The Oklahoman’s Steve Lackmeyer fielded reader questions Friday during his weekly OKC Central Live Chat. You can join Steve most Fridays at 10 a.m. to add your comments and questions about downtown development.
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Below is an edited transcript of Friday’s discussion:
What airline should add service to Oklahoma City?
Q: Good Thunder Morning Steve. I realize that Austin might be a bigger city than OKC in several ways. Over the last few years, they have gained an American Airlines mini-hub, nonstops to Hawaii, and British Airways’ service to London. They plan to grow their airport further. Are there plans to further expand the number of gates at Will Rogers World Airport, beyond the most recent expansion? And, what airlines would you like to see provide service to OKC that currently do not?
A: The Will Rogers World Airport we see today is completely new from the one that I first flew into when my family moved to Oklahoma City in 1977.
The latest expansion project, designed by HOK and Oklahoma City-based FSB, was completed last year and added a new east concourse with four new gates (along with the flexibility to open six more gates in the future) and a customs area for international flights. The airport was down to just one gate available to lease prior to the expansion, so this was a pretty important next step to improving our air connections.
As for new airlines, maybe Jet Blue would be a good addition? As for making Oklahoma City a hub, I just don’t see that happening. Austin is, whether it wants to admit it or not, a tier-one city (in case you haven’t heard, Austin is a bit weird about this sort of thing and much more).
As evidenced by recent air system shutdowns, airline travel is under stress and I’m not seeing anything that leads me to think it’s going to get any better anytime soon.
I personally think it might be better to aggressively pursue expansion and improvement of passenger rail for both local, regional and national transportation. Oklahoma City is geographically well-positioned for such a focus.
Will a hotel be built at The Half?
Q: As “The Half” development continues to add new venues along Broadway Extension (between Wilshire and Britton Rd), do you see a high-end hotel for the area. There is plenty of parcels in that area where a nice boutique hotel might be a nice touch to add. I pass by this area daily and like the momentum.
A: The Half is going quite nicely. We’re seeing apartments being added to the mix, and that will likely draw more restaurants and maybe some shops. I’m not aware of any hotel development for the property, but I agree, it seems like one is inevitable, especially with American Fidelity and other major employers nearby. As an aside, I do know the land in the foreground of the lake and fountain at Chisholm Creek is being reserved for a hotel.
Did a “bland” design get chosen for downtown gateway?
Q: I felt like the plans for the flatiron addition were a little bland. Why do you think they were chosen?
A: This project is designed by architect Rand Elliott, and whether one loves or hates his work, I’m not sure I’ve ever heard his work described as “bland.” But you are not the first to say this when it comes to the Berry Rock development chosen by the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority for NE 6 and Harrison Avenue on both sides of Walnut Avenue.
I think the Urban Renewal Authority chose the Berry Rock proposal because it came with new office tenants ready to move downtown from the suburbs. Some of the tenants were quoted as saying they wanted this spot, and on a quick timeline, or they would look at other areas.
The Berry Rock proposal was one of a handful pitched to the Urban Renewal Authority. You can look at the competing proposals here.
When will Boulevard Place construction start?
Q: When will the apartments adjacent to the convention center break ground?
A: I’m told we should see work starting within the next few months. Learn more about Boulevard Place and other downtown developments starting in 2023 here.
How will city seek a developer for former convention center?
Q: Let’s say the Arena is torn down and a new one built on the site of Prairie Surf Studios (formerly the Cox Convention Center). Do you think the city would put out an RFP for the redevelopment of the site? How would that work?
A: The Oklahoma City Council would first have to decide whether to keep the existing arena or scrap it for redevelopment. They would then likely task the Urban Renewal Authority with overseeing requests for proposals. This won’t be quick or easy. Demolition alone won’t be cheap.
Will the mayor seek higher office?
Q: Mayor David Holt has been such a great ambassador for our city. What are the chances we lose him to higher aspirations like governor or national races?
I’ve teased him from time to time when he’s taken stances that aren’t in alignment with some of the nonsense we’re seeing in Washington, D.C. I warned him recently he had almost certainly lost Broken Arrow in any potential run for statewide office.
Each time he laughs it off. He appears to be quite happy being mayor and enjoys being able to make a difference in his hometown.
FAA training a quiet draw for visitors
Q: What is something underrated in OKC that brings in more people than people would expect?
A: This is actually an easy one to answer — the Mike Monroney Aeronautical Center near the airport routinely draws in scores if not hundreds of students training for a career in aviation, including jobs as air traffic controllers. According to Top Workplaces, the center employs 6,300 people and has an economic impact topping $1.65 billion.
Oklahoma River development not slowing down
Q: What’s next in terms of river development?
A: Bar K, the dog park, bar and restaurant, is set to open next to the white water rapids center by this spring. Meanwhile, construction is underway on the $300 million OKANA resort on the south shore of the Oklahoma River at Eastern Avenue. The city, meanwhile, is working on plans to turn an abandoned railroad bridge into a pedestrian crossing near Wheeler and another pedestrian bridge is planned by OKANA. We also are looking at a low water dam being built east of Eastern Avenue that will extend the Oklahoma River.
More:Oklahoma Trailhead being added at Riversport to connect Oklahoma River with city trails
Will Capitol Hill become the next popular urban district?
Q: What will be needed to kick off the development of old Capitol Hill? SW 25 (also known as Commerce Street) is such a cool old street with so much history and I see no reason why it can’t turn into the next version of the Plaza District.
A: I don’t know. Things keep progressing, but slowly. It screams out to become our next cool cultural district with a heavy concentration of Hispanic businesses and residents. The city is about to convert a portion of Harvey Avenue into a festival plaza, and I think that could really boost efforts to make Capitol Hill a true destination. Read more here.
Oklahoma City image likely helped, not hurt by “Tulsa King”
Q: With a sizable majority of the Paramount series “Tulsa King” being filmed in OKC (and much of it at Prairie Surf Studios), I must say it is really cool to see so many local buildings in the series (The original Oklahoman headquarters, the vacant UMB Bank in the stockyards, Farmer’s Market, etc.). I was curious on how you think the state is being portrayed?
A: Oklahoma City gets the best of it all with this deal. Some of the exterior shots are done in Tulsa, but most of the filming is in Oklahoma City. This means any negative images are attached to Tulsa, but the film industry is finding out Oklahoma City has some great shooting locations and fans of the series might visit to see some of the show’s landmarks.
More:‘Very much a public gathering place.’ Century-old farmers market was OKC staple in its time
Former Oklahoma City Jail no longer threatened with demolition
Q: The old city jail. Worried about that one. I visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis and saw, in a tribute to Clara Luper, that she had been arrested (and sent to the Oklahoma City jail) 26 times. No matter that it has an added top floor and the ceilings are low, that building tells an important story for us.
A: The jail is safe now. The city has abandoned efforts to tear it down following repeated opposition by the city council. I recently reported the building may be included in the next bond issue to be submitted to voters. Read more here.
Will a hotel ever be built in the Adventure District?
Q: The softball stadium was upgraded a few years ago and has helped to draw visitors to the Women’s College World Series each year. Interstate 35 is getting ready to undergo massive upgrades along this corridor. Do you see any development such as some hotels near I-35 and NE 50, or do you know of any planned hotels and/or restaurant developments in the “Adventure District” near the horse race track and zoo. This area has been lacking other critical components to make it really an adventure. Near the movie theatre at I-44 and Martin Luther King there are many parcels available for developments. Just curious if you have an opinion on why they have not been fulfilled?
A: I do see a hotel coming to the Adventure District. And yes, one has been discussed for years. The most likely developer would be affiliated with the Chickasaw Nation, which is one of our state’s leading investors and employers in the tourism industry. They are smart at what they do and they do not rush into projects. From what I’ve seen, they are meticulous in planning and willing to wait if they don’t think the market is quite ready. I have reasons to think we’re almost there.