In perhaps the most striking evidence yet of a generational shift in development of the urban core, the 2014 Mayors Development Roundtable Wednesday featured a mix of prominent Gen X and Millennial developers who weren’t shy about hinting at new projects ahead.
The roundtable, held annually, typically features a mix of national speakers and a “lightning round” in which developers share details of current and upcoming projects. About 500 people cheered on presentations of completed projects and upcoming efforts by developers, the oldest of whom is 45 years old.
Ben Sellers, who redeveloped an aging office building at 600 NW 23 into a mix of retail and renovated offices, revealed he is set to purchase a boarded up duplex at the northwest corner of NW 23 and Robinson that he intends to renovate into a similar mix.
“It’s been boarded up for several years and currently houses some of the city’s homeless population,” Sellers said. Sellers also teased the audience with renderings of a mystery housing project that will be built in the urban core.
Andy Burnett, president of Burnett Equities, provided a history of “difficult” projects he has specialized in tackling, including redevelopment of the former Century Center Mall at 100 W Main, the Mideke Building, 108 E Main, and the former Stewart Metal Fabricators complex in east Bricktown.
Burnett also teased that the Spaghetti Warehouse building, a six-story landmark at 101 E Sheridan Ave. in which five of the six floors are empty and the windows are sealed with bricks, and the area around the future Core to Shore park are attractive future targets.
David Wanzer, who has developed properties along Film Row and in the 16th Street Plaza District, also teased he has acquired a dozen lots and is about to get active in Midtown.
Allison Bailey, an urban retail consultant, announced that temporary holiday pop-up shops launched last winter will get a more permanent home adjoining a Bleu Garten food truck plaza being built this summer at NW 10 and Harvey Avenue.
Downtown’s youth movement also was reflected in the recipient of the annual Mayor’s Award for Outstanding Development. The 16th Street Plaza District owes much of its momentum to the development efforts of more experienced developers including Jeff Struble, Steve Mason and Aimee Ahpeatone.
The Plaza District itself, however, is a celebration of the Millennial generation with a district manager, Kristen Vails, herself a young artist. Photos presented by Mayor Mick Cornett before the award showed how the district went from a blighted old neighborhood commercial corridor to one that boasts $17 million in investment to date and 32 “thriving businesses.”
Larry Beasley, retired Vancouver chief city planner, author and a professor at the University of British Columbia, offered up high praise for Oklahoma City’s urban development efforts, including the original Metropolitan Area Projects and follow-up initiatives.
“I’m getting a flavor of the city,” Beasley said. “What has affected my thinking is how progressive and forward thinking Oklahoma City is when compared to other cities in the world. … You have one of the best public realm programs in America. I’m going to take photos and bring them back to my city and shame them.”
Beasley also advised against designs that might turn sections of the future downtown boulevard into a limited access bypass. Vancouver has no highways connecting to its downtown, yet the city’s urban core is home to 125,000 and tens of thousands of people commuting to work daily.
“I think the art is not to turn it into another interstate highway by accident,” Beasley said. “It’s easy to be convinced to go a bit wider.”
In an interview with The Oklahoman after the roundtable, Beasley also cautioned against giving any consideration to an effort by the Oklahoma Transportation Department to give another look at building the boulevard as a six-lane-wide street.
“A street is not a freeway,” Beasley said. “It should be the exact opposite, providing maximum access along its frontage. It needs to manage traffic, but also allow it to move slower. The best retail is on a slow-moving street. ... You really need to try to build it as a people place.”