot ceiling height.
“We were told we would have the entire space, floor to ceiling,” Rodriguez said. “I wanted the high ceiling and high walls, and that was the agreement.”
It was at that point that relations soured between the tenant and landlord with Rodriguez soon taking his complaints public in online social media.
Russell dismisses Rodriguez’s complaints, saying he has maintained communication with tenants and that tenants also were always free to ask for updates.
“This has been a project with hundreds of moving parts,” Russell said. “For me to make a prediction of where one wall will be — I can only say the best I can on how it will be done.”
Other tenants have told The Oklahoman they understand the delays and are waiting patiently for the development’s completion. Keith Paul’s Good Egg Dining Group is now expecting to open its new seafood restaurant in the southeast corner of the development this winter.
“These things happen,” said Paul, who has opened most of his restaurants in restored old buildings. “If they had torn it down, it would be open by now. But then 90 percent of those in the neighborhood would not have been happy.”
Paul said he understands both sides of the disagreement between Russell and Rodriguez, adding “this being his (Rodriguez) first venture, yes, it has been a long wait.”
Paul said he also was surprised by the extent of the delays.
“I knew there likely would have been delays, but I didn’t know it would take this long,” Paul said. “But this is worth waiting for. They’ve (Russell and his staff) been upfront, and they’ve given us time frames when the schedules changed. I think a new structure would have been suburban and canned. Who can’t appreciate the facade they uncovered — this is what we all like to see. This building will have a lot of character.”