I manage to trek up along the Turner Turnpike to Tulsa about once or twice a year. Those visits are turning into revealing snapshots of how different approaches to downtown development often result in unexpected outcomes.
On my visit last week to check on progress in the Brady Arts District, I saw a downtown that had changed dramatically since my previous visit in early 2012.
Early impressions of the city's downtown Brady Arts District consisted of observations of disjointed development, a lack of a grand entrance, a lack of public spaces and too little investment by the city.
All of that has changed with the addition of the ONEOK Field ballpark, the Guthrie Green park and a nice array of new restaurants, shops, housing and a hotel.
In past columns, I sometimes drew comparisons between the Brady Arts District and Bricktown, and was promptly chastised by residents of the state's largest city. They were right; the two districts are very different.
Let's start with what the two areas have in common. They both are among the oldest downtown business districts in the two cities; they feature redeveloped warehouses, and Spaghetti Warehouse was among the first restaurants to open in both areas.
Bricktown, however, never boasted a historic performing arts venue like the Brady Theater or a genuine heritage concert hall like Cain's Ballroom.
Most of the industrial properties in Bricktown ceased operations more than a decade ago, while industry still thrives in Brady.
One might guess that since Bricktown has a design review ordinance that governs new construction and exterior renovations, the Oklahoma City district would have the edge over Brady when it comes to new development.
That bet, however, isn't a sure win.
Consider that the new Fairfield Inn and Suites in Brady boasts an all-brick facade and a first floor dedicated to retail — urban amenities not included with any of the new hotels built anywhere in downtown Oklahoma City to date.
The Fairfield Inn, without any urban design ordinance to say otherwise, could have been built with a traditional stucco facade and suburban setback from the street.
Pride is standard
I asked Bob Fleischman, Brady Arts District Association president, to explain why the Fairfield Inn, the neighboring Metro at Brady Apartments, and other newer downtown Tulsa developments might have exceeded design and development standards in downtown Oklahoma City.
After a bit of discussion, the difference, it appears, comes down to property owners. It's a question of hometown pride and vision.
A tour of the two downtowns might lead one to speculate that Tulsa always has had the edge when it comes to pride in architectural design.
Tulsa's Art Deco heritage is well regarded worldwide, while the only international acclaim for downtown Oklahoma City architecture to note was for Stage Center. That theater, closed for the past two years, is being targeted for demolition and future redevelopment.
Such a historical comparison also is compromised by what remains of the buildings erected by the original town fathers in the two cities. Tulsa had its own urban renewal program, but it never called for the widespread demolition of hundreds of buildings that took place in Oklahoma City.
But look again at downtown Tulsa. The redevelopment is certainly a bit slower, and the comparisons are a bit challenging, but the difference in pride is beginning to show.