Growing pains: As Uptown surges, some residents weary of noise, traffic
When the weather is right, the sidewalks and side streets of NW 23 between Broadway and Classen Boulevard fill with visitors ready to rock at a concert, munch on food in the many restaurants or clank glasses of craft beer in a toast around an outdoor table.
When the weather is right, some nearby residents cover their ears and hunker down for the night.
“For us at least, the noise has become such a bother, we are spending almost $5,000 renovating our bedroom windows and soundproofing,” said Russ Womble, a nearby Mesta Park resident weary of the thumping bass grooves, the parade of traffic and the thunder of motorcycles that can sometimes last into the early morning.
A formerly thriving retail corridor, NW 23 grew more dilapidated by the decade during the last century. The most glaring symbol of its decline was the prized Tower Theater. For years a home to popular movies, the venue wilted into an adult film house before closing in 1989, reopening in the 1990s as a music hall, and turning out the lights again in 2000.
The revival of NW 23 began just as it appeared the corridor would be discarded on the scrapheap of empty American storefronts and strip malls. In 1998, Cheever's planted the flag for revitalization, and over the course of two decades, other restaurants would follow, and bring with them new bars and businesses.
Nurtured back to health by new owners, Tower Theater's neon marquee shines again, and patrons may take in a film or enjoy live bands.
But like other pockets of renewal in Oklahoma City, the Uptown 23rd District is experiencing growing pains. As entertainment and dining options expand all around them, area residents are debating how much is enough.
Last year, the Traffic Commission approved a request by residents of Mesta Park and Heritage Hills to install four-way stops at 19 intersections. The residents cited increased traffic due to downtown growth, with drivers cutting through the otherwise tranquil neighborhoods instead of taking a commuting corridor such as Classen Boulevard.
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In response, Ian McDermid, owner of the popular Pump Bar at 2425 N Walker Ave., filed an unsuccessful appeal, saying guidelines for adding the stop signs were not met, and no consideration was given to merchants and residents in adjoining areas, such as Midtown and the Paseo district.
In October, Womble posted his noise complaints to an online message board.
Another resident, who lives in the 400 block of NW 22, joined him, saying that it was 4 p.m. on a Sunday and she was listening to her windows rattle because of music along the NW 23 corridor.
“I am willing to be tolerant for a while, but enough already ...” she said. “It wears on the nerves after a while.”
What followed was a lively discussion about uptown development, which cuts between the Paseo District to the north, and Mesta Park and Heritage Hills to the south. Other residents backed the resurgence of NW 23, even if it gets loud on occasion.
During the intramural squabble among Oklahoma City neighborhoods, a Gatewood-area resident responded to complaints by sarcastically remarking that “Heritage and Mesta seem like really fun places to live.”
'What we dreamed about'
When they moved in the mid-1980s from New York to Oklahoma City, Meg Salyer and her husband bought a building on Broadway and ran a business in one of the city's notoriously blighted corridors.
Broadway became Automobile Alley, a hive of restaurants, shops, offices and lofts.
Salyer became councilwoman of Ward 6. The urban area — from NW 23 to SW 59 — runs through downtown, historic communities, and Hispanic neighborhoods south of the Oklahoma River.
No stranger to the travails and triumphs of urban renewal, Salyer still gets excited when she sees people dining inside The Drake, or Pizzeria Gusto, or enjoying an evening outside at The Pump.
“They've had the support of the neighborhood, both on the north side and the south side,” she said. “There's a great demand for that type of dining and entertainment, but it's got to be respectful.”
With noise ordinances in place, Salyer encourages residents to contact the police department if they think the good times are getting too loud. And she reminds bar and restaurant owners that in some spots, their patios can run up against a homeowner's backyard.
“Everybody does want to try and be a good neighbor, and it's not exclusive to 23rd north and downtown,” she said. “We do have a much more vibrant outdoor street life than in the past. There is a necessary balance in that those who are operating outdoor establishments need to be mindful that they are tucked into neighborhoods. But that's what makes these neighborhoods successful. That's what we dreamed about.”
And, it is what many newcomers expect.
Lyanne Segura moved from Orange County to Oklahoma City two years ago. A restaurant server, she lives in Classen-10-Penn and enjoys nightlife in the nearby Plaza District, which was once a crime-infested and blighted strip along NW 16 between Classen Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Segura likes seeing familiar faces at places like Saint's in The Plaza, and Cuppies and Joe on NW 23, or Picasso Cafe on Paseo Drive.
“There's a niche in the middle of Oklahoma City that's not like anywhere,” she said. “You're going to run into people you know who are going to support you. They visit you at your restaurant or bar, and then you go support them. It's Austin before it was Austin.”
Austin is in the eye of the beholder. As a new wine club prepared to enter The Plaza this year, area residents went online to debate whether more watering holes are needed in the popular pub crawl spot.
“I say stop Bricktowning my Plaza,” one resident commented. “Don't Portland my OKC.”
While parking is a constant problem in the area, many residents welcomed another drinking establishment.
“Plaza District is exploding, Uptown 23rd is moving west, and Gatewood continues getting better by the day,” one resident wrote. “Either jump on this train or get run over by it. Because we aren't stopping.”
Or, as one commenter said: “Don't Edmond my OKC.”
Having lived in Orange County and watched its wild transformation from a sleepy, conservative community to one that pulses with nightlife but squeezes its residents for outrageous housing and business costs, Segura empathizes with longtime Oklahoma City residents bewildered by their changing neighborhoods.
One of her neighbors has lived in Classen-10-Penn for 39 years.
“I can only imagine the transformation in his lifetime,” she said. “He's overwhelmed. But that's growth. The only difference is we're doing it in 2018, not the 1980s.”
Until 2 a.m.
Womble has lived in Mesta Park for about three years. Rearing a young daughter, he and his wife like the leafy neighborhood, the nice homes and nearby elementary school.
They didn't notice much noise at first, but it picked up, along with traffic.
“Walker in particular has become very busy,” Womble said. “Walker connects Uptown and Midtown, and at night there's a lot of traffic going from Uptown to Midtown. It seems like in the fall and in the spring those bars — they leave their doors open and they'll have really loud music, and the bass is extremely loud and it goes until 2 a.m.”
Nightlife along NW 23 is the main draw for residents who visit from other parts of the city, said Chelsea Banks, interim executive director of Uptown 23rd. The district is younger, and doesn't yet have as much retail as The Plaza, for example.
The district's relative youth provides an opportunity for merchants and residents to partner in building the kind of neighborhood in which they want to live and play.
“A few of the businesses have had neighborhood people come to them and ask for specific things to be addressed,” Banks said. “Most of the people that own businesses in the area live in the neighborhood. We are in the position to hear what everyone has to say and move forward together.”
Once an establishment is notified of the noise problem, Womble said, the volume seems to go down. He isn't bothered by the surge in new dining and entertainment in and of themselves.
“It's really cool having it,” Womble said. “If the noise wasn't an issue, I wouldn't mind at all.”