Plans for a new Greater Oklahoma City Chamber headquarters were approved unanimously Thursday by the Downtown Design Review Committee despite concerns expressed by a handful of civic leaders that the project is a bad fit for the Central Business District. Clay Bennett, who led the chamber's effort to build a new home, told members of the committee the designs represent a best effort at using an oddly configured triangular site while also trying to ensure the building will adequately address the chamber's current and future needs.
What it looks likeThe design, a four-story all glass building shaped like a football, includes a park-like entrance facing E.K. Gaylord Boulevard. A planning staff report issued to the committee recommended they reject the building design because it was too far off from the street. Architect Allen Brown responded the building footprint was necessary to protect a clear sight line for the E.K. Gaylord Building across the street. "We wanted the building to stand out — something that would be an attraction,” Brown said. "It's meant to express that Oklahoma City is a city that is rising, a diamond in the rough.” Brown said the chamber discussed a proposed realignment of E.K. Gaylord and NW 3 that would have established a park where the streets now connect with Broadway. Such realignment would have allowed the new chamber to have a more urban set-back from the street, but also would have created an extra stop at E.K. Gaylord — a change rejected by city engineers. Developer Grant Humphreys praised the chamber designs, but told the committee they should consider the proposed realignment. "They (city engineers) are working around the constraints of the site as it exists today,” Humphreys said. "For too long we've lived with consequences of poor decisions made 30 to 40 years ago ... I can't sit back and say this is perfect as proposed. I don't think that traffic engineers need to be making urban design decisions.” Anthony McDermid, who was on the committee until last month, suggested the building be moved to the east end of the property, where surface parking is planned, or that the land not be developed at all. "The proposed site is the only grassed open space in downtown Oklahoma City,” McDermid said. "There are, of course, several hard-scaped spaces downtown including some with water features — Kerr and Couch parks, BOK Plaza, Leadership Plaza and Murrah park — but no flat open grass space that can be used for a multitude of events.” Roy Williams, chamber president, responded that structured parking could not be fit into the project's $18 million budget. Only three members of the committee were able to vote on the project, because of two resignations, the absence of a third member and a decision by Chairwoman Betsy Brunsteter to recuse herself from voting because her firm consulted on the designs. Member Richard Tanenbaum led the charge to approve the project, including the building design pending granting of a variance by the city's Board of Adjustment. "I think it's phenomenal,” Tanenbaum said. "We need to get this started.” Voting with Tanenbaum were committee members Jim Loftis and GiGi Faulkner.