Editor's note: Today's regular OKC Central column has been refocused for a weeklong series looking at Oklahoma City's revival.
The satellite trucks are back. More than 500 people representing media organizations are in town this week — a gathering not seen since the worst tragedy in the city's history took place with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building one spring morning in 1995 that claimed 168 lives.
This occasion, however, is no tragedy. Oklahoma City is hosting the biggest sports event in the world this week with the start of NBA Finals at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
And amid the basketball frenzy, my time spent downtown this weekend was a reminder that Oklahoma City's success story goes far beyond our beloved Thunder.
A pleasant breeze provided for perfect outdoor viewing Saturday night. Hundreds gathered on the lawn to watch “Under African Skies,” a documentary about Paul Simon's “Graceland” album and how it conflicted with the 1980s boycott of South Africa. The film was a part of the thriving deadCenter Film Festival, which boasted numerous sold-out screenings and attendance by major Hollywood names including James Marsden, Famke Janssen, Chris Kattan, Nick Offerman and Megan Mullally.
The festival didn't exist a dozen years ago and now draws thousands downtown.
The same can be said for the drag boat races over the weekend along the Oklahoma River.
And in the middle of it all, Oklahoma's American Indian heritage was on display at the Cox Convention Center with the annual Red Earth Festival.
Shifting rows, roles
Downtown is alive — even in areas once written off as hopeless. Sheridan Avenue west of Walker Avenue was once dismissed as “Skid Row,” yet it has emerged the past few years as a reinvented “Film Row.” The strip last weekend was a popular spot for after-screening wine parties for deadCenter participants, and Joey's Pizzeria, located in the landmark Film Exchange Building, at 700 W Sheridan Ave., has become a top pick for many seeking late-night dining options.
Over the past few years, I've counted dozens of articles in publications ranging from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal tracking the many facets of Oklahoma City's revival.
Yet let's not forget Oklahoma City once was dismissed as a forgettable flyover city with nothing to retain its young creative class, the best and the brightest. We only drew national headlines when tornadoes hit.
A quarter-century ago, most of what we see today did not exist. It was in 1988 that then City Councilman I.G. Purser declared “Downtown is dead, and we helped kill it.”
Downtown Oklahoma City was not the home to any notable sports events; its public venues were crumbling; only one hotel remained open; and the streets were dead enough at night that one could (and some did) lie down in the middle of Broadway at 6 p.m. on a Friday night and not worry about getting run over.
What transpired since is a revival that is a mix of public and private investment now totaling, conservatively, more than $3 billion. As evidenced by the many construction detours, the story isn't close to being complete.
On this, perhaps the biggest moment in downtown Oklahoma City's history, let's look back and answer: how did we get here, and what's next?
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.
At a glance
Downtown OKC, then and now: