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.
Various developers, meanwhile, indicate they've been unable to put together deals with Dillon.
I mentioned some of these details in response to questions asked during last Friday's OKC Central Live Chat. When I last spoke to Dillon several months ago, he indicated he was still struggling to obtain financing and tax credits.
We spoke again Monday, and he is also frustrated. He has bank financing, approval for state historic tax credits, and a buyer for federal historic tax credits.
It's the federal tax credit that has the project stalled. Dillon says he is awaiting a ruling on a case in Virginia, where developers were challenged over the sale of tax credits to what the IRS deemed “an outside investor.”
A ruling was expected after Labor Day. And if it's favorable, Dillon expects the delays to finally come to an end. But if the outcome is less than favorable, the Tower Theater may not be the only historic property awaiting redevelopment with a murkier future ahead.