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Will Chase Move Downtown Branch Out of Cotter Ranch Tower?

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: August 1, 2014
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Empty Chase building at Dean A. McGee and Broadway. To those who want to get rid of the Downtown Design Review Committee - this is what was allowed before the ordinance was created.
Empty Chase building at Dean A. McGee and Broadway. To those who want to get rid of the Downtown Design Review Committee - this is what was allowed before the ordinance was created.

For years, a 1,014-square-foot, one-story building at the corner of Dean A. McGee and Broadway has stood as a reminder of what was one of downtown’s two largest, anchor banks – Liberty Bank & Trust Co.

For decades, Liberty and First National were rival power houses, quite literally calling the shots on what did and didn’t become a reality in Oklahoma City. First National was the first to go, collapsing during the oil bust in the mid-1980s. Liberty hung around for more than another decade, but it too was swallowed by larger national banks to the point where its remnants are just a small, downtown branch of Chase Bank.

Chase currently has its branch in The Underground beneath Cotter Ranch Tower (although it is more commonly known as Chase Tower thanks the big Chase sign at the top). This was Liberty Bank. The whole tower pretty much was Liberty. Yes folks, this is what we lost.

The small outpost building at Dean A. McGee was once filled with activity as well, and its nine drive-through lanes were considered insufficient enough in the 1980s oil boom that Liberty once considered clearing the block at Sheridan and Oklahoma in Bricktown to build a much larger drive through branch.

Things have not been going well at Cotter Ranch Tower. Occupancy has been plummeting, and not just due to the loss of Devon Energy as a tenant. Could Chase be the next to leave?

It turns out the Chase property at Dean A. McGee is much bigger than it appears, with another 20,000 square feet of office space located below that empty, 1,014-square-foot building. Go figure. Don’t ask me what Liberty was thinking when they did this.

The Chase space at Dean A. McGee is far bigger underground than it is above ground.
The Chase space at Dean A. McGee is far bigger underground than it is above ground.

So Chase this week submitted an application to the Downtown Design Review Committee, which I picked up yesterday. The bank is asking to build a new, smaller drive-through facility of six lanes, tear down the building that is above ground, and replace it with this:

Proposed new Chase branch to be built at Dean A. McGee. The design calls for a brick and stucco facade with a metal pitched roof.
Proposed new Chase branch to be built at Dean A. McGee. The design calls for a brick and stucco facade with a metal pitched roof.

Yes, I know, I know. Don’t everyone get too excited at once.

I contacted officials at Chase and got the following statement: “At this point we are looking at all of our options to provide best banking experience for our customers in downtown Oklahoma City.”

Those options, I have learned, include closing the Chase operation at Cotter Ranch Tower and establishing its branch at Dean A. McGee. Chase is a national player in real estate, and I doubt the folks with the bank are naïve to how design review works. After talking to folks, I suspect this is a test run – what will the city require out of Chase before the bank is allowed to build a new facility at Dean A. McGee? Will it be worth the effort, or should the branch stay at Chase tower and the status quo remain on Dean A. McGee? Is there a more valuable use for this property?

My suggestion to developers: you have an opportunity here. Seize it. Figure out a way to make Chase happy, give them their branch and drive-through lanes, and go to town building something that will really make this site special.

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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