Richard Tanenbaum, like a lot of us, can give his father-in-law credit for having a good idea now and then.
In 1997, Tanenbaum said, “He told me I should take a look at opportunities in Oklahoma City.”
It didn't take Tanenbaum long to sell out of Houston — he owned 18 restaurants at the time — and buy long in Oklahoma City. It also didn't take him long to form a partnership with his father-in-law, Justin Gardner, creating Gardner-Tanenbaum Holdings.
After seven years of successful property development and construction in Oklahoma City — including turning the old Montgomery Ward building at 500 W Main St. downtown into luxury residences called The Montgomery — Gardner-Tanenbaum purchased a disused office tower near NW 23 and Classen Boulevard in 2004.
Ten years ago this spring, in “The Classen,” the architectural tee from which golf ball-shaped next-door neighbor The Gold Dome later seemed to have fallen, Tanenbaum envisioned a vibrant, luxury residential presence in what was at the time a decidedly nonvibrant Midtown.
Two years and $16 million in renovations later, the first tenants were moving in at 2200 Classen Blvd.
The iconic 1966 high-rise, notable for its midcentury architectural innovation, features 20 floors cantilevered off a central stem. It was designed to echo Frank Lloyd Wright's Price Tower in Bartlesville.
The property's architectural integrity was nearly as attractive to Tanenbaum as its selling price. The developer knew a deal when he saw it, and bought the old office building at auction for $850,000.
Another selling point: When Tanenbaum stood on a roof deck 20 floors up, “It was like looking across Central Park in Manhattan,” he said of the view to downtown.
Dallas-based Merriman Associates gutted the building, formerly called Citizens Tower, from top to bottom, replacing cramped offices with spacious two-bedroom, two-bath apartments.
The Classen has 66 units on 17 floors, with the third through 17th floors featuring four units each, ranging from 1,094 to 1,370 square feet, said Cindy Murillo, who manages multifamily properties for Gardner-Tanenbaum. Floors 18 to 20 are divided into two larger penthouse units, each measuring about 1,660 square feet.
In a bracing January wind, Tanenbaum recently toured the entertainment deck — the top floor of the three-story garage dedicated to tenants' use — clearly proud of the outdoor entertainment and recreation area that includes kitchen facilities, tennis and basketball courts and an AstroTurf putting green.
In The Classen, rent plus utilities starts at $1,810 per month on the lower floors, climbing to $3,220 in the top-floor penthouses.
Twelfth-floor resident Wally Hunt, a construction manager who splits his time between Oklahoma City and Charlotte, N.C., was one of the first to move in, taking the keys in early 2007.
“The quality of the renovation” was what attracted Hunt in the first place, he said. “Now, after 10 years, it's the excellent maintenance,” he said, not to mention “the view seems like it just keeps getting better.”
Murillo said tenants tell her the building's amenities — meeting rooms, storage space, lap pool and gym — are as compelling as the 360-degree views. Depending on a particular unit's orientation, the vista might be sunrise over the Capitol, sunset over Oklahoma City University, or fireworks over downtown.
Tanenbaum was not finished with downtown, by the way. A year and a half after snatching up The Classen, in September 2005, Gardner-Tanenbaum looked again to downtown, buying 17-story Park Harvey Center, another office building, now Park Harvey Apartments, at 200 N Harvey.
Acknowledging that rent in his multifamily properties is among the highest in Oklahoma City, Tanenbaum stressed that his tenants value amenities and the personal concierge-like service he offers.
“We'll walk their dogs, we'll get them to the airport,” Tanenbaum said. “Once you're in, we take care of you.”
He said he has succeeded with housing downtown and in Midtown, because, with the dust well-settled from the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building, “it was time” — but also because he recognized the importance of a satisfied customer.
Maybe it was those years in the restaurant business.
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