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OKC Central News Briefs - Midtown's Town House Hotel, Citizens Bank on NW 23

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: July 31, 2014
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So much is going on, I’m resorting to a round-up on some ongoing stories and ones to keep an eye on over the next weeks and months.

We’re still waiting to find out who, if anybody, will see their bid accepted for downtown’s long neglected landmark, First National Center.

A group I’d call a “dream team,” one that included Mark Beffort and Gary Brooks, absolutely did not submit a bid. They did make an offer months before the property’s Los Angeles owners decided to seek bids instead. Beffort on Wednesday reiterated to me they have not submitted any new bids since their earlier offer.

WHERE WILL DEVON GROW NEXT?

Devon Energy is still clearly growing, as evidenced by a recent lease of about 20,000 square feet at the 55 N Robinson Avenue Building (home to the IRS). I previously reported that it was looking as if the anchor tenant, the Internal Revenue Service, and other federal agencies, were set to locate to a new home after the building was purchased by a California-based LLC.

Beffort confirms Devon was thinking about leasing addition space at 55 N Robinson Ave, “but probably won’t.” The company also continues to lease 100,000 square feet at Corporate Tower. I keep wondering where Devon might grow next …. Hmmm…. That corner across the street at Hudson Avenue and Main Street is still empty. I wonder why ….

ROOF BEING BUILT BACK AT HOTEL MARION

Work on the 108-year-old Hotel Marion at NW 10 and Broadway is still on track, with work underway on rebuilding the roof. Once the roof is done, expect to see some dramatic improvements in the building’s facade with an opening as upscale apartments this winter.

FLAT IRON BUILDING – NEW CONSTRUCTION WILL SOON FOLLOW?

A busy news cycle delayed me in reporting an interesting tidbit regarding Chuck Ainsworth’s redevelopment of an old flat iron building at 6th Street and Harrison. Ainsworth and architect Rand Elliott have scrambled to (successfully) get approval from the Urban Renewal Authority and the Downtown Design Review Committee for a last minute addition of a glass rooftop addition for the tenant, PLICO. Ainsworth reported design work is underway for construction of a new office building and structured parking on the east half of the block, and he does not want to waste much time getting it built. The big question is whether he can make it cash flow. Ainsworth correctly notes office vacancy downtown is the lowest it’s been since the oil boom of the early 1980s. But he also admits the market been spoiled by lease rates that have not risen as much as they should have this past decade. So will companies be willing to pay $25 to $30 per square foot? Ainsworth is indicating he’s ready to step forward and bet the market is ready to accept that change.

 

Former Citizens Bank Set for New Life?

 

A handful of buildings (including the Tower Theater) have really stood in the way of Uptown truly enjoying a full-fledged renaissance. Most of these buildings are cool, historic, and could really add to the district. Such is the case of the old Citizen’s Bank building at 603 NW 23 just north of Big Truck Tacos and Pizza 23. The building, built in 1923, also includes a great jewel box style store front – a retail façade that pretty much disappeared from our city when Main Street downtown was literally destroyed during the 1970s Urban Renewal era.

A check of Oklahoma County Assessor records (including the mailing address for the LLC), shows the building was bought for $525,000 earlier this month by David Box, who owns the Greens Country Club in northwest Oklahoma City and previously owned the Gold Dome at NW 23 and Classen Boulevard. I hope to find out soon what Box’s plans are for this great property.

Town House Hotel Set for Redevelopment

Another great old property in Midtown appears to be close to getting a great update. I’ve known for months the 81-year-old Town House Hotel , 627 NW 5, had sold in January for $1 million to an investment group led by developer David Wanzer (who is also busy with redevelopment of the Main Street Arcade and an old Goodrich Tire shop at NW 6 and Classen).

The Town House is not in great shape. It is a monthly rent kind of place where tenants are more likely than not to be a bit down on their luck. I’m finally able to report that Wanzer is in very early stages of planning a renovation of the property into market rate apartments. No designs are done, and no timetable is set yet. But the group have filed an application to get the building placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The application reports the residential hotel was built in 1933 by Charles B. Lutz, son and grandson of early-day Guthrie pioneer dry goods merchants. Lutz also was secretary treasurer of Kerr’s Department Store downtown, where his uncle was president. The Town House was one of several residential hotels built by Lutz, though only one other, the Century Hotel (also a cool, neglected building just south of St. Anthony Hospital) is still standing.

The Town House was likely built (at a cost of $20,000) for what was in the 1930s a still booming city workforce fueled by the discovery of large oil fields.

The application indicates the Art Deco/Spanish Colonial style building has not changed much over the years. The original hung-style wood window units are still present in all elevations, and the glazing pattern of the multiple lights remains intact. In some units the bathrooms still have the original ceramic tile tub/shower surrounds, bathtubs and pedestal style sinks. Rooms still have original mill work and wood panel entry doors. The interior plan of 54 single rooms and utility areas remain as they were first designed with the exception of the fourth floor, where rooms were changed in 1967 and combined into two-room efficiencies.

Imagine … this is just what I can’t fit in print wise…. So what am I working on next?

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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