Some of Oklahoma City’s most powerful folks are set to be airborne this morning as they head to Charlotte, N.C., to learn how the city was transformed two decades ago by construction of a skyscraper and the arrival of an NBA team. Sure, there’s a lot more on the agenda — the city established light rail last year and has a good track record in conventions, tourism and water sports (all topics of interest here in Oklahoma City). But it’s quite amazing to think where Charlotte was in 1988. The downtown skyline hadn’t changed in years when Wachovia opened its 588-foot-high headquarters — then the tallest in the state. A second skyscraper was added in 1990, followed by yet an even taller 871-foot Bank of America tower in 1992. More than a half dozen skyscrapers have been added to the downtown Charlotte skyline in the past 20 years.
Major league sportsAnd then there’s the NBA. The Hornets got their start in Charlotte in 1988 and enjoyed a huge fan base until the team’s owner got crosswise with city leaders and the organization moved to New Orleans in 2002 (I think most of you know the rest of this story). The NBA didn’t stay away for long, and now the city is home to NBA and NFL teams.
Other benchmarksIn the 1990s, Indianapolis was the benchmark for Oklahoma City. That city’s accomplishments inspired much of the Metropolitan Area Projects initiative that sparked downtown’s ongoing resurgence. But Charlotte is intriguing for a city that is about to see its own downtown transformed by a new skyscraper and the arrival of the NBA. So I asked Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, "Is Charlotte the new benchmark?” "The short answer is ‘yes,’” Williams replied via e-mail. "The long answer is that we look at every city (Denver, Indy, Nashville) that we have visited as a benchmark. Charlotte is doing a lot of things right.” It’s not uncommon to hear locals dream of a light rail system, a burgeoning downtown skyline, and even the NFL. But some might ask, in light of the crashing national economy, how can Oklahoma City even consider such lofty ambitions? Did anyone ask similar questions in Charlotte on Oct. 19, 1987? Construction of Wachovia was under way, and the city was preparing its bid for the NBA on that "Black Monday” when world markets crashed and stocks dove 22 percent. Charlotte continued its drive into the future. The same challenge may very well face the folks traveling there this morning.