TULSA — Tom Wallace's friends warned him against buying and renovating an abandoned warehouse in the Brady District for his engineering firm.
A Spaghetti Warehouse had operated across the street for more than a dozen years as he contemplated the move to 200 E Brady St. in 2004, and the community was home to two classic music venues, the Brady Theater and Cain's Ballroom.
But Wallace's friends saw all the boarded-up buildings and assumed the area was riddled with crime. The Boulder Avenue bridge, a key link between the old warehouse district and the central business district, was closed several years earlier and left to crumble.
“This area was always kind of a diamond in the rough,” Wallace said. “My wife and I came down here on a spring morning in 2004, and we saw people along Main Street putting in flower boxes and watering them. There was something special going on.”
Wallace's friends no longer doubt his investment in Brady.
Monday, more than 100 Tulsans showed up to celebrate the opening of a new Boulder Avenue bridge that is anchored by the historic 99-year-old Brady Theater on the north end and the cutting-edge, five-year-old BOK Center on the south end.
Bob Fleischman, Brady Arts District Association president, admits that even though a bridge one block away provided pedestrians and motorists an alternative entry to the area, few choose to take the detour over the railway tracks when attending events at the 19,199-seat arena.
Fleishman sees the new $8.3 million bridge, and the lure of ample additional parking, as a possible opening for thousands to rediscover the Brady District. And when they cross the bridge with its ornate landscaping and decorative design, they'll discover a neighborhood that has undergone a $200 million transformation over the past couple of years.
New developments include the Brady Fairfield Inn and Suites, which features 11,500 square feet of retail, and the $12 million Metro at Brady Arts District loft apartments.
The area still includes a mix of ongoing light industrial and warehouse operations, and it is not dominated by bars and restaurants as seen in other “old town” warehouse districts. The quaint small violin, glassblowing and pottery shops that operated in Brady long before the area became “cool” again remain firmly planted in their longtime homes.
Cain's and the Brady Theater, meanwhile, remain cherished musical institutions among Tulsans.
Wallace Engineering's immediate neighborhood includes the newly opened $11.8 million home for Griffin Communications and KOTV-6, the two-year-old, $39.2 million ONEOK Field baseball stadium and dozens of new shops and restaurants.
The view from Wallace's offices also includes Guthrie Green, one of several investments by one of the neighborhood's biggest benefactors, the George Kaiser Family Foundation. The $10.5 million park was just the start of the foundation's investment in the area, and features gardens, a covered pavilion, stage, fountains, trellis and cafe.
“They are without a doubt one of the biggest investors in the area,” Fleischman said. “Guthrie Green is their concept and inception, and they continue to operate it. It is a huge magnet for the area. We've seen people who never thought about coming down here, coming for all types of events. They decided one day to have a food truck session on a Sunday, and for that they drew more than 3,000 people.”
The foundation also redeveloped two buildings — the Robinson Packer Lofts and the Detroit Lofts — and converted the upper floors into affordable housing for visiting Teach for America teachers who work with inner-city kids.
The Detroit Lofts also is set to be home for downtown Tulsa's first grocery: the Archer Market.
The latest projects for the foundation include the $36 million redevelopment of the Matthews Warehouse, which will house galleries of the city's famed Philbrook and Gilcrease art museums and the Hardesty Arts Center. The building also will house the Woody Guthrie archives, which the foundation acquired in 2011.
The foundation's investment in the Brady community so far totals more than $50 million and is one of several Tulsa “zones” being targeted for revival, said Ken Levit, executive director of the George Kaiser Family Foundation.
“Our central mission is early intervention in the cycle of poverty,” Levit said. “As members of the community, we also feel an obligation to help the city grow and prosper. A stronger community helps us achieve our greater goal of economic development.”
Levit noted that most cities enjoying resurgence in the 21st century boast a downtown district with a thriving arts and cultural focus that helps in retaining and recruiting talent.
“We didn't have that in Tulsa a decade ago,” Levit said. “We took a number of shots focused in the region to see if we can make something happen. And with our other partners, we've achieved a lot, and we're overjoyed.”
Brady District has long history
The Brady District is one of Tulsa's oldest neighborhoods. It is named after Wyatt Tate Brady, who arrived in Tulsa in 1890 as a shoe salesman and quickly opened one of the town's first mercantile stores. Brady was one of the original incorporators of Tulsa. He was a longtime Tulsa promoter and developer whose legacy includes the district's famed Cain's Ballroom. To learn more about the Brady District, go to www.thebradydistrict.com.