30 March 2003
Skirvin: a long, strange trip
Opened in 1911, four years after statehood, Bill Skirvin's hotel in downtown Oklahoma City was the unquestioned social center of town. By 1930, with an oil boom underway, the Skirvin had grown to 14 stories and 525 rooms. Bill Skirvin died in 1944, his children decided to sell the property, and while the hotel did well for the next two decades, an ill-advised search-and-destroy urban-renewal program in the Sixties caused everything downtown to suffer, and by 1969 the Skirvin could keep only a third of its rooms filled.
Things picked up in the 1980s, as urban renewal took a new form: restoration and preservation of the remaining historic structures downtown. The Skirvin was now on the National Register of Historic Places. Still, a succession of managements could not make it profitable, and after Oklahoma City government decided that it was worth saving, the city last year acquired the property from its most recent owners for just under $3 million.
Tomorrow, the city will receive proposals for redevelopment of the Skirvin. And they're plenty serious: as the committee report says, "Saving the Skirvin is not about saving a bad real estate deal; it is about investing in the future and supporting continuing economic growth in the downtown district." With Bricktown, just to the east of downtown, still growing, those extra hotel rooms will definitely come in handy. The city is willing to entertain the idea of letting the Skirvin go condo, but will draw the line at converting it to office space: there's too much of that going begging already.