Tower news overshadowed by Stage Center debate

The Downtown Design Review Committee, an all volunteer city panel that reviews downtown building projects, may face its toughest challenge when they are asked to approve or deny an application to destroy Stage Center.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: July 26, 2013

The Downtown Design Review Committee, an all volunteer city panel that reviews downtown building projects, may face its toughest challenge when they are asked to approve or deny an application to destroy Stage Center.

Rainey Williams, the new owner of the theater, is planning to submit an application later this year to demolish Stage Center and turn the site into a new high-rise tower.

Both the demolition and the tower plans will require approval from the Downtown Design Review Committee, a panel whose members are appointed by the mayor.

“Stage Center currently sits empty, all but abandoned since it was flooded in 2010,” Williams said Friday. “In fact it flooded again on May 31st and had to be pumped. We know the Oklahoma City Community Foundation went through an exhaustive process to find a purchaser who would be interested in redeveloping the State Center. To our knowledge, only two groups were interested in pursuing, and they were unsuccessful in raising the millions of dollars needed.”

The building has outlived its use, Williams said, and removal of Stage Center is the next logical step in making the property usable again.

The Downtown Design Review Committee was created in 2008 and is one of the newest review bodies. That panel endured weeks of bitter debate three years ago when they were asked to approve an application by SandRidge Energy to tear down the 110-year-old former India Temple Building.

That battle ended with a switch in assistant city attorneys staffing the panel and providing advice, and a decision by the mayor not to reappoint a member who voted against the demolition, which was approved.

Paul Ryckbost, a former assistant city planner who oversaw three of the city's review committees, believes the Stage Center application will be the panel's toughest deliberation yet.

“Stage Center is a lot tougher on the architectural side than it was for SandRidge,” Ryckbost said. “With India Temple, it was old, it used to be pretty, but it didn't have the international acclaim like this has. It puts the committee in a sticky situation.”

Ryckbost said the ordinance for the Downtown Design Review Committee simply states that to protect the legacy of the past, buildings should be rehabilitated so that as much of the original fabric as possible can be left intact.

The key word, Ryckbost said, is “should.”

“It doesn't say don't demolish it,” Ryckbost said. “It leaves it up to the committee to decide.”

Ryckbost predicts the debate will draw national attention because Stage Center is such a renown structure, designed by the late John Johansen, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The building is featured in architectural textbooks.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Reporter Sr.
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist 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 Metropolitan...
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