The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

26 March 2005

Saturday spottings (forward-looking)

Predictions for available hotel rooms in downtown Oklahoma City:

Me, May '04: 1,414 by mid-2006.

The Downtown Guy, this week: At least 1,300 by 2007.

Given the subsequent delays on the Embassy Suites in Bricktown, I'm thinking TDG's time frame might be more reasonable than mine. Still, it should be remembered that during the grim post-oil bust days, we soldiered on with one major downtown hotel; the promise of half a dozen in the very near future constitutes some sort of vote of confidence in downtown Oklahoma City.

There are still a few spots that could use some burnishing, of course, and one of them is the old Braniff Building at 324 North Robinson, built in 1923 for Braniff Insurance, Tom Braniff's day job while brother Paul was learning to fly. In 1930, Braniff Airways moved into 324, and remained there until they relocated to Dallas in 1945. Kerr-McGee now owns the building, and gave it a facelift in the late 1960s. Most of the lower-story windows were broken in the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, and have since been replaced, but otherwise 324 (and the adjacent 310/316) are seemingly frozen in time, aging a little but otherwise showing no signs of life. The Braniff name, incidentally, was removed many years ago; the sign reads simply THREE TWENTY FOUR BUILDING.

Out in Midwest City, things are still in flux. The stretch of Douglas Boulevard from SE 15th to SE 29th, in the expectation of greater development, has been widened to five lanes (two each way and a center turn lane); Air Depot Boulevard is currently undergoing the same treatment. CiCi's Pizza has taken over the old Sound Warehouse building, once a moviehouse, in the 2300 block of Air Depot, and some of the strip centers near 15th have been freshened. At Heritage Park Mall, not much seems to have changed just yet — there's been some attention to the surrounding foliage, I noticed — but everyone I talked to who worked in the mall seemed happy, or at least hopeful, about the new ownership.

And I took a spin over to Union Station, 300 SW 7th, which isn't the easiest place to get to in this city. (Robinson south from downtown, then hang a right on 7th.) In the hands of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority, the station is serving as, well, not much of anything these days. (Amtrak's Heartland Flyer stops at the old Santa Fe depot north of Reno on E. K. Gaylord.) Virtually all of the vintage rail infrastructure is still viable, were the city to pursue a light-rail transit system, although it's scheduled to be trashed once I-40's Crosstown route is rerouted literally through the old railyard. ODOT, of course, insists that "the integrity of [the station] will be maintained". I have my doubts that there ever will be a light-rail transit system in central Oklahoma, but I am quite sure that if there is, it will cost a lot more than it would had the Union Station railyard been left alone.

And as I passed by the National Memorial — but never mind, you can imagine what sort of slaughter-of-the-innocents thoughts I was having.

Posted at 6:52 PM to City Scene