OKC Central Chat transcript, July 11, 2014

The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer took questions from readers in today's OKC Central Live Chat. You can join Steve's Q&A's on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and submit your questions about the happenings in and around downtown Oklahoma City.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: July 11, 2014 at 12:45 pm •  Published: July 11, 2014
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The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer took questions from readers in today's OKC Central Live Chat. You can join Steve's Q&A's on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. and submit your questions about the happenings in and around downtown Oklahoma City. Below is an unedited transcript of the chat.

NewsOK 10:10 a.m. Good morning. Steve will be logging in at 10:30 a.m., but you can start submitting your questions now.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:36 a.m. Good morning everybody.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:38 a.m. I'm am at the offices of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City (which also includes the Urban Renewal Authority). I am being joined this morning by alliance president Cathy O'Connor. At her side are the always wonderful Dustin Akers and Cassi Poor.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:38 a.m. Let's get this chat started.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:38 a.m. Preference will be given to questions and comments related to today's guests.
Guest 10:39 a.m. Cathy: What projects and initiatives can point to that would NOT have happened if the Alliance had not been formed?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:41 a.m. CATHY: The most recent example that shows how the alliance brings together all the agencies involved is the GE global energy research center. The project required a very quick response. we had to quickly identify spots the company would be interested in. we worked with the chamber on the early recruitment effort. the site they selected was owned by urban renewal authority, they also were involved in the strategic investment program for job creation and there is tax increment financing and a federal grant we applied for. it's a great example of all the agencies we work with under one management structure coming together to put something together very quickly.
Reggie Jet 10:41 a.m. Cathy, thanks so much for joining Steve's chat this morning! Would you give us an update on Project 180? I'm particularly interested in plans for E.K. Gaylord Blvd. as it's the site of the transit hub, and Park Avenue now that a retail study is being conducted for that street.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:45 a.m. CATHY: Package 6A is under construction and it will be wrapping up the next few months. Package B with E.K. Gaylord is still being prepared. There is a seventh package that will be split into two, A & B. 7A will be bid in the next few weeks and will be under construction the next few weeks and will be under construction this fall. 7B will be in 2015. Because we haven't bid the part of 7B, plans are still in the making, we should have time to address changes that might be recommended as part of the retail study for Park Avenue, and we might be able to even make small changes during construction like filling in a tree well to make room for more street dining.
Guest 10:45 a.m. Good morning, Steve. Hello, Cathy! Steve gave us your titles and basic job description, but could you offer a more detailed explanation of exactly what you do (what decisions you make, what impact your job specifically has on the city, etc.)?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:47 a.m. CATHY: I go to A LOT of meetings. (Emphasis by Steve). I am the point person for most of the economic development endeavors happening in OKC. I work a lot with the chamber, the city, I have a lot of meetings with people at City Hall. I meet with a lot of developers and people interested in doing work in Oklahoma City or moving a company to Oklahoma City or are just fascinated by what is happening here. A lot of what I do is try to see the future and provide some kind of vision or strategy to what we're working on as staff. I work with the city planners quite a bit in getting our policies, regulatory structure and incentives aligned to achieve the results we want.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:48 a.m. STEVE; I'll add that Cathy is the person who ensures that the right hand knows what the left hand is doing when it comes to this city's efforts to promote business, development and jobs in our community. I am always dumbstruck by how much she oversees and tracks.
Guest 10:48 a.m. Cathy: Sorry - fat fingers. What's your vision for the Alliance? What would take it to the next level?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:51 a.m. CATHY: My vision is I would like to see us become more pro-active than reactive. I believe the Alliance is the agency is best aligned or positioned to create collaboration in the community between all the different agencies - for-profit, non-profit, non-government and government entities that are interested in economic development. I think what I would like to see in the futre is play the role of convener to develop strategies and policies toward common goals. It may be more of a day to day sort of thing. I want us to get more involved in providing economic development resources to low and moderate income areas of Oklahoma City. We have the option to develop more programs and resources that might be available and we're evaluating ways to do that.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:52 a.m. STEVE: How big of a game changer is your office's efforts to redevelop the NE 23 and Martin Luther King community in beginning that effort to address low and moderate income areas?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:54 a.m. CATHY: It's a pretty big game changer. It's giving us a lot of experience in how to collaborate with the community. How to communicate better with the community we're trying to serve. It's teaching us a lot about resources out there that we don't have access to or have limited access to and programs that might be working in other communities we can bring here and implement. That's the kind of project I'd like to see us do elsewhere in OKC. I'm not sure it can take on the same characteristics but it can certainly help us in how we do things. It's an effort I'd like us duplicate elsewhere in the city.
Guest 10:54 a.m. Welcome back Steve! Would it be possible to put up a blog post whenever you DON'T have a chat? I searched frantically for chat transcripts so I could get my OKC Central fix the past few weeks, and didn't know if they were just slow to be posted or didn't happen. As much as I like visiting your page every few hours, it's frustrating to wait for something that doesn't exist!
Steve Lackmeyer 10:55 a.m. OK. I'll start posting transcripts on the blog. Just a reminder, you can find all of my stories and posts at www.newsok.com/stevelackmeyer.
Guest 10:55 a.m. Cathy, what guiding principles help you make the decisions that you make when it comes to city matters?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:58 a.m. CATHY: First, I always keep in mind I am not the policy maker. I implement policies adopted by the city council or the Urban Authority board or any other public entities involved. But I think that some of my guiding principles is I act with a great deal of integrity, I don't play favorites, I try to be a level player with people. I think people who know me know I'm pretty direct and straight forward. I think that's a part of how I go about things. I have a great deal of concern about the financial implication of what we do. We take a great deal of pride in our conservative financial approach to economic development. That's kind of how I'm wired, 20 years experience as the city's finance director and assistant city manager of finance that you get pretty careful on how resources are used and that you don't give away the farm.
Pat 10:58 a.m. Hi Cathey, More great news for Downtown on the horizon ? Thanks
Steve Lackmeyer 10:58 a.m. STEVE: I'm not going to let her answer that. You'll have to read what I write next!
Guest 10:59 a.m. Do you have any news about what's going on at NW 15th and McKinley?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:59 a.m. DUSTIN AKERS; It's an old convenience store being converted into housing.
Pat 11:00 a.m. Cathy, Can we expect any large scale development to be announced in the next 6 months ? Thanks you
Steve Lackmeyer 11:00 a.m. CATHY: Yes.
BethanySooner 11:00 a.m. Good morning folks. Ms O'Connor it appears from the outside that OCCURA is much more proactive than in the past regarding the marketing of existing properties. If that is an accurate observation, what has changed as far as philosophy?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:02 a.m. CATHY: I think first of all we are operating in a much better economy than the Urban Renewal Authority had in the recent past. There is a lot more interest in development downtown in areas where we own property, which is mostly downtown. Yes, we are marketing the property that we have available and looking at Core to Shore as the next effort for us to be more active. Some of that is due to the economy, and part of it is we are trying to get some things moving.
BethanySooner 11:02 a.m. Ms O'Connor, what is the aspect of your job that is the most frustrating to you personally?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:03 a.m. CATHY: I think what is most frustrating to me is I do have so many meetings sometimes I don't have enough time to think, plan and strategize, and I get pulled in a lot of directions. I am challenged in managing my time.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:04 a.m. STEVE: And I go crazy trying to figure out and track what Cathy is up to.
Larry Shockley 11:04 a.m. Hi Cathy, I know there is an ongoing study happening however with all the new hotels being announced and built in Bricktown, the 21c Hotel and near downtown, is there any discussion about that impacting the need for a convention center hotel?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:06 a.m. CATHY: The addition of new limited service hotels downtown may have an impact on a convention center hotel. I don't think it eliminates the need for a conference hotel, but it does impact the market. Boutique hotels like 21C don't impact the convention hotel in the same way. They appeal to a very different type traveler and don't have an impact on a convention center hotel.
Reggie Jet 11:07 a.m. Cathy, are you aware of any projects being put on hold because of the parking situation downtown? Have we lost any big projects to the suburbs because businesses can't find parking spots for their employees? I know we are moving toward a more pedestrian-centered central business district, but right now, the lack of parking seems to be a big problem.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:10 a.m. CATHY: I am not aware of any projects we have lost, but parking is an issue during the work week and work day downtown. I think that there are always going to be companies that prefer the suburbs to downtown. But we are seeing more interest by companies to be downtown becasue so much is happening. So we are looking at parking and how to devise solutions. The addition of the new garage south of City Hall with 850 spaces will make a big difference. The garage expansion at City Center East by Mark Beffort and expansion of the Dowell garage will help us very soon relieve some pressure on the system. We have a short term issue with renovation of the Century Center garage but we will move those customers back soon. We will be looking at parking needs for the new convention center and a possible hotel, we're trying to get ahead of the game.
Pat 11:10 a.m. Cathy or Steve, When could we expect a mid rise housing project for downtown ? Thanks
Steve Lackmeyer 11:11 a.m. CATHY: I think we will probably see something in the next three to five years.
Guest 11:11 a.m. Is there a chance Frontier City moves closer to downtown Oklahoma City?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:11 a.m. STEVE: No.
RickOKC 11:12 a.m. Cathy: What current or upcoming development represents the ideal for which you think Oklahoma City should be striving?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:15 a.m. CATHY: I think the infill work and restoration work in Midtown has been a great example of the kinds of development we need to see in all of OKC, not just downtown. That smaller infill development is easier to do, easier to finance. We have examples of architecture that is the right scale and fits in with the neighborhood. I think the housing (Lift apartments) at NW 10 and Shartel is cool. Obviously the Devon tower has set a new standard or expectation for what people want to see in office construction. People may not be able to get to that scale, but it shows what quality design we can do downtown. I like Century Center and that's going to be incredible. People will be stunned at how different that building will look and that we will have people using it. We have great local architects at work and then national firms doing work like Devon tower.
Ben 11:15 a.m. Now that Costco has announced the fall opening of their Tulsa store is there any news or "rumors" regarding the opening of an Oklahoma city store?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:16 a.m. CATHY: No.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:17 a.m. STEVE: The reports I've been hearing is that Costco officials have told folks in Oklahoma City they are going to wait and see how their first store in Tulsa performs before deciding on whether to enter the Oklahoma City market. I think this is stupid and part of the whole weird retail preference for Tulsa over OKC. Why this happens, I do not know.
Larry Shockley 11:17 a.m. After attending the meeting about The Wheeler District it is clear that this a a game changing development for OKC and downtown. What are your thoughts on how this will impact/improve Downtown OKC?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:19 a.m. CATHY: I think it's a great location, it's a great idea, it has some of the best views of downtown OKC I can imagine. What's important is that we understand how different areas can compliment each other and collaborate and Wheeler can offer a different type of product our market doesn't have right now. It can be very exciting, it can help downtown and make this entire inner-city a much more exciting and dynamic place.
Guest 11:20 a.m. Most complex project the Alliance has worked on?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:21 a.m. CATHY: The GE global energy research center and the new TIF district and urban renewal area for northeast Oklahoma City. And we are working on both right now. The northeast deal is creating something from scratch. We're doing all the planning, creation of the districts and the processes to do all that. With GE, all the tools are in place but implementation has been complicated.
Guest 11:22 a.m. What has been the biggest failed project the Alliance has dealt with so far? What lessons have you learned?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:23 a.m. STEVE: We are all sitting here. And quite honestly, and I've tracked all of this, we're not sure there has been any real failures so far. Some efforts could have been improved What comes to my mind is the effort to get housing developed atop the new garage being built south of City Hall.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:24 a.m. CATHY: The effort to build housing or offices there, well, we issued RFPs three times. We still own the air rights, we could still do something in the future. The market wasn't there yet.
Guest 11:24 a.m. How have concerns about lack of public oversight of the Alliance, expressed at the time of its formation, been addressed?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:26 a.m. CATHY: All of the agencies we serve are public agencies. Our meetings are public meetings, and that's where policy decisions are made and the direction we go is determined. Since the alliance was created, the effort to improve transparency includes putting meeting packets online, there are websites for the agencies, there is a newsletter, we make reports to the Economic Development Trust every quarter on what we are working on. We've worked very hard on the quality and quantity of information on the activities we are involved in.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:28 a.m. STEVE: Transparency has improved dramatically. This is not a reflection on those who previously led Urban Renewal, but rather is a reflection on the new structure and the combined resources that Cathy now enjoys. But her direction has been very, very open. She also created a series of reports on all of Urban Renewal's properties - something that hadn't happened in years and really provided a clearer picture on what could be developed. I've had no problems with Cathy answering questions about her operations.
Tanzy 11:29 a.m. Have you heard when OG&E will provide the design of their new building? A lot of people are upset about them destroying a landmark and not having something to show for it.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:29 a.m. CATHY: I haven't heard when it will be provided.
Coy 11:29 a.m. Steve, I like the design of the new rendering of the Springhill Suites okay, but am not sure that it truly fits in Deep Deuce. It almost appears as though it is going to sit farther back from the road. Also, I hope they're not planning on surface parking lots. Those are outdated and very suburban. Your thoughts?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:29 a.m. STEVE: They have indicated they will be using the Bricktown garage for their guests' parking.
Guest 11:30 a.m. In your recent articles about Stage Center you mentioned a few items that stood out which made me question how many other companies looked at the Stage Center block for possible development?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:30 a.m. STEVE: I know of at least two.
BethanySooner 11:31 a.m. Ms O'Connor, what kind of interest has been shown by developers regarding housing around the new central park?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:33 a.m. CATHY: We are getting quite a bit of interest in housing around the new park. What we'll see are three to five story mostly for rent housing especially on the northern parts of the park, closest to the boulevard. And then as you move south and west I think we'll see more lower density even single family housing in the future.
Pat 11:33 a.m. Cathy, Are you seeing any kind of influence that the new GE Research center may be having ? Thank you
Steve Lackmeyer 11:34 a.m. CATHY: Other companies are beginning to realize OKC might be a good place to locate. We're getting interesting inquiries through the chamber. And though they have code names, we don't know who they are, they are similar companies with high tech jobs. The other interest is development in the area. We will see development along 10th Street that connects it to Automobile Alley and additional development of the research park.
Guest 11:35 a.m. Cathy, In what way has development in the city changed since you began observing it?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:35 a.m. CATHY: We've gone from nothing to a lot.
Guest 11:36 a.m. Cathy - I hear there may be a buyer for First National Center. Has the Alliance been approached to participate in any way?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:37 a.m. CATHY: I don't think there is a specific buyer for First National. But I do think the current owners are taking offers for the building. We've had quite a bit of contact from people interested in the building, wondering how incentive programs like TIF might be used to off-set the development costs.
BethanySooner 11:37 a.m. Ms O'Connor, are there any large-scale retail possibilities for the urban core in the near future?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:37 a.m. CATHY: Not that I know of.
RickOKC 11:38 a.m. What would you say is Oklahoma City's biggest obstacle that keeps it from seeing the kind of development you would like to see happen? What keeps the city from reaching its full potential?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:38 a.m. STEVE: The state legislature.
E.H. 11:39 a.m. Mrs. O'Connor, is OKC going to get any new skyscrapers in the next 12 months?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:39 a.m. STEVE: Oh, you're the clever one. Cathy is checking her text messages right now and will have to get back to you.
Pat 11:40 a.m. Dustin and Cassi: How can young professionals in the OKC area give their input towards the direction of the city without actually working for the city?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:42 a.m. DUSTIN: There are a lot of opportunities and organizations to be involved in that effect the direction of the city. Urban Land Institute, participating in planning meetings like the Wheeler charette or being involved in your neighborhood association or commercial district.
Victoria 11:42 a.m. Why is the Alliance buying land east of the "Central Park"? What is its goal in that area? There are a few unique buildings that should be saved that could add to the character of the park and the pocket district that could arise. Who is the planner for that area?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:43 a.m. CATHY: The urban renewal authority has very limited funds to do acquisition adjacent to the park. We will purchase sites if we have funding to provide catalyst development opportunities that help support the success of the park. I agree there are several unique buildings in the area that should be saved and we have no plans to acquire them.
Lacy 11:45 a.m. How many companies a month do you see inquiring about moving to OKC? Headquarters?, stores?, regional offices?, and just inquiring in general?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:46 a.m. CATHY: Sometimes its as many as ten, other months not so many. The chamber may get more inquiries than I do.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:46 a.m. STEVE: It goes like this: the chamber goes out with the fishing rod and tries to catch the fish. The alliance takes the fish and cooks it (this anecdote was given early on by Cathy).
Guest 11:47 a.m. Do similar Alliances exist in other cities, or is this unique to OKC? Are you a gov't agency and that's how you make money?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:48 a.m. CATHY: There are similar organizations in other cities. Each organization is different due to the city and state it works in. This is unique because it is in OKC. We decided to be a non-profit 501c-4 because we provide services to entities that serve both Oklahoma City and Oklahoma County. We do receive the majority of our funding through government contracts but we are private.
Guest 11:49 a.m. Cathy, you end a statement saying that you work to achieve "the results we want." Who is WE? The alliance, the residents of OKC, the mayor? Just curious what say the Alliance has in everything that is done in downtown, and if the Alliance is the say all how do you come up with your desired results? Is your agency influencing so much and not getting input from residents and other businesses?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:49 a.m. CATHY: The policy makers - city council, the policy making boards. But we are also interested in what the residents want too.
E.H. 11:50 a.m. Ms. O'Connor, when outsiders come to you about OKC, what are they most fascinated by? Our boathouse district? Our friendliness? what hurts us the most when trying to convince someone to bring their company here?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:53 a.m. CATHY: Most of the people I deal with are most fascinated with the MAPS program and what that has meant to OKC. They are stunned citizens voted to tax themselves to build facilities that benefit the entire city and that whole attitude has made such a difference in all of Oklahoma City. I think at this point there aren't really many things that hold us back when we talk to companies - we have a low cost of living, great neighborhoods, things to do, great amenities around the city - I don't hear a lot of negatives anymore. There are things we can work on - education, high school and college graduation rates - but we hear far more positive than negative from companies
Steve Lackmeyer 11:53 a.m. Guys, we have to call it quits. We may do this again sometime. My apologies to all those (and that's many) who did not get questions answered.
Steve Lackmeyer 12:01 p.m. In today's chat, we had 320 people logged in and 107 questions and comments submitted. Have a great weekend!

by Steve Lackmeyer
Reporter Sr.
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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