Some of the city's most experienced architects and developers, sitting as Oklahoma City's Downtown Design Review Committee, were happily stunned Thursday as they were introduced to a concept new to the market: the conversion of used shipping containers into shops, offices and stores.
The corner of NE 4 and Harrison has been empty for decades, and the lot's owner, Matt Brown, was not ready to pursue any significant development. But the site is prominent, at the gateway to Automobile Alley and Deep Deuce, and is next to hundreds of apartments and townhomes.
Architect Wade Scaramucci approached Brown with the idea of assembling 12 shipping containers linked together with walkways, stairways and balconies that will allow for small restaurants, coffee shops, stores and offices to start up at costs far below normal downtown lease rates. The containers will span a total of 3,600 square feet and will adjoin a centrally located set of restrooms.
“There are a number of pieces of property like this that are in gateway areas, but due to various circumstances there's a difficulty in doing something more,” Scaramucci said. “So we looked for something temporary that can be placed there while waiting for better opportunities ahead.”
Scaramucci, who designed nearby Level and Mosaic apartments for developer Richard McKown, is no stranger to working with converted shipping containers. His firm, London-based Allford, Hall, Monaghan, Morris, previously assembled a series of shipping containers into a home in the United Kingdom, where such developments have become commonplace.
“Part of the cost effectiveness is you can come up with a container for $4,000,” Scaramucci said. “So the money spent is on taking a container and reusing it in an appropriate way.”
And unlike traditional construction, when the property's owners seek to build something permanent on the corner, the plaza, OKSEA, can be moved to another site.
Scaramucci said interest in the project seems strong. Food trucks, he added, are a natural fit for the development.
Scaramucci's proposal comes just a few months after the opening of Perch'd, at 14 NW 9, in what is the city's first converted shipping container.
Sunshine Campbell, a partner in the business, was a new Los Angeles transplant when she approached Ninth Street developer Steve Mason about the possibility of opening up a modern decor and gift shop in a shipping container next to S&B Burger Joint.
Campbell said she came up with the idea based on her work as a brand specialist with Dwell Magazine.
“I knew I wanted to be in that general area,” Campbell said. “I approached Steve Mason. I knew he didn't have anything available. But I also knew he had that little plot of land just sitting, just dirt, and it was ugly.”
Mason now marvels at that same spot, which is the most photographed attraction along the strip.
The shipping containers drew unanimous praise from the Downtown Design Review Committee. At the same meeting, the committee also approved the use of a shipping container as part of a MidTown Mutts Dog Park that will be built at Park Place and Hudson Avenue.
“This may be the wave of the future,” Assistant City Planner Scottye Montgomery said. “We're going to get more container structures.”
Campbell agrees that as such developments are proven successful, more vacant lots will be eyed for interim conversion into shops, restaurants and offices.
“It's a low and impactful way to start a business,” Campbell said. “Modern design is not a huge thing here yet, but I think it will be. It's big in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. I feel like every city is eventually going to go more modern and more sustainable. And that's the concept with these containers.”