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Tower Theater revival dream eludes Uptown

Legal issue in Virginia stalls plans for redevelopment of long-vacant theater.
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: September 9, 2013 at 8:30 pm •  Published: September 10, 2013

When Marty Dillon bought the Tower Theater eight years ago, the surrounding stretch of Uptown along NW 23 was a pretty dismal sight.

Cheever's Cafe, owned by Keith and Heather Paul, was the only hint of life along the street. The remainder of Uptown was populated with pawnshops, some rundown stores and a couple of fast-food joints. The theater itself had a smashed-up marquee, a string of empty storefronts, and plenty of potential.

Dillon was applauded for attempting to take the key asset along NW 23 and turn it into the very sort of kick-start needed to bring the area back.

In 2013, the picture is very different. Some of the city's most popular restaurants — Tucker's, Mutt's, Big Truck Tacos, Pizza 23, and shops like Cuppies and Joe, and bars like Grandad's — have turned Uptown into the next urban revitalization story for Oklahoma City.

And then add in what's coming, including the conversion of an old Texaco service station at NW 24 and Walker into Pump (a retro bar) and Retro Flashback Pub, a bar that will include vintage 1980s arcade games, decor and music, along with the conversion of the old Motel Liquidator's building into the upscale shopping center The Rise.

The Paseo to the north, meanwhile, is set to rapidly reconnect with NW 23, and Heritage Hills is already to the south.

Uptown is ready for its moment. Except the Tower Theater and its surrounding storefronts remain empty, the only change being a fixed marquee unveiled a couple of years ago.

Folks excited about Uptown are increasingly frustrated about the Tower Theater. They ask repeatedly why the theater remains untouched, other than the marquee, after eight years. They wonder whether Dillon is serious about redeveloping the property.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author 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...
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