RESTAURATEUR Chris Lower and architect Ken Howell are feeling a bit more secure about the future of their businesses this week after buying Metro Center from their former landlord, Chesapeake Energy Corp.
Lower, owner of upscale restaurant The Metro Wine Bar and Bistro, and Howell, whose offices and art gallery both are marking a quarter century at 6418 N Western Ave., paid $2.25 million for the property, which was bought by the energy company in 2006 for $1.85 million.
The Metro Center is one of several commercial properties being sold off by Chesapeake following the departure of its founding CEO, Aubrey McClendon, in 2013.
“I'll bet we're one of the few purchasers that paid more than Chesapeake paid,” Lower said. “We paid a premium, but it's worth it.”
Lower opened his restaurant in 1988, in the depths of the oil bust. Three years earlier he had opened up The Coach House across the street in Nichols Hills Plaza.
“A lot of people thought I was crazy,” Lower said. “But they thought I was crazier to start Coach House. When this space became available, I looked across the street and thought either someone is going to open up and compete with me, or I can open up there and compete with myself.”
Down the street, a small energy company started up at the same time as Lower and Howell opened in Metro Center.
For more than 20 years, Lower and his neighbor Howell enjoyed good times at Metro Center, with Lower even catering to some showings at Howell's gallery. That small energy company, Chesapeake Energy, grew into national leader in natural gas production with a workforce hitting 4,000 in Oklahoma City.
McClendon led the company on a buying spree, redeveloping commercial properties along NW 63 and Western. A master plan circulated among area merchants and businesses showed the possibility of tearing up and rebuilding parts of Nichols Hills Plaza and also Metro Center.