OKC Central Chat transcript, March 21, 2014

by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: March 21, 2014 at 12:36 pm •  Published: March 21, 2014

The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer and Louisville 21C Museum Hotel President Craig Greenberg took questions from readers in today's OKC Central Live Chat about a new museum hotel opening in the old Fred Jones Assembly plant

You can join Steve's Q&A's on Fridays at 10 a.m. and submit your questions about the happenings in and around downtown Oklahoma City. Below is an unedited transcript of the chat.

NewsOK 9:28 a.m. Good morning everyone. Steve will be logging in at 10 a.m., but you can start submitting your questions now.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 9:57 a.m. Reminder: today's special live chat is at the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville with hotel president Craig Greenberg. This very special combination museum hotel is set to renovate and open a new location at the Fred Jones building on Main Street downtown.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:00 a.m. Good morning everybody!
 
Gary T 10:01 a.m. Good morning Steve and Craig and Happy Friday to you both. Have you heard anything of the layout of the hotel and other parts of it? I would think the restaurant and art exhibit would go in the smaller area butting up against Classen and the rest of the building would be the hotel.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:03 a.m. CRAIG GREENBERG, President 21c Museum Hotels: We focus on activating public space both inside and outside the hotel and restaurant on the ground level in all of our projects. That would be our focus in Oklahoma City as well. So you can expect activity on Main Street and Fred Jones.
 
Gary T 10:03 a.m. Do you think the new police station on the NE/C of Shartel and Main and the jail areas surrounding will hinder development of this area?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:04 a.m. CRAIG: I think there are so many great parcels of property and buildings in the surrounding area that development is going to be very significant for the foreseeable future.
 
Anthony 10:04 a.m. How was your stay at the 21c museum? Were the rooms nice? Does the museum only feature local artists?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:06 a.m. STEVE: Quite honestly, this is among the top hotels I've ever stayed at. And that's saying something considering I've been blessed to have stayed at the Roosevelt on Columbus Circle in New York City. And quite honestly, if we're just talking hotel to hotel, I'd choose 21c Museum Hotel. There's art, fun art, everywhere, the galleries are extensive, and they're not afraid to have fun with their displays. It's not pretentious art, though some of it is of top caliber. It's really an amazing museum in and of itself. The operation is also four-star, full service.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:07 a.m. CRAIG: We work very closely with local artists and local art students in all of our markets. Our exhibits show the work of international and nationally known living artists along side local and regional artists. It just varies from exhibit to exhibit.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:08 a.m. STEVE: I will be writing extensively about their art operation as part of an upcoming story based on this visit.
 
Anthony 10:08 a.m. What is one thing in Louisville that you wish you could put in okc?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:09 a.m. STEVE: Without a doubt, it's their extensive intact cast iron facade buildings.
 
Gary T 10:09 a.m. Of the structures to the south of the proposed 21c Museum hotel, which ones do you think will remain intact and which ones will be torn down? I would guess the two brick building on the NW/C of Sheridan and Fred jones road, the two tan buildings facing sheridan and then all the other metal framed buildings would be torn down to make way for structured parking or other redevelopment.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:09 a.m. STEVE: Don't be surprised if the more temporary metal structures disappear.
 
Gary T 10:10 a.m. Do you think we will see more streetscaping on Main or Sheridan before or quickly after the hotel opens? Maybe a continuation of the Film Row streetscape down sheridan?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:11 a.m. CRAIG: We hope the city's Project 180 streetscape efforts continue westward to Classen and the new boulevard.
 
Gary T 10:11 a.m. Are there any plans to renovate buildings NW of the Hart building? Seems they would be a good bridge between Film Row and 21c.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:11 a.m. STEVE: I think the new 21c Museum Hotel will spur a redevelopment of many of these buildings.
 
Anthony 10:11 a.m. Is the 'street life' in Louisville better than okc? What is something that we could do to better increase our street activity downtown?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:12 a.m. STEVE: I have some thoughts on this. I don't know how to answer it. I've not spent a weekend here. But based on a single weekday, I think there are things that both cities can learn from each other. I'll blog about this in the future. I haven't really completed my thinking on this.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:13 a.m. CRAIG: If the Louisville Cardinals make it to the Final Four, our downtown streets will look very similar to the crowds in front of Chesapeake Arena during NBA play-off time.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:13 a.m. STEVE: Final four is apparently a pretty big deal in Louisville. Something about basketball......
 
Guest 10:14 a.m. Why did 21C choose Oklahoma City?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:15 a.m. CRAIG: We were introduced to members of the Hall family (owners of the Fred Jones building) through a common acquaintance. We share lots of common goals including a belief in urban revitalization, preservation and art. As soon as we saw the building, we got our first tour of downtown and learned about the continued growth expected in Oklahoma City. We were very excited about this opportunity.
 
Guest 10:15 a.m. Why did 21C choose that building in that part of town?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:17 a.m. CRAIG: We loved this building for many reasons. Not only is it architecturally and historically significant, but we welcome the opportunity to be a catalyst for revitalization on the western edge of Film Row and downtown. Also, we think putting a contemporary art museum, great hotel and restaurant in a former Model T Ford assembly plant is going to be awesome.
 
10:18 a.m.
Early day photo of the Fred Jones building, courtesy Oklahoma HIstorical Society
 
Guest 10:19 a.m. What sort of partnership does 21C have with the current owners of building?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:19 a.m. CRAIG: 21c and Hall Capital are partners on this project.
 
AJ 10:19 a.m. Was it this building, OKC's growth or a combanation of the 2 that convinced you that this was a good time to invest in the area?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:19 a.m. CRAIG: It was definitely a combination of both.
 
Guest 10:19 a.m. What sort of involvement will 21C have with the surrounding neighborhood and city?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:21 a.m. CRAIG: We seek to be active in all of our communities. In particular, we work closely with local non-profit arts organizations to provide them with a unique venue for activities such as film screenings, performances and poetry readings. We are excited about the potential collaborations with many local organizations and artists.
 
AJ 10:21 a.m. Which other planned project in the area are you most excited about as your hotel gets ready to start renovation?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:24 a.m. CRAIG: We are very excited about the development of the new park in Core to Shore (south of the Myriad Gardens). In Louisville, we've been fortunate to have a Hargreaves designed riverfront park for over a decade (and it keeps growing). And it has been a tremendous gathering place for downtown activity and public events.
 
Guest 10:24 a.m. Are you worried about a low occupancy rate? A lot of hotels are going up right now.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:25 a.m. CRAIG: No. We are confident that more and more people are going to continue to travel to Oklahoma City for business, convention and leisure in the coming years. Many of these travelers will be looking for a very unique experience.
 
Julia Kirt 10:25 a.m. We'd love to hear about the types of exhibitions and programs they expect to host at 21c and and how they organize them (same across the country? local curator, etc?). We've Have seen some incredible things in the other 21c Hotels!
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:28 a.m. CRAIG: We have a dedicated art team led by our chief curator and museum director. Our exhibitions are all uniquely curated and rotate regularly throughout all of our public spaces. The shows display art from our founders' collection as well as borrowed works from other museums, art collectors, artists themselves and galleries. Some of the art related programming at our other properties included a Sunday night film series, yoga with art, docent tours and artist lectures.
 
Anthony 10:28 a.m. You might share with your 21c hotel guy, the grand daddy hotel in Cape Town, South Africa. I don't know what the top of the Fred jones building looks like, but it could be cool to have some airstream suites on top like they do. Maybe have them culturally themed based off of okc/okc celebs.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:29 a.m. STEVE: You just told him yourself!
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:29 a.m. CRAIG: I'll be sure to check out that hotel. I agree that the roof of the building could be very cool.
 
Terry 10:29 a.m. Still no one at the Bicentennial Park. They must all be at the Waffle House.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:29 a.m. STEVE: Noted.
 
guest 10:30 a.m. Craig - I applaude your vision and thank you for your trust in the OKC market. I hope you are greatly rewarded in your venture here in our fine city! I would expect this to spur further development and investment in that area. Do you see the same?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:31 a.m. CRAIG: Yes. It would be wonderful if we play a small role in spurring more commercial and residential development in the immediate vicinity of the Fred Jones building.
 
Guest 10:31 a.m. Do you plan to focus on any particular type or theme with your hotels' art? Are local artists sought out?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:32 a.m. CRAIG: All of our artists are living artists. 21c stands for the 21st century, hence our focus on living artists.
 
Dan 10:32 a.m. How (un)developed were the areas surrounding the 21C hotels in Louisville and Bentonville when they were first opened, compared to the Fred Jones building and the west edge of downtown OKC?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:34 a.m. CRAIG: Louisville was fairly similar to the immediate vicinity of the Fred Jones building today in that there were many buildings with high degrees of vacancy and under-utilized. Our building, for example, was approximately 90 percent vacant before we started construction. In Bentonville, we are part of a continuing revitalization of that city's town square and its connection to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art which I highly recommend everyone go see if they haven't already.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:34 a.m. STEVE: I will have a lot more on this in my upcoming story.
 
guest 10:34 a.m. With the development 21c and 700 West.... do you think we will see a major arts revolution towards that edge of downtown (even if we are losing the Stage Center)? They seem to dovetail nicely.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:35 a.m. CRAIG: I hope so. That would be great for the area and downtown Oklahoma City.
 
Gary T 10:35 a.m. Craig, you only have three hotels in three smaller cities. What made OKC jump to the top of your list as #4?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:36 a.m. CRAIG: We are currently under construction on a project in Durham, N.C. and are starting construction very soon on a project in Lexington, Kentucky. Oklahoma City will be our sixth hotel because we are so excited about the building itself, the prospects for continued downtown revitalization and the partnership with Hall Capital.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:40 a.m. CRAIG: First, in terms of what Louisville can learn from OKC, our chamber of commerce took a large group there several years ago to see the magnificent impact of the MAPS program. Right now, the Kentucky state legislature is considering a constitutional amendment and legislation to permit Kentucky cities like Louisville to have a local option sales tax. Currently, Kentucky cities can not choose to enact local sales taxes. Don't sell yourselves short in downtown OKC, as I think there are a lot of wonderful things already there. Bricktown's retail and commercial activity is very impressive and the Chesapeake Arena is a wonderful attraction. The downtown convention center in Louisville is very helpful to attract thousands of visitors throughout the entire year and I think Oklahoma City will be very pleased when its convention center is built in the near future.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:45 a.m. STEVE: I've been thinking a lot about this question. At first glance, I saw the downtown Walgreens (something downtown OKC would kill for), and the much busier streets and thought, oh wow, this downtown is just far more impressive. Keep in mind, Louisville is an older city (founded 1778). It has a lot more its historic architecture intact. It's more spread out, but in a way that retains density. But it's a lower rise skyline. So in that sense, we do have taller buildings. But I've not seen any really bad examples of 1970s architecture (which we do have in OKC). But it's a city that has way too many one way streets that are intimidating for pedestrians. Traffic was moving way too fast last night on Main Street. I think Louisville and OKC share a passion for using festivals and special events to activate their downtowns. The biggest difference is Louisville has some very impressive mid-rise and soon high-rise housing. They're ahead of us in this game - we need to figure out how it's getting done when they have a much smaller downtown residential population. I love downtown Louisville.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:45 a.m. Oops. Last two answers were to the following question.
 
Guest 10:45 a.m. Louisville is in many ways very comparable to OKC in terms of general size and demographics. Though I haven't been myself, people I know who have been to Louisville will generally say its ahead of downtown OKC at the present time. I am sure the 21c Hotel is a big part of that and the hotel coming here will go a long way towards getting us there. Do you agree with that assessment? What do you think downtown OKC can learn from Louisville and what will it take to get us to that level? How long do you think it will take us to get there? Likewise, what can Louisville learn from OKC?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:46 a.m. TIFFANY, can you fix this in the transcript?
 
Tom 10:46 a.m. Do you see any upcoming changes at Sunshine Laundry on Classen? That would make a big difference in this area!
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:46 a.m. STEVE: Possibly?
 
Gary T 10:46 a.m. Craig, you have renovated several older buildings into 21c hotels and built new in Bentonville (I think that was the new one). Was there different challenges for building new versus renovating? I would think it would be easier that renovating a 100 year old building.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:48 a.m. CRAIG: We have renovated more historic buildings than built new. But we certainly like both. Historic renovations provide really fun challenges and opportunities to juxtapose contemporary art against historic architecture. Regardless of whether a project is built new or a renovation, we seek to design contemporary, but very comfortable, hotel rooms and public spaces and provide exhibit space that is truly a museum.
 
Julia Kirt 10:48 a.m. Do the programs include visiting artists/resident artist projects? If so, please describe.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:49 a.m. CRAIG: Our plans do not include resident artists, however we fairly regularly bring in visiting artists for lectures and other events in connection with their works being displayed as part of a particular exhibition.
 
Pete 10:49 a.m. Craig, everyone in OKC is very excited about 21c. Could you tell us about your approximate timeline? When will the specific plans be revealed? When will construction start? When do you hope to open?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:50 a.m. CRAIG: The answer is: "As soon as possible" to all of your questions. LOL.
 
Max 10:50 a.m. Were your hotels in Arkansas and Louisville also "urban pioneers," locating in as raw/undeveloped locations as in OKC, when they opened? What type of development occurred around them in the 3 or so years after they opened?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:52 a.m. CRAIG: I would like to think that our hotel in Louisville played a small role in the continued revitalization of the historic west Main Street district, which now features several museums and fully occupied buildings. In Bentonville, we are part of a broader citywide effort to attract not only business travelers but also leisure and cultural travelers who are seeking to enjoy northwest Arkansas' bike trails, other outdoor activities or the Crystal Bridges American Museum of Art.
 
Terry 10:53 a.m. Mr. Greenberg, First I want to commend you for boldly "going where no man has gone before" (Sorry, I'm a Trekkie) by stepping forward to convert the Fred Jones building into such a unique use. It will definitely be a boon to the area. Second, are you crazy? The area is and has been known for being inhabited by the homeless as well as the potential to be cut off access-wise by the new Crosstown Blvd. I'm curious what drew you to the area? Finally, good luck! What you're doing takes guts.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:53 a.m. STEVE: I have spent enough time with Craig Greenberg to be able to assure you, the readers, that his sanity is quite on the norm. I'm not entirely certain that the boulevard will end up as you are predicting. I will let the crazy man answer the rest of your question.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:54 a.m. CRAIG: We welcome the opportunity to be able to be pioneers in certain locations. Maybe we go to different eye doctors, but we see tremendous opportunity for this building and neighborhood.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:55 a.m. STEVE: I'll lay bets this area is hopping within five years after the hotel opens.
 
Pete 10:55 a.m. Do you have plans to utilize the rooftop in any way? Perhaps a bar?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:56 a.m. CRAIG: We do intend to include the roof in our plans. However, public access and egress is a significant code challenge in a building like this so stay tuned for details.
 
Gary T 10:56 a.m. What challenges have you encountered so far with the Fred Jones Building that you haven't come across in other cities?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:57 a.m. CRAIG: Both the biggest challenge and design opportunity are the giant, wonderful windows. The building is also built on a structural grid of large concrete columns that we are embracing in our design.
 
Dan 10:57 a.m. I understand that you have a very distinctive, and truly unique property. Given that,(1) are you concerned about the hotel boom going on in downtown OKC right now, even though many of them are less than full service hotels, and (2) what do you think about the possibility of a large, full-service, city-subsidized convention center hotel just a few blocks from your location?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 10:59 a.m. CRAIG: I answered the first part of your question earlier in this chat. We are very excited about the prospects of a new convention center and convention hotel a few blocks away. Large downtown conventions are great for all sorts of businesses downtown and citywide, not just the immediately adjacent hotel.
 
shawnw 10:59 a.m. With your other hotels, how long have the restorations taken, on average. When should expect groundbreaking, and what is a reasonable timeframe to expect to be able to check-in?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:00 a.m. CRAIG: We expect the actual construction to take about a year and a half. We'll be back in touch soon with our timeline. But I can assure you that a large team of people are working on this project everyday.
 
Guest 11:00 a.m. Google morning guys! Craig, were you made aware of other unannounced development or redevelopment in the immediate area before you committed to this project? If so, did that information "tip the scales" or is this beautiful building
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:01 a.m. CRAIG: I am unaware of other developments in the immediate vicinity of the Fred Jones building block.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:01 a.m. STEVE: Stuff that is cooking behind the scenes is in response to 21c.
 
Gary T 11:01 a.m. How many full time employees with 21c employ?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:02 a.m. CRAIG: We expect to have over 150 employees in OKC. Currently we have 550 employees company-wide.
 
Ron 11:02 a.m. Great project. What are the total subsidies/loans/gifts/etc that 21C is getting from OKC to help make this happen. Where does the money come from, where would it have gone?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:04 a.m. CRAIG: The city is supporting this project with a $3.3 million loan from TIF funds that will be repaid by the project's operations and a $2 million TIF incentive which will be repaid by our local tax payments. We are also planning to use historic and new markets tax credits. Without the creation of a public private partnership, projects like this cannot happen today.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:05 a.m. STEVE: This money would not have gone any where by the very nature of TIF financing. It is based on growing increments in property taxes from developments like this, which, if it did not happen, there would be no such new increment (as evidenced by how long it has taken to get something like this going in the Fred Jones building).
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:06 a.m. STEVE: Ultimately, at the end of the TIF, schools, libraries, the city and county will see a big boost in revenues from this development.
 
Hurley 11:06 a.m. What condition is the building in at the moment? Will it require extensive work to redo the inside? I had heard the floors and structure might have some problems. Also, do you have a time frame for when the hotel might be up a running?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:07 a.m. CRAIG: This building is probably the most structurally sound and solid block of concrete from which we have started a 21c project. There are certainly restoration challenges but no insurmountable obstacles.
 
shawnw 11:08 a.m. Do you see yourself detracting from visitors to the nearby OKC Museum of Art, or do you anticipate working very closely with them, to include cross promoting exhibits, etc?
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:09 a.m. CRAIG: Definitely the latter. We plan to work very closely with the Oklahoma City Museum of Art as well as other museums and arts organizations. In Cincinnati for example, we are located directly next door to the contemporary arts center and work very closely with them on joint promotions. In Bentonville, we work very closely on joint programs as well. We seek to compliment and support all of the existing arts institutions.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:10 a.m. STEVE: I enjoyed visiting with Michael Whittington, the new director at the art museum and he is very excited about 21c coming to Oklahoma City.
 
Bob 11:10 a.m. As a longtime resident of Oklahoma City, I am excited to see what is to become of the old Fred Jones plant and applaud your courage in undertaking such an ambitious project.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:11 a.m. STEVE: Time to wrap it up folks. I've got a flight to catch.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:12 a.m. CRAIG: I've really enjoyed the past hour. It's exciting to see the enthusiasm and interest in 21c and Oklahoma City development in general. On behalf of all of us at 21c, we look forward to becoming a part of your community in the very near future.
 
Steve Lackmeyer 11:12 a.m. STEVE: 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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