What's next for Downtown Oklahoma City?

Steve Lackmeyer surveys Oklahoma City’s growing downtown and describes how a vibrant downtown is a reality.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: July 1, 2014
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photo - The downtown Oklahoma City skyline is seen as the sun sets on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman
The downtown Oklahoma City skyline is seen as the sun sets on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014. Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

A 220-foot-high amusement ride may or may not become a reality in Bricktown, but the overall momentum downtown is unquestionably giddy as the city moves beyond the 20th anniversary of the original Metropolitan Area Projects.

The initiative, more commonly known as MAPS, consisted of a five-year, one-penny sales tax designed to add life back to the urban core of Oklahoma City. Without the investment, Oklahoma City would not have the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark, the Bricktown Canal, the Chesapeake Energy Arena, a modern downtown library, a revived Oklahoma River, or a robust convention center, music hall or fairgrounds.

And for that matter, the city would not have the NBA Thunder or the River Sports park that has developed along the river.

Construction cranes have stayed busy downtown and in surrounding districts for more than a decade, but at ground level, an equally important transformation is underway. New stores, attractions and events are ensuring that the momentum will continue for the foreseeable future.

Sometimes, it’s helpful to step back and survey the changes, district by district, to get a real grasp of what’s underway.

Automobile Alley

A half-century ago, downtown had a retail corridor along Main Street between Walker Avenue and Broadway, but most of those buildings were razed, and the street itself between Robinson and Hudson Avenues was eliminated as part of Urban Renewal’s I.M. Pei plan of the ’60s and ’70s.

Without such storefronts to use as the base for bringing back retail, and with the realization that suburban malls do not work in urban areas, planners began to realize about a dozen years ago that Broadway between NW 4 and NW 13 presented the best opportunity for a retail resurgence. The pre-World War II automobile dealership buildings with large display windows were seen as ideal for new storefronts.

Retail, however, did not truly get started until the past few years as downtown’s residential population grew. Automobile Alley is now home to Rawhide, Schlegel Bicycles, Plenty Mercantile, Side Street Glass, Shop Good, Broadway Wine Merchants, Kanon Gallery, Blue Water Divers, Stow’s Office Furniture and Ratio Gallery.

The restaurant scene, meanwhile, is set to grow. Broadway 10 Chophouse prepares to open in a newly renovated Buick Building. And Broadway itself continues to bask under the glow of neon signage all along the strip — an effort that began with a grant program provided by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.

By this fall, a hint of the next big addition to Automobile Alley will appear at NW 11 and Broadway, where an assembly of shipping containers will be erected to form an observation deck and showroom for what will eventually be the new home for Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center. And while the public has yet to see any designs, the track record of the project’s architect, Rand Elliott, includes some of the most daring designs in the city, including the boathouses along the Oklahoma River and Classen Curve shopping center.

Bricktown

As Oklahoma’s premier entertainment district, Bricktown draws millions of visitors annually. Despite such traffic, the old warehouse district still had “gaps” in its development — dead, empty, upper floors and even a couple of boarded-up windows.

A new wave of development is set to transform Bricktown once again, with an influx of hundreds of apartments and hotel rooms. The Steelyard, to be built this winter at E Sheridan Avenue and Joe Carter Avenue, will include a Hyatt Place Hotel and apartments with retail on the ground floor. At least three other hotels are being developed in east Bricktown, while a Holiday Inn Express is set to open later this year at Oklahoma Avenue and Main Street.

Tom Ward’s Tapstone Energy, meanwhile, is set to bring up to 140 employees to the long-vacant upper floors of the Mideke Building just south of the Holiday Inn Express. Construction also has started on Brickopolis, a restaurant, entertainment center and gift shop that will overlook the Bricktown Canal just west of the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark.

Existing Bricktown tenants are expanding their footprint. The Chickasaw Nation recently opened Exhibit C, an art gallery, Bedre Chocolates shop and gift shop, next to its tourism offices at 1 E Sheridan Ave. Sonic is converting space on the first floor of its headquarters in Lower Bricktown into a test kitchen that reminds visitors the entertainment district is home to the nation’s most popular drive-in restaurant chain.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
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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