Oklahoma City planners are recommending denial of an application to demolish downtown's Stage Center to make way for a new OG&E headquarters due to the existing building's “groundbreaking design.”
Rainey Williams Jr., president of Kestrel Investments, bought the abandoned, flood-damaged theater in July from the Kirkpatrick Center Affiliated Fund of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation for $4.275 million.
The theater was designed by John Johansen, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The theater is the city's only internationally honored building and is featured in architectural textbooks.
The report by Assistant City Planner Scottye Montgomery cites design ordinance guidelines, which state that structures significant to the history of the nation, state or city be rehabilitated so that as much of the original fabric as possible remain intact.
“Stage Center is a unique structure, for Oklahoma City and the nation, and illustrates a singular moment of progressive thought, optimism for future economic and cultural growth, and acceptance of groundbreaking design ideas in Oklahoma City's history,” the report said.
The report is not binding on the Downtown Design Review Committee, which must grant approval before Williams can obtain a demolition permit. But the reports are often relied upon by committee members, who are appointed by the mayor. Applicants can appeal the committee's rulings in Oklahoma County District Court.
In applying for the demolition permit, Williams provided photos showing extensive damage to the theater, which closed following flooding in June 2010.
Williams announced in December his planned tower would be home to OGE Energy Corp., which would seek to consolidate its 1,000 employees at the new headquarters. The company's operations currently are spread out over three different buildings. Williams also proposes the $100 million project also will likely include a second tower, eight to 12 stories high, that could be separately developed as either housing or a hotel.
Williams released a statement Thursday night pledging to make the case that Stage Center cannot be saved. The application will be heard at the design committee's Jan. 16 hearing at City Hall, 200 N Walker.
“We respectfully disagree with the staff's recommendation,” Williams said. “We are confident that we have a sound argument for the removal of Stage Center, including multiple independent studies conducted over the past decade that show it is no longer a viable structure. We look forward to discussing with the Downtown Design Review Committee the ways in which our proposed plan will revitalize and improve the area.”
Protests against demolition were filed with the city by the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Preservation Oklahoma, and were accompanied by a petition signed by 735 people. Letters to The Oklahoman and the city have been sent from around the world arguing that the building is too important architecturally to be destroyed.
Before the theater was sold, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation conducted studies to determine if any new performing arts or nonprofits could be a part of a revival of the theater. After finding no takers, the foundation allowed for groups to submit redevelopment proposals with proof of financing.
Two proposals were submitted — one for an architectural museum, another for a children's museum. Neither proposal succeeded at obtaining funds necessary for a purchase and renovation.
Tracey Zeeck, who led the children's museum, said she will be closely watching next week's Downtown Design Review proceedings.
“I agree with the considerations. I think, from the work I put into it, it is globally significant,” Zeeck said Thursday. “It would be a shame to tear it down. It could be something we are known for if it were taken care of.”
Stage Center started as the home of Mummers Theater, a popular theatrical company in the 1960s that was outgrowing the warehouse it called home. With downtown undergoing a complete makeover led by the renowned architect I.M. Pei, the theater sought out a similar talent to come up with a design that would be just as eye-catching as the Myriad Gardens.