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Panel clears Stage Center demolition

The Downtown Design Review Committee voted 3-2 Thursday to allow the demolition of Stage Center to make way for a new OGE Energy Corp. headquarters.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: January 17, 2014

A coalition of architects and preservationists say they will not seek to appeal a decision by the Downtown Design Review Committee to allow the demolition of Stage Center to make way for a new OGE Energy Corp. headquarters.

A 3-2 vote by the committee on Thursday had spectators on edge as to the last unknown vote, Gigi Faulkner. She said she was troubled that the design committee did not have a firm idea as to what might be developed at the site.

But she also quoted Stage Center's architect John Johansen from an interview he gave to The Oklahoman during his last visit to the landmark in 2008 — two years before the theater was devastated by severe flooding.

“John Johansen himself said proof of a building is its use and its occupants,” Faulkner said, adding proponents of demolition had made the case that the abandoned theater was no longer feasible for nonprofit performing arts groups.

Chuck Ainsworth and Dick Tanenbaum joined Faulkner in voting for demolition, while Ike Akinwande and Connie Scothorn voted against demolition.

After the vote, Melissa Hunt, executive director of the American Institute of Architects, Central Oklahoma Chapter, said her group stood by its position that the theater is an internationally important structure that shouldn't be torn down.

“AIA Central Oklahoma is disappointed with the outcome of the vote and feels this action will result in an irreplaceable loss to the architectural community and the city at large. However, we as an organization do not intend to appeal the decision.”

Rainey Williams Jr., president of Kestral Investments, is seeking to clear the site at 400 W Sheridan Ave. to build a 14- to 16-story office building, a garage and solicit a developer to build a second building of about a dozen stories for either a hotel or housing.

Preservationists argued the building is internationally recognized and historic, while opponents argued the building has never been functional and drained financial resources of various nonprofit tenants since it opened in 1970.

Stage Center is the only building in Oklahoma City to win an international Gold Circle award from the American Institute of Architects and is the only city building featured in textbooks around the world.

Originally opened in 1970 as Mummers Theater, the landmark was designed by Johanson, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and a member of the legendary “Harvard Five” (which also included Marcel Breuer, Landis Gores, Philip Johnson and Eliot Noyes).

Both sides of the demolition debate presented passionate arguments during the hourlong debate. Leslie Batchelor, an attorney whose firm frequently works with the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority, argued buildings like Stage Center are critical to making the city a place that attracts outside talent.

“We live in a global economy where our city is competing with cities all over the world where people and talent can go anywhere,” Batchelor said. “Architecturally and significant buildings enhance property values and generate economic returns. The best way to generate economic growth for Oklahoma City in the long run is to preserve Stage Center.”

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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