Klay Kimker, Devon vice president of administration, has witnessed two expansions of the downtown skyline.
As a young executive at Liberty Bank, Kimker helped guide construction of its headquarters at Broadway and Park Avenue and saw the rise of Fidelity Tower (now BOK Plaza) and Kerr-McGee Tower (now SandRidge Tower) in the early 1970s. He also saw the construction of Mid-America Tower (now Continental Oil Center), Leadership Square, and the Galleria towers (now Corporate and Oklahoma towers).
At the start of construction on Devon Energy Center, Kimker was among a few veteran downtown observers who pointed to the experience of Charlotte, N.C., which saw its downtown skyline expand with construction of the Bank of America headquarters in the late 1980s. He questioned three years ago whether the emergence of Devon Energy Center might lead to future growth of downtown Oklahoma City.
Now, he's more hopeful such growth will occur.
“The building Hugh McColl (then chairman of North Carolina National Bank) built, now the Bank of America, they told him he could only fill half of it when it was built,” Kimker said. “But he anticipated growth with Bank of America (the eventual successor to North Carolina National Bank). And he anticipated it would jump-start the economy of Charlotte when it was built.”
Kimker notes that a couple of years later, the downtown Charlotte skyline did grow with the addition of towers built by Wachovia and Duke Energy.
“So there is precedent for my hope that will be the case here,” Kimker said. “I'm optimistic we'll see some change.”
Pain with change?
With that change, however, more growing pains may be experienced. Cathy O'Connor, president of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, is fast-tracking construction of a 750-space garage along Main Street just west of Devon Energy Center, and is involved in talks to expand the Century Center garage and potentially develop other new parking garages.
“There is definitely a lot of energy downtown right now,” O'Connor said. “Companies there are growing. We hope they will attract other companies downtown that will develop new projects. … We will definitely see changes to our skyline in the next five years.”
Where that change might take place is still unknown. Development bids are being considered by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, which owns the closed Stage Center at Sheridan and Hudson Avenues.
Gary Pierson, chief executive officer of the Oklahoma Publishing Co., said the company has sold land it owned at NW 4 and E.K. Gaylord to an affiliate of SandRidge Energy. Representatives of SandRidge declined to comment on the purchase.
“Strategically, it makes much more sense for an affiliate of SandRidge to own this property than OPUBCO,” Pierson said. “SandRidge is building a campus on adjoining land; OPUBCO moved out of downtown 22 years ago.”
O'Connor and Beffort agree that with the expansion of corporate workforces downtown — and the ongoing public investment with the Project 180 makeover of streets and public spaces and the MAPS 3 plan for a streetcar system, park and convention center, and construction set to start on a new elementary — growth to the skyline is a certainty.
“I think we're going to see more and more companies coming downtown because it's the place to be,” O'Connor said. “It's attractive to the younger, more creative employees they're trying to attract.”
Beffort urges everyone to wait and watch.
“The skyline is going to grow,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind it's going to grow.”
Even without the emergence of new high-rise office towers, downtown's skyline is set to see more low- to mid-rise buildings added in the next couple of years. New hotels include the 11-story Hilton Garden Inn in Bricktown, a six- to eight-story Marriott Springhill Suites at Russell Perry and NE 1 in Deep Deuce, and two more hotels, each six to eight stories high, on the south side of Sheridan Avenue at Byers Avenue. SandRidge Energy will build a five-story amenities building at 120 Robert S. Kerr Ave. and a building up to 14 stories high at Broadway and Robert S. Kerr Ave. A four-story apartment complex is being built at NE 4 and Oklahoma. A convention center will be built, likely two to three stories high, south of Myriad Gardens, and a three-story elementary will be built at Sheridan and Walker Avenues.