The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer took questions from readers in his OKC Central Chat today. You can join the OKC Central Chat on Fridays at 10:00 a.m on NewsOK.com/Business. Here's a recap of the Q&A about downtown OKC businesses and development.
ON THE DOWNTOWN ‘MYSTERY TOWER’ AND THE STAGE CENTER SITE:
As I sat here enjoying my Kamp's coffee, I thought we shouldn't waste any time by just killing two birds with one stone, what's the latest on Mystery Tower? Now you can say there's nothing new and we can get the repeat questions started.
I believe an announcement will occur within the next 30 days.
Question about who is going to build an office tower downtown ... just kidding. With all the speculation about the Stage Center site, how would a redevelopment of it affect the Arts Festival?
Redevelopment of the Stage Center site could very well have a significant impact on the annual Festival of the Arts. I cannot say whether the bid now under consideration by the owner of Stage Center, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, calls for incorporation of the surrounding arts plaza and properties. But I can say that at least one of the original proposals did require clearance of the entire block. Don't be surprised if that ends up to be the case with the winning bid as well. The good news is that the Myriad Gardens, revamped as part of Project 180, is much better suited to incorporate more of the festival than it was in prior years. Of course, we could see an entirely different outcome where Stage Center stays in place. But that would be a big surprise to me.
Here’s an obligatory mystery tower question (shocking, I know). We've all assumed the mystery tower will be a new corporate headquarters, but is that the case? Can you tell us if the proposed tower will be used for a single company, multiple tenants, or might even contain some mixed use retail or residential component?
All such details will be reported when the story is ready for prime time, Matt!
Since you haven't been able to divulge the name of the company that seems to be bidding on the Stage Center site, what can you tell us about OG&E's expansion? Are they looking to consolidate operations downtown? Can you report on a company that is already here and is already located downtown with Enogex?
When I have something that is ready for prime time to report, I promise I will do so.
Is there a deadline on when the Stage Center offers and concepts are due? I heard they have narrowed it down to 3-5 different developments.
Negotiations are under way with a single party.
The Stage Center site we now know is confirmed as the mystery tower site, is there a possibility that this could be a spec tower or do you feel it is a corporate headquarters of some kind. Thanks
A purely spec office tower? Not so sure about that. I'm feeling feisty this morning. So let me throw one back at you that will get your heads spinning ... You keep referring to Stage Center as "the mystery tower site." How do you know it's not just "one of the mystery tower sites"? (Heads are now exploding at OKC Talk.)
So the first tower announcement is likely to occur within the next 30 days ... how about the next one? Is there a second one that is firm enough for you to think that we might have another announcement before the end of the year?
Do you see a residential tower in our future? NEAR FUTURE!
Rick Dowell has long planned to build such a tower at NW 5 and Walker. He's started work on the garage expansion, and once that's done, he's long said completion of the old Midland Mortgage building follows, with the apartment tower the final component of his plan. But is that in the near future? Mr. Dowell follows his own timetable.
A few days ago you hinted (at least that is how I took it) that there were an idea floating about to build 1,000 housing units in the downtown and/or downtown adjacent area. Was it really a hint, and if so, would it be 1,000 units in one location or spread out across the area? Or is my imagination just creating things out of thin air?
There's been some talk of a developer building a very dense apartment complex of such magnitude, but I can't say it's very serious. But even the suggestion of such an expansion has triggered some questioning about how much is too much.
If you were to guess how many new towers would be built in the next two years, what would be your number?
Next two years? They might start one.
Stage Center: when you say 'the entire block' do you mean California to Sheridan? Or south to Reno, as well?
It could go either way.
ON BRICKTOWN AND DEEP DEUCE DEVELOPMENTS:
With the renovation of the top three floors of the Mercantile building, the new Holiday Inn Express and the renovation of the Sherman Iron Works building, do you see the large parking lot north of Main street being redeveloped to tie BT and DD together?
Everyone wants to see a better connection between Deep Deuce and Bricktown, but the sharp drop in elevation just north of the Main Street parking lot makes it difficult. The challenge is exacerbated by the existence of dormant Union Pacific railway tracks that the railroad wants left in place and won't allow to be bridged over. Don't be surprised, however, if the parking lot is developed someday into structured parking.
Who owns the property south of NE 4th between Oklahoma and Walnut in DD and are there any plans for that area?
Steve I believe that land is owned by Ron Bradshaw, if I'm picturing it correctly, and is slated for the next phase of the 4th Street Apartments.
Do you see the Brewers being more proactive with the development of their Bricktown property now Switch momentum in hotel and residential projects in BT? Also, is the Coca Cola center dead with the potential Wormy Dog development?
The Brewers are actively trying to develop their properties. As for the Event Center — it's already up and running, the new Wormy Dog venue is not. And I am aware that the Brewers have always enjoyed the entertainment/concert side of their enterprise, and I wouldn't be surprised if they upgrade their venue to be more competitive with whatever is attempted by the Wormy Dog.
The article that came out Wednesday about numerous planned projects lists $750k for sprucing up BT and $2.25 mil for parking garage renovations. Can you get us more detail on this, what it will improve, etc.?
Bricktown has long been a net contributor to the tax increment financing district. Until the recent application by the owners of the Mideke building, we've not really seen any successful draws from the increment fund for development in the entertainment district.
The city is acknowledging this net contribution status by moving forward with a plan to tap into the fund to build sidewalks where none exist, improve landscaping (hopefully starting with the dying trees along Reno Avenue on the south side of the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark), and add lighting where needed. The $2.25 million is for renovations needed to mechanical systems and structural repairs at the Santa Fe and Century Center garages.
Can you clarify why the Aloft Hotel requested the switch in materials for parts of their facade?
Jim Thompson was attempting to build a high quality Aloft hotel. He designed it as a permanent addition, heavy on the use of concrete, foregoing the use of more disposable materials we often see attempted with limited service hotels.
Construction on the Aloft began at a time when the market was still in bad shape from the Great Recession. And Thompson wasn't the only developer who was benefiting from low bids submitted by desperate contractors located in Texas.
I am told the concrete contractor who worked on Level across the street was running on fumes as the company finished up that project and began work on the Aloft. The company, I am told, went bankrupt after finishing Level and only getting started on the Aloft. This led to very costly delays on the Aloft as Thompson reassembled the workers and hired them to finish the job.
In the world of business performs and financing, a difference of a few months in the opening of a hotel can be horrible to the bottom line. He needs to make up lost time, and the granite proposed for the first floor is a slower means of construction. Thompson is attempting to make up lost time by substituting the granite with a material some might confuse with synthetic stucco, but it’s not the synthetic stucco we are used to.
It's been proven to be extremely durable, and Thompson is hoping to win approval by the Downtown Design Review Committee with the argument he believes it will be just as attractive as the granite. The material goes up much quicker than granite.
The committee deferred a decision on this matter until they can see and study the proposed new material. Everyone I've talked to believes this is not a "bait and switch," but rather an unfortunate fallout from the hardships we've seen with the economy the past few years. I have seen nothing to indicate this is a bait-and-switch.
Will there be a carousel built in Bricktown in the near future?
The idea of a carousel in Bricktown was floated a few years ago by folks who really didn't have much of a plan as to how to make it a reality. But how is this for an idea? Why not buy the Ferris wheel the Humphreys family obtained a few years ago, also buy a carousel, and place them as the center of the new Core to Shore park.
I tried contacting the ballpark management about replacing the trees on the south side of the stadium, but I have yet to receive any sort of response. Who would be a good contact for a second attempt?
Call your city councilman.
I looked inside the former Sage in Deep Deuce and saw the inside has been stripped to the walls in the old dining area. Any news on a new dining spot there?
The space was slated to be a Le Cep French bistro. But then that deal fell through, and I am now hearing it will be home to a cigar lounge, similar to the much missed Makers in Bricktown.
I'm sure she has her hands full with the recently announced apartments project, but would Marva Ellard take a stab at the Spaghetti Warehouse building's vacant upper floors? Her work has been amazing and I think she could turn that building around.
Marva Ellard is one of several developers who would love to take a shot at the Spaghetti Warehouse. But the property's owners have so far been unwilling to entertain any deals.
I had high hopes for the Brewers in terms of developing their properties, but they've really let me down. They're holding out on the city for the Santa Fe Depot and their BT holdings haven't really improved any.
Compare the Hunzicker Brothers building five years ago to how it looks today. Give the Brewers some credit ... it's far more built out than it was.
Has there been any interest for the OCURA lots in DD? If so, anything you can share?
Yeah. But it's nothing I can report yet.
Fantastic info on the Aloft material change — thank you for adding some background and perspective. Any news on what might be going in to the old Coach's spot at the ballpark? I pray not an Applebee’s.
No, I don't have any other info.
Coaches is gone? When did this happen?
A couple months ago.
Pete (of OKCTalk) is saying there have been demolition permits issued for the metal buildings on the site of East Bricktown development. I take it this means things are progressing well, albeit very slowly, with this development?
Yes, I've reported demo permits are issued ... but it may be a few weeks before it starts.
Do you know anything about the permit for parking somewhere near Union Station? Is it for construction related to the Central Park?
I'll look into it.
What's up with the wonky LED lights on the Devon Tower? They going to fix that?
The LED lighting is being tweaked and worked on ... obviously it's taking longer than Devon would like to get fully functional.
How many small companies have moved to downtown OKC from other states over the past three years?
Good question. I know we have firms and companies moving in from other cities in Oklahoma. As for out-of-state re locations, I just don't know.
With Devon considering splitting off the Midstream assets as a new MLP, do you see this creating the need for a new tower as the new MLP will need its own office space and corporate administrative support?
Good question ... the answer to this is uncertain at this time.
A friend told me that Applebee's was looking to expand somewhere downtown. Have you heard anything about this? I think the 2 for $20 special would be a big hit!
It doesn't surprise me. The national chains that abandoned downtown 30 years ago are all wanting back in. But developers are often more interested in attracting local venues instead, and with available good locations fairly scarce right now, downtown Oklahoma City is suddenly the very cute girl at the dance that every boy wants to dance with.
When you say there were national chains that didn't want in to downtown 30 years ago, but now they want in ... specifics?
I've tracked efforts by Denny's, Dunkin' Donuts, Panera Bread, Applebee's and others.
Any news of the proposals for the Main Street parking garage?
I had a story last week — no one submitted any proposals for housing or offices atop the garage.
Are there actually any plans for a parking garage at that site mentioned? Or is that a long-term hope for bridging DD and BT?
I believe we will see a parking garage on the Main Street lot within the next several years.
How will the new school downtown add new grades every year? Will it have room to grow or will add floors until it is to 8th or 12th grade?
My understanding is the John W. Rex Elementary is planned to be a K-5 elementary, no more and no less.
Someone tagged the old Oklahoman building with spray paint today. Terrible.
I saw the tagging last weekend. Most folks in the tagging community respect historic architecture and only go for what they consider to be fairly neglected blank brick walls, etc. This tagging was disgusting.
There is a lot of concern lately about Sandridge getting bought out and leaving OKC. If the Sandridge tower is vacated, how easy will it be to find another tenant to take over the site and will the existing construction that has been started be completed? In other cities projects have just been abandoned and sit half completed for years and I would hate to see that happen here.
That's a big concern here as well. Let's wait and see what happens over the next two weeks. It's possible the plane could land safely in this story.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the streetcar system progress. I haven't heard much about it lately and I'd love to know how things are going with it.
I don't know how to answer this question. Planning is ongoing. Debate about the nature of the proposed streetcar system, as compared to other rail-based transit, and other questions about routes, is building among council members and city officials. A very vocal advocacy group is pushing to stick with the plan moved forward by the MAPS 3 citizens transit committee.
I can tell you this: there is no plan for funding of operation and maintenance of the streetcar system, and assumed federal matching funding has proved to be very elusive for Oklahoma City.
What’s the timetable of The Oklahoman moving downtown? Does this means some Oklahoman editors will actually move to OKC instead of living in Edmond?
My understanding is that The Oklahoman tentatively plans to move in 2014. Many editors already live in Oklahoma City.
Why won't the city just restore the street grid in lieu of this boulevard fiasco? Isn't that the easiest solution?
Because they don't want to.
I heard Play Street Hourly Child Care is looking for a downtown location that will have high evening traffic. Would you suggest Bricktown, near St. Anthony's or another location that can capture people needing short term child care in the evening?
I can promise that any new good day care center will open with a waiting list. Write that down. I promise. I would suggest Deep Deuce, MidTown or anywhere near the CBD.
ON THE BOATHOUSE DISTRICT:
With the white water rafting going on east of the boathouses, how long until we see movement on grandstands and other things on the south part of the river?
I can't recall the timeline off the cuff, but as I recall, it's all supposed to take place over the next few years.
I'm sorry for the repeat question, but can you expound a little on what the Humphrey's are considering for their waterfront development? I'm curious why they can't return to their original plans. With lending thawing out and housing doing well here, can't they build what they had hoped to with their original proposal and add the Ferris wheel?
It's a difficult site. But they're working on it.
When will we see groundbreaking of any kind of the next two scheduled boathouses?
I believe the University of Central Oklahoma recently announced they completed fundraising for their boathouse and a groundbreaking shouldn't be too far off.
ON OUHSC AND SURROUNDING AREAS:
A good friend of mine bought an Edmond style home on NE 5th, just west of MLK. Do you see this style home helping people who want to have a yard, but don't want to pay an arm and a leg, live near the city core? Do you think OUHSC is helping this?
Isn't that great? I've tracked the resurgence of the John F. Kennedy Neighborhood for the past dozen years, and it all started with a state trooper, who grew up in the area, wanting to buy an Urban Renewal lot and build a home for his family. Others followed.
The Northeast Church of Christ supported a group of elders forming a nonprofit that began building spec homes in the area. As they were purchased, regular homebuilders like Ron Walters joined the effort to rebuild the JFK. Keep in mind, this neighborhood was considered a failed 1970s era Urban Renewal effort that ended up with wide swathes of land where suburban street grids and new utilities were added, but no homes had been built in over 20 years.
The Urban Renewal Authority in the late 1990s hired an OU professor, Bob Goines, to draw up a plan on how to revive the area ... and that is what led to the single lot redevelopment approach, that allowed the state trooper to buy a lot and build a home ... and now a dozen years later, we have a great "Edmond-style" neighborhood, as you call it, rising up within five minutes of downtown.
Do you have any renderings to share of the Embassy Suites that was approved for the medical center area?
Yes, I'll post something soon.
With OU buying the PHF, where will the new biotech start ups possibly be housed? Will not having the PHF slow the growth of new biotech companies in OKC? Do you know of OU building two new buildings at the OUHSC?
My understanding is that OU will continue to support using the Presbyterian Health Foundation Research Park as an incubator for bio-tech start ups. OU is in constant expansion mode at the Health Center.
Steve, do you cover reporting of the OUHSC area and associated projects? If so, there's a lot of talk of some OUHSC expansion. Do you know anything?
Yeah, let me get caught up on that soon.
ON UPTOWN AND 23RD STREET DEVELOPMENTS:
Just curious about the Gold Dome, the upcoming Rise development and any developments in Uptown. Got any news?
Things don't look good with the Gold Dome. I'll leave it at that right now. Planning is still under way for Rise. And more restaurants are set to be announced along NW 23, including a Mediterranean eatery in the old KFC and a barbecue restaurant to be opened by Chris Lower and Kathryn Matthis of Big Truck Taco fame.
Basil Mediterranean, the new restaurant going in at the Uptown 23rd area will be a great plus for that area. It is taking over the KFC. Do you know if Basil Mediterranean is a chain or local?
I don't — yet.
ON MIDTOWN DEVELOPMENTS:
Who is the chef or owner behind the new Packard's New American Kitchen, and when will it open?
I believe it's the owner of the old Interurban City Express at City Place tower. I'll have an update soon.
In the past you've mentioned some Midtown housing projects that you are tracking. Are any of these being built on the empty lots on 10th Street or heading south on Hudson? Also, how many are you aware of, and how large will they be?
I believe we will see significant housing development along NW 10 in MidTown over the next few years.
There seems to be some confusion regarding the Marion Hotel building that the Midtown Renaissance group now owns. Someone asked what was going to happen to it, and someone else (Betts?) replied that it's going to be renovated per their agreement for a parking garage across the street. Isn't that the plan?
The TIF allocation given to the MidTown Renaissance Group for the 10th Street garage requires renovation and reopening of the Marion Hotel as apartments.
Steve, are the sisters still entertaining offers for the Villa Theresa project in Midtown? What do you see happening there?
Talks are ongoing, but nothing new to report yet.
You mentioned that there were some new housing developments being planned for Midtown. From what you have seen or heard will these be on the vacant lots on 10th Street or perhaps south on Hudson? How large are these potential developments?
Let's wait a bit to find out more information. But they'll be fairly significant if everything moves forward.
ALL THE EXTRAS:
Any answer yet on Old School Bagel and weekend hours?
I talked with Mark Beffort about this yesterday, and we still don't have an answer yet.
Is there any substantiation to the rumors that Trader Joe's is going to open a new location in the old Crescent Market space in the Nichols Hills Plaza?
My sources have told me that a deal was looked at, but it fell through. But I've been unable this week to find out if it has gained new traction.
Do you know what will replace Pachinko Parlor? Could it be retail instead of a restaurant?
Restaurant operators are bidding for the space. It won't go empty for long.
Have there been any new developments in the Farmers Market area? Do you see the Farmers Market needing a master plan, so it can hopefully focus its development and attract interest from developers or small businesses?
Farmers Market has a master plan completed by the city planning department a few years ago. I suspect once the boulevard project is completely settled, development of Farmers Market will follow fairly quickly.
Has it been confirmed that the Lincoln Plaza building currently being gutted is to be the home of a state agency? If so, are there any architectural renderings of what this renovation might look like when finished?
Yes, I believe it was announced Lincoln Plaza will be home to the Oklahoma Healthcare Authority.
I'm not pointing fingers at any one department, but when do you think Capitol Hill will finally get some MAPS play or major quality of life improvements?
Quite a bit of money has already been spent via Streetscaping and Community Development Block Grants. But I get your comment ... I'm rooting for Capitol Hill to make a comeback. I love the area.
Please don't be offended by this question, but it seems like your blogging at OKCCentral has kind of tapered off. Is there just too much going on?
You're correct. Truth: I've been dealing with some pretty overwhelming challenges the past couple of months in connection with my father's death and other personal matters. Please be patient. I'm doing my best to get back on track. I can't begin to thank my friends, co-workers, bosses and family for their compassion and support.
Steve, trying to figure out your process. It seems like you know things all the time and it's up to your timetable on when you tell the public. What's up with that? Isn't it your job to report what you know?
It's my job to report what I can relatively feel certain is accurate and true. And I'm not going to report something, whether it's in this chat or elsewhere, that I believe could turn out to be untrue at a later time. It's not an arbitrary process. I've learned new details over the last couple days that allow me to say I believe an announcement on a tower will take place in the next 30 days.
Steve, this question pertains to the journalistic process. This is not meant to antagonize, I just honestly don't know the answer, so your input will be appreciated. You have said that you are not ready to report on the developments that are brewing. What does this mean? Does this mean that you can't corroborate what certain sources are saying? Is it that sources are giving you the scoop "off the record?" What is impeding you from breaking the story? Thanks.
Think of it this way: I'm in a room. I'm watching a painter create an eagerly anticipated masterpiece. I am not, however, able to be in the room at all times. So I'm forced to rely on others who drop in this room from time to time, or who have spoken to the painter.
The painting is not done. So what I can share is what I gather from my own observations, what I hear from the painter and others who have been in the room. You're asking me to tell you what the painting will look like when it's done. But it's not done. I'd love to be able to tell you what it will look like, and I'm just as eager as you to see the completed masterpiece. But it is NOT done.
I can speculate … and then, if it comes out entirely different, everyone will say, "Lackmeyer doesn't know what he's talking about, he got this all wrong." I greatly appreciate the credibility readers place in me. I want to get this story, and others, right the first time.
When are you going to share the story of your night out on the town at the Neighborhood Lounge?
Soon, and it's a really great column in the making!