As president of the newly formed Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, Cathy O'Connor is tasked with addressing some of the toughest challenges impeding continued development of downtown and the city at large.
O'Connor sees two big challenges ahead for downtown: the need for new public parking and an uncertain future with First National Center.
O'Connor notes workers with Continental Resources and Enogex, along with SandRidge's growing workforce, will quickly absorb the space left behind at the Santa Fe Garage by Devon employees when they move to the expanded City Center West garage at Park and Hudson Avenues.
“That's why COTPA (Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority) is doing a study now that we're hoping to wrap up soon,” O'Connor said. “It's time to find new locations for parking garages, which I don't think anyone thought would happen as soon as it has.”
That study leads to the final two challenges facing downtown as its office market continues to grow. O'Connor admits large empty blocks suitable for new buildings or garages, once sadly abundant just a decade ago, are hard to find in the downtown core.
The final unresolved matter is First National Center, which remains tied up in bankruptcy with a notable uptick in ground floor retail vacancies this past year.
Devon Energy leases much of the east tower at First National Center and created what real estate broker Mark Beffort calls “Class A” space in what remains a “Class C” building. That lease will end in 2013.
“The elephant in the room is still First National,” O'Connor said. “I think it could play a big role in what happens. We've felt that way for a few years now. Having it become occupied again is critical to downtown, and I think that situation still exists. Hopefully we can work on a solution to that in the next few years.”
O'Connor believes the convergence of energy companies downtown and the shrinking office vacancy is all on the upside, adding diversity comes with the supporting firms and businesses that gather around Devon, Continental, SandRidge, Enogex and other large employers.
O'Connor also admits to having her own dream addition to the downtown skyline.
“We're going to see companies from other communities come here,” O'Connor said. “We would love to see Boeing have a downtown presence. I wouldn't rule that out. I think that's the sort of thing we can look forward to in the future.”