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499 W Sheridan - Final Thoughts of the Day

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I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the lengthy discussion and debate that took place today as the Downtown Design Review Committee considered whether or not to allow demolition to occur to make way for the 499 W Sheridan tower development.

What strikes me as I’ve had time to mull it over is the extremes of what I heard in terms of honesty and well, outright silliness. Let’s start with the honesty part first. I suspected, but didn’t know for sure, that the request for not one but two garages was in response to not just needs for 499 W Sheridan, but for Devon Energy as well. And to the credit of Tom D’Arcy with Hines, and obviously the folks at Devon, that fact came out today. The company has grown faster than expected. This is a good thing. We’re not seeing another SandRidge situation where buildings are being torn down to make way for yet another unused plaza.

I’m not sure if the amount of discussion that took place about traffic at Sheridan and Walker and the dominance of structured parking at the intersection was going to take place regardless today, or whether I might have sparked up some additional debate with my column on Tuesday. What we do know is architect Jon Pickard arrived with another variation of what is now being called the “glass beacon” at the corner of the west garage.

Now this is an interesting alteration in that it revives an early idea Pickard had of salvaging and re-using the sign, but in a way that is far more bold than simply sticking it on a bland corner of the garage as first contemplated (but never proposed). The glass beacon was added a couple weeks ago, and now we also see how the design will incorporate blue tile to be salvaged from the bus station as well.

Now, let’s be honest. It’s not the same as keeping the bus station itself. And I honestly believe if parking weren’t so desperately needed by Devon, the outcome of the bus station might have turned out differently. I know that a year ago potential development of this block to accommodate Devon did not include suggestions the bus station might be razed.

Could the parking have been built into the tower podium itself? Yes. Could the parking have been built under the tower? Maybe, but the property is in riverbed, so I’m not certain myself how far below such parking could go. And as Tom D’Arcy pointed out (correctly), the costs of such changes would cost millions.

What’s interesting is Hines could have covered such costs by seeking tax increment financing for the parking. But no such request is being made. TIF requests add time to schedules and aren’t sure things. And with a large request being made across the street by Clayco for four towers, yet another TIF request could have jeopardized both deals. Devon needs the parking and office space – yesterday. This is a case where the developer is having to move forward – quickly.

So when attorney David Box said there was no option to save the buildings, including the Union Bus Station, in a sense he was absolutely telling the truth. We can all wish that public transit could negate the need for parking. But Oklahoma City isn’t even close to having that problem solved.

Hines and Pickard did make costly changes in response to the design review, including the glass beacon, expanded ground floor commercial space, and finally, a last minute decision to add ornate screening planned for the Sheridan facade of the west garage to the Walker Avenue side of the building.

Now let’s get to the silliness where Box said with a straight face “this city has an amazing history of preserving buildings and districts.” Yes, we’re seeing some great preservation efforts along Automobile Alley, in Midtown, Uptown and the Plaza District. But ask the average Oklahoma City resident, young or old, if they think Oklahoma City is a model for preservation and they’ll likely laugh at such a suggestion. The legacy of the I.M. Pei Plan and Urban Renewal in the 1970s is way too strong.

Hundreds – literally hundreds – of buildings were torn down. Some of the buildings were an embarrassment, hardly historic, and by all means should have been torn down. I’ve also argued in the past the largest building destroyed – the Biltmore Hotel – needed to go.

But our city fathers really messed up badly when it came to some of the buildings selected as part of clear-cutting the south half of the central business district.

So yeah, this happened again and again.

The Baum Building - gone.
The Baum Building - gone.
Warner Theater and Beverly's. Gone.
Warner Theater and Beverly's. Gone.
Brown's Department Store. Gone.
Brown's Department Store. Gone.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I seriously doubt anyone in today’s meeting truly believes Oklahoma City has a great track record when it comes to preservation. I do believe, however, that Larry Nichols, executive chairman of Devon, D’Arcy and Pickard truly were presenting their only option when everything was presented today. Downtown’s biggest corporate anchor – one that has done a lot for the city – is growing and needs more office space and parking ASAP.

David Box is a smart attorney. He’s showing every sign of becoming a worthy successor to his rock-star attorney father Dennis Box. Did David make an unintended over-reach here? Don’t be so sure. Just Wednesday the same preservation argument was pitched by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber as they sought signatures for a Hines petition arguing for demolition of the nine buildings.

Yes, this was no accident. And it was a familiar position for the chamber, which put out this message as part of a promotional film in the mid-1970s:

FYI – the Galleria never got built. The Warner Theater, Beverly’s, and Main Street itself were yanked out and the entire area was maintained as a massive parking lot until Devon Energy Center was built four years ago.

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Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author 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... Read more ›

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