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OKC Central Chat transcript, July 25, 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 25, 2014 at 11:49 am •  Published: July 25, 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. Below is an unedited transcript of the chat.

NewsOK 10:05 a.m. Good morning. Steve will be logging in at 10:30 a.m., but you can start submitting your questions now.

City Hall reporter William Crum will be joining him today.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:31 a.m. Good morning everyone!
Gary T 10:32 a.m. Good morning Steve and Bill and Happy Friday to you! What is your take on the whitewater rafting facility coming in over budget? Do you think the city will take bids from non-local companies to try to get the cost down? If the cost ends up being at the low end of the bids ($37 million) what does the city do? Maybe this could be a push to get the $30 million earmarked for moving the substation adjacent to the park to be used more wisely.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:34 a.m. BILL: As far as whether taking bids from out of state, they had lots of interest but they only got these three. They are allowed to take bids from out of state. They only got these three. The mayor said today you make the White Water center all that it's supposed to be and you look at the other amenities planned and decide what to do. Basically, he said you face giving up other stuff to get the White Water center done.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:34 a.m. STEVE: So Bill, does that mean the grandstands and wind screens could be trimmed down or eliminated?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:35 a.m. BILL: Yes. People are already talking about spectators preferring to sit in the grass along the river instead of a hot grandstand. So I suspect the grandstands could end up dead. And they've already put off the wind screens pending completion of the white water center.
Gary T 10:36 a.m. There are a lot of people who hate the idea of incentives for companies to come to OKC (Bass Pro, Cabela's, outlet mall, Von Maur, etc). Do you agree with that mindset? If not, what do you say to those people?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:38 a.m. STEVE: It's a policy decision. I understand Ed Shadid's question about "where does it end?" Will the Cabela's deal lead to incentives being given for every new big box retailer that wants to enter the Oklahoma City market? Cabela's made it clear - they didn't need this money. But they wanted it because it was available. But I also understand that cities live and die based on sales taxes. And even after the incentives are given to Cabela's, the city is still ahead by million of dollars.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:39 a.m. BILL: It's worth noting that Mayor Mick Cornett and Tulsa Mayor Dewey Barlett have started a task force to look at tax reform that might lead to reducing cities' dependence on sales taxes - which might reduce this competition between cities for retail.
Guest 10:39 a.m. Hello Steve, thanks for all of your great work and insight.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:39 a.m. Thanks!
Mike 10:40 a.m. Do you think with the local bids coming in over budget we should look out side the state to companies that have experience in building the white water park?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:41 a.m. STEVE: Where is this idea coming from that non-local contractors can not bid on Oklahoma City projects? It's not true.
Guest 10:42 a.m. Is city hall doing anything to encourage development of family housing around the C2S park? How about downtown in general? I'm sure it is frustrating for families that OKC built an elementary school downtown but there is almost nowhere downtown for families with elementary schoolers to live.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:44 a.m. STEVE: I find it ironic that with the influx of families wanting to live downtown to enroll their kids at the new John W. Rex Elementary that the owners of the most family friendly apartment complex, Sycamore Square, are emptying out their residents and converting the two-bedroom apartments to smaller one-bedroom apartments. The owners, who are based in Los Angeles, say they know where the Oklahoma City market is going and that they are responding to a changing market. You can read my story about Sycamore Square here:
Steve Lackmeyer 10:46 a.m. STEVE: As an aside, I will provide some historic context when it comes to Los Angeles buyers coming in and assuming they know the market. Similar assurances about the market and needed changes were made by Aaron Yashouafar when he bought First National Center. He made changes that drove out tenants, all in the name of doing what he said was necessary to address a changing market. His deal ended in bankruptcy.
Mark 10:47 a.m. Steve, how do you feel OKC compares with other cities in terms of the quality level of public works. It appears we often side with the least expensive option and have plain, or non-appealing public works. Roads and buildings without landscaping or aesthetics seem common. It does seem to be getting better with the new bridge but we still don't seem to build "nice" public projects.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:49 a.m. STEVE: I've been told by some that Oklahoma engineering colleges have not kept up with trends and new approaches to public works projects and that Oklahoma City has continued to hire from those schools instead of pursuing any shake-up in how things are done. This may or may not play into what is being built by the city and problems that have arisen.
Mary 10:49 a.m. Hi, Steve!! I haven't seem much dirt moving at the proposed GE complex/building. What gives?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:50 a.m. Site work is being coordinated with the ODOT change to the 10th Street/I-235 ramps and utility relocation. The site is active, and there may be more going on than what we're seeing.
Pat 10:51 a.m. Hello Steve - Play the percentages, KC and Dallas jealous, what are the odds of this happening ? Thanks
Steve Lackmeyer 10:51 a.m. Sixty percent.
Gary T 10:51 a.m. Do you think the building of more for sale and rental housing around the Civic Center will force the jail to be built elsewhere? What kind of timeline do you think we are looking at for this?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:52 a.m. STEVE: I have trouble seeing the jail moving in any scenario simply due to the cost and the history of county government corruption in connection with the jail's construction 24 years ago. The county wants to build a new jail, but polling for any tax measure is not good.
Steve Lackmeyer 10:54 a.m. BILL - I just got an update on the John W. Rex Elementary. They expect to enroll 325 students in pre-k through 2nd grade. There is a waiting list for every grade. School starts August 20th. Remember the school is ramping up by adding students and grades each successive year.
Gary T 10:55 a.m. Bill, what has the interaction been like between Ed and Mick since the election has been over? Ed had a lot of not nice things to say about Mick during his campaign. Do you think they can get back to working hard for what is best for the city or will there always be a grudge there?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:57 a.m. BILL: Certainly in public it has been respectful and professional. Shadid has not been as vocal during the city council comments section at the end of their meetings. That's not to say he's been silent - when he has an issue, he still speaks up. There is no apparent enmity on the surface. Behind the scenes, draw your own conclusions.
Gary T 10:58 a.m. Do you think the Velodrome is actually a viable idea that could work in OKC?
Steve Lackmeyer 10:58 a.m. STEVE: A bike track is being looked at for the River Sports park area along the Oklahoma River.
Pat 10:59 a.m. Good morning guys, Do you feel a disconnect with Ed Shadid and the rest of the council or have things smoothed over ? Thanks
Pat 10:59 a.m. Good morning guys, Do you feel a disconnect with Ed Shadid and the rest of the council or have things smoothed over ? Thanks
Steve Lackmeyer 11:01 a.m. BILL: Ed still has his issues. His recent comments regarding the Cabela's economic incentives deal demonstrated that clearly. It's clear the mayor is first among equals on the council. And on the council he is the leading if not one of the leading voices. Shadid did lead the push for ethics reforms a few months ago, working closely with Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan so I think there is no doubt he is still an engaged and effective member of the council.
Guest 11:01 a.m. For awhile now, we've heard that things were progressing on the Rise, but after a tweet yesterday from Flashback Pub and the rumor of Fedora looking around, it's starting to look like all is not well at the Rise. Do you know what is actually going on and if things are falling apart on this project?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:03 a.m. STEVE: It's clearly falling further behind schedule and problems are emerging with tenants. I'll have an update soon.
Daniel Garter 11:03 a.m. Steve, what are your views on the upcoming development of Chisolm Creek?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:04 a.m. STEVE: It's ambitious. A lot of rumors, some true, some false, went out last year about the tenant mix. What else can I say?
Guest 11:04 a.m. Will there be retail on the ground floor of the new parking garage on Main Street? If so what can we expect?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:05 a.m. STEVE: That's the plan. I don't think any leases have been signed yet.
Drew 11:05 a.m. Steve, have you heard of any higher dollar restaurants entering Bricktown in the near future?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:05 a.m. STEVE: It's possible, but no deal is in the works right now.
Bob 11:05 a.m. Good Morning, either of you two seen the façade they are putting on the new parking garage? From any angle other than right in front or looking from the East, it looks like a series of silver boxes and you can’t see the color vanes. Doesn’t seem to match the original design sketches.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:06 a.m. I have seen it. I wouldn't judge it yet - the facade is far from being complete.
Bob 11:06 a.m. Is the Wheeler district included in the John Rex boundries?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:06 a.m. STEVE: I think so.
Klint 11:06 a.m. Steve, Sycamore Square informed me yesterday that they can put Alex and me into a 3-bedroom unit, but they are raising the rent from $1900 (about $300 per month). I've had better options arise as a result of your story. Thank you.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:07 a.m. STEVE: Good for you Klint! Hopefully other Sycamore Square residents will end up with happy endings.
Guest 11:08 a.m. What Oklahoma engineering colleges have you heard that about, Steve?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:08 a.m. I learned long ago not to insult state colleges with the word "Oklahoma" in their name.
Chris 11:08 a.m. Steve, is there future plans to improve EK Gaylord from 1-40 to Reno? The road is terribly rough, high weeds along the track and debris and trash in the road. We had friends from out of town visiting recently and commented about this along with the grafitti covered railroad bridge at Sheild's and 1-40. Since this seems to be a major entry/exit point for downtown and Bricktown, I would think it would be important to maintain this area better?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:10 a.m. STEVE: You forgot to mention that the street is named Shields Boulevard for two blocks north of the I-40 junction and then changes without warning to E.K. Gaylord. I've always wondered why the city doesn't make it easier for travelers by making I-40 the separation point between E.K. Gaylord and when it becomes Shields. You have a good question about the road, and I do not have any answers.
Ed 11:14 a.m. Bill, after the awful,unfair journey the Guyutes folks had through the Planning Commission, do you see any changes on the horizon?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:16 a.m. BILL: I was at the planning commission - they seemed to have good reasons for asking the request be denied. I think neighborhood supporters of Guyutes came in to the council and that seemed to help. We've seen the council go against the planning commission on other recent issues as well.
Guest 11:17 a.m. For Steve.... What words enter your mind when you see journalism students sitting at your desk in the City Hall press box?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:17 a.m. STEVE: I don't a desk at City Hall anymore...
Steve Lackmeyer 11:18 a.m. BILL: They come in once a semester. I almost tripped over a student last time. They're nice kids, I think it's great that they come.
Guest 11:18 a.m. Crum, how do you think the city will respond to some of the changes being sought for the Wheeler District?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:18 a.m. BILL: I'll refer this to Steve.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:19 a.m. STEVE: Wheeler will likely require creation of a tax increment finance district, some road improvements in the next bond issue, and possibly a business improvement district. Council members I visited with seemed supportive of the project, but I can not predict how that will translate into votes at City Hall.
Ed 11:20 a.m. Steve, what's the story on all the empty street level retail space in the Devon Energy Center? I expected Devon to fill that pretty quickly.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:22 a.m. STEVE: You are talking about the fake retail facades on the garage along Hudson Avenue that Devon never wanted but added at the insistence of the Downtown Design Review Committee. You might want to re-examine whether your expectations were fully informed.
Guest 11:22 a.m. Have you noticed how much land around the River Sports Park area is now taken up by roads and highway interchange? It's ridiculous. The road situation in this state is an embarrassment.
Guest 11:22 a.m. Steve any update on rail cars? Seond question What are your thoughts on Blu Graten concept?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:23 a.m. The OK Sea container project is underway and being built on NE 2 in Deep Deuce. What is Blu Graten?
Guest 11:23 a.m. As currently drawn, the Rex boundaries do not cross the River. So, the Wheeler District is not in Rex. I assume it would be in Capitol Hill.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:23 a.m. Thank you for the clarification.
Gary T 11:23 a.m. Steve, I love your chats and the guests you get on from time to time. Any chance you can get Don Karchmer on the chat in the future to talk about his developments? I would think he would be an interesting guest.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:24 a.m. STEVE: Don would be a great guest. But he's a pretty private guy, so I'm not sure he'd say yes.
Rand 11:24 a.m. Any chance that we'll see affordable housing in downtown/Bricktown? Or is this the playground for the weathly?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:28 a.m. Affordable housing is being included in the Steel Yard development in Bricktown, and the city is trying to encourage affordable housing elsewhere downtown. To the credit of the Sycamore Square developers, their effort would result in lower priced housing as well. This "playground for the wealthy" comment is uninformed and ignores the reality that on any given day you can find all sorts of people, poor, middle income, rich, urban, suburban, single, married, with and with out kids, of all races, of all back-grounds, enjoying much of what downtown has to offer, including the Myriad Gardens, the Bricktown Canal, events at the ballpark, arena, convention center, library and music hall. Downtown is at the center of the city, a place where the community comes together. So let's quit it with the effort to insert class warfare into the discussion.
Zack 11:29 a.m. I know Cafe 7 serves Starbucks coffee but do you know why there isn't an actual store downtown?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:29 a.m. Starbucks has a shop in Lower Bricktown.
Guest 11:29 a.m. What's your gut tell you about First national Center and what we're going to see there? Are you nervous at all about it winding up in the hands of OKC developers who often cheap out on projects or don't have the vision of developers in other cities?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:34 a.m. STEVE: What is the basis for this argument? Were you that impressed with the "improvements" made by the last two sets of out-of-state owners of First National? I guess you think the condo conversions at City Place Tower across the street are an example of going "cheap"? Or are you referring to the Sieber Hotel apartments? I don't mean to offend, but this is one of a series of questions today where I just don't get where they are coming from. Give me an example of an out-of-state group that has done something downtown that makes the case for what you're saying. As for First National, I've written enough about it to know not to ever get my hopes up too much.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:35 a.m. STEVE: Forgive me folks. I realize my answers are coming off cranky sometimes with this chat. I can't figure out what information is feeding some of these questions.
Rand 11:35 a.m. ...Sycamore Square informed me yesterday that they can put Alex and me into a 3-bedroom unit, but they are raising the rent from $1900 (about $300 per month). This doesn't sound like affordable housing to me. Everybody may enjoy downtown and bricktown, but they're not able to live there.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:36 a.m. Rand, that's not the housing I was referring to.
Guest 11:36 a.m. Steve, Do you think Wheeler District should delay development to insure proper development of the the Core to Shore area. I think pushing that forward could sabotage both.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:37 a.m. STEVE: I disagree. Are you saying that the city should fight a development with momentum simply to promote an area that has no momentum?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:37 a.m. STEVE: That doesn't make sense to me.
Guest 11:38 a.m. Look no further than Devon Tower and the Stage Center Tower fiasco. A local group draws up mock renderings that look like a kid daydreaming. Then look at what Hines (out of state) did for Devon. That's one example. Or any of the highrise developments that other cities get and then the constant three and four story blocks that OKC gets left with. Out of state guys are better at doing higher class developments.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:41 a.m. Devon was the real developer of Devon Energy Center, not Hines. There is NO WAY Hines would have built an office property like Devon Energy Center as speculative office space. As for what you're calling the Stage Center Tower, we have no real idea as to what the future headquarters of OGE Energy Corp, will look like - a situation many people find frustrating. But we do not know whether those designs will disappoint or not. You can always look up market and envy what they've got. I'm sure some of them will envy Devon Energy Center - a locally developed property. And those properties in those other markets - your "out-of-state" developer is often those markets' "local" developer.
Rand 11:41 a.m. The Stage Center is way too ahead of it's time for Oklahoma City. They should have fixed it up as a personal residence and give it to Oklahoma City's Number One Citizen, Kevin Durant. Let's see him leave OKC when his contract is up in 2016 (That's what social capital is all about).
Steve Lackmeyer 11:42 a.m. STEVE: Rand - before I entertain any more questions from you, are you the type who hates all things OKC or can you tell me what aspects you do like?
Guest 11:43 a.m. Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you can share? Feels a bit stagnant lately. Any announcements coming soon?
Steve Lackmeyer 11:45 a.m. STEVE: Read my column from Tuesday and tell me again downtown development is stagnant:
Arielle S 11:45 a.m. What is the city doing to actively recruit non energy companies to OKC? I love all the energy companies we have and hopefully we get more but without tech and financial companies our job market will end up based on energy and government jobs.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:46 a.m. STEVE: The city and chamber have spent a lot of time recruiting manufacturing, aerospace and bio-tech companies - with with quite a bit of success (Boeing being the big one).
Guest 11:46 a.m. If Wheeler District has so much momentum; then besides Western Ave. roundabouts they shouldn't need a TIF District. After all the city started making developers put in their own infrastructure about a decade ago. 23rd street would like a TIF and 16th Street would like a TIF they have momentum but no support is available for them in regards to City assistance.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:47 a.m. STEVE: Actually Oklahoma City has provided a lot of assistance to the Plaza District including a streetscape and funding for their association.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:47 a.m. Discussions also are ongoing to provide some help to NW 23.
Steve Lackmeyer 11:48 a.m. I'm going to sign off now. Have a great weekend!
by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
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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