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Oklahoma City's Devon Energy goes for 'green' gold on former brownfield site

Executive Chairman Larry Nichols told the story of the dirt under the 1.8 million-square-foot corporate headquarters as the closing keynote speaker of the Oklahoma Brownfields Conference.
by Richard Mize Published: May 24, 2012

Devon Energy Center, when complete, won't be “green” just because of what went into it, but also because of what came out of the ground under it.

Part of the parcel of land now with the address 333 W Sheridan Ave. has a dirty history, one that reflects the changes in the city around it. But most recently, since Devon Energy Corp. acquired it, it's a story of colors: brown, green and gold.

Larry Nichols, executive chairman, told some of the tale as the closing speaker at the Oklahoma Brownfields Conference Wednesday at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. Part of the city block was “brown” — in need of environmental remediation — because of former uses as a trolley barn, then a kind of “motor hotel,” both of which left contaminated soil and water from fuel leakage.

‘Downtown, period'

Selecting a site needing work was worth it for Devon, Nichols said, because the energy company wanted to do its part for Oklahoma City's renaissance. He said more than a few landowners and developers tried to woo Devon to the suburbs.

“I have yet to find a vibrant city that did not have a vibrant downtown. ... If the downtown core goes, the entire city seems to go right with it,” he said. So, for Devon, even with suitors calling, it was “downtown, period,” he said.

Around the turn of the 20th century, the “brown” property was the site of the terminal building, the hub, of the city's trolley system, a time when mass transit was the norm in the urban core.

In the late 1920s or early '30s, the building was converted to a “motor hotel,” not the kind of roadside hotels that popped up to cater to motorists (“motels”), but a hotel for automobiles, where they could be stored during the workday — and serviced. The automobile was coming on strong.

That building came down in the 1950s, and a four-story parking garage went up, with a parking deck also providing fueling and maintenance, and remained until the early 1970s.

Pei's parking legacy

Then came I.M. Pei, architect and urban planner, Urban Renewal and plans for the Galleria, a downtown mall that never materialized — but that cost what is now Devon property some of the city's most resonant retail names: John A. Brown's Department Store, Kerr's Department Store, Katz Drugstore, Warner Theater.

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by Richard Mize
Real Estate Editor
Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked...
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