The guard whistling at his post in the lobby of the former Kerr-McGee tower — an entryway that was once intimidating and very formal — is just the first hint that its new tenant has made the landmark its new home.
Tom Ward, chief executive officer at SandRidge Energy, is not surprised or upset when informed of the small talk exchanged by employees in the lobby or the whistling. Fewer than 500 employees have completed the move to 123 Robert S Kerr Ave. in downtown Oklahoma City, and crews have completed gutting and updating the late 1970s decor on the building’s 16th through 29th floors. As renovations continue on the remaining floors, Ward is preparing to launch an equally ambitious makeover involving the demolition of four buildings, construction of one new building, a new entrance for the 29-story tower, and a redesign of Kerr Park across the street. All together, Ward estimates the campus makeover will top $100 million. "What we have is rare,” Ward said. "We have the majority of two blocks, the majority of a third block and part of a fourth block in a metropolitan city. That one company controls so much of a core area in one city is unusual, and that we’re willing to share much of that property with the public is even more unusual.” Ward admits he still doesn’t have a new name for the headquarters — but one will be chosen soon and announced at a Jan. 12, 2010, unveiling of designs and plans for the campus. In an interview with The Oklahoman, Ward disclosed plans for the new building, which will replace a parking garage and office tower across from the tower that overlooks Kerr Park. In its place, SandRidge intends to erect a new multi-story building that will house a fitness center, auditorium, a restaurant and retail space that will open into a revamped Kerr Park. The roof of the "120 Building” will include basketball courts and green space not currently found anywhere downtown. A similar green space, Ward said, will be added to the top of the Braniff Building, 324 N Robinson Ave. — the one old building on the campus Ward plans to keep intact. "We felt as if the Braniff building is a cornerstone building for the city, so we want to restore it,” he said. Ward, however, doesn’t plan to seek to convert the building into housing, as was originally pursued by Kerr-McGee before the company was acquired by Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum in 2006. Instead, Ward hopes to fix up the building, create retail space on the first floor and either allow the remaining space to be used by the city for "growth related to downtown” or for future expansion of SandRidge Energy’s work force. SandRidge will file an application with the city next month to tear down the one-time home of the YMCA at the corner of Robert S.