9 September 2006
Saturday spottings (full retail)

Generally, I avoid enclosed retail compounds, at least partly because of some as-yet-undiagnosed phobia, but mostly because what I'm looking for can usually be had elsewhere, perhaps at a slightly lower price. Still, I wound up at Penn Square today, mostly because the Foley's signs have come down and the Macy's signs have gone up, and I was curious to see if the store looked any different under its new branding.

The answer, apparently, is "Sort of." There seems to be slightly less clutter, fewer displays sticking into the aisles, and there are areas of the floor where you can tell something used to be there and was taken away. Still, the market positioning — upscale, but not that upscale — remains much as it was. And there is logic behind this, I suppose: on the lower level of the mall near the Macy's entrance, the local Mercedes store has parked a red C230, the bottom of the US Benz line, which practically defines that position, inasmuch as for about the same money you can pick up a top-line Hyundai with more space, more features, and a complete lack of gotta-have-it factor.

My actual shopping, I should note, was done in faraway Edmond, at another unlikely venue: Spring Creek Village, where I dropped in at the New Balance store, of which there are only two in the state. (The other is at Tulsa's Utica Square, which seeks similarly-bucks-up customers.) Being a Target kind of person at best, I don't normally feel 100 percent in venues like this, but I reasoned that I stood a better chance of finding what I wanted, which was a close approximation to my old-and-busted NB 572s, at an actual company store.

What I came away with was the 925, which seems to have been just discontinued in favor of the similar 926. It's much like the 572, with a better-grade upper and more of a support system below. And, mirabile dictu, they had it in a 14 wide. I will, of course, keep these guys in mind when it's time to replace my 587s. While I have a certain psychological resistance to paying a hundred bucks for a pair of shoes, the NBs I've bought have shown surprising durability, considering the minor detail that they have to haul me around, and I figure, for the 2½ years I expect these to last — I got nearly three out of the 572s — that's a fairly-insignificant three dollars and change a month. (I have one other pair of NBs, a semi-dressy loafer whose number I forget, but given the number of times I do things that demand dressiness, they will likely outlast me.)

Spring Creek Village, incidentally, is very nice, decidedly low-key, and for me anyway, a more pleasant experience than any of the Big Malls, despite its lower concentration of bored young women in abbreviated costumes. (Note to Oklahoma City movers and/or shakers: You need a cluster like this if you expect to continue to compete with the 'burbs for serious retail dollars, and slapping something down amid the clutter on Memorial Road isn't going to do the job.)

Lowest gas price seen today: $2.169 (!) for regular unleaded, at 63rd and Meridian.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:00 PM)
10 September 2006
Where the 'burbs begin

Oklahoma City has no Beltway to speak of, but it does have a loop of sorts: the not-really-circular area enclosed within Interstates 40, 44 and 235. (I, as it happens, am out of the loop.)

There's a sidebar to this Sunday Oklahoman story which defines the "inner city" as NW 63rd to SW 44th, Meridian to Martin Luther King/Eastern, a zone eight miles by seven with 160,000 of the city's 541,000 people.

A term like "inner city," of course, comes with all sorts of contemporary (or leftover-Sixties) connotations, not all of them necessarily pleasant. Still, this seems to be a reasonable approximation of what I'd consider the city core. I went back to the 1940 city limits, which are well within this zone: the northern boundary was around 36th, and the western edge of town was right around where I-44 runs today.

My preferred line of demarcation runs right along the original Grand Boulevard sort-of-circle, parts of which have been superseded by the present-day I-44. (The apparently-quiescent Criterion Group preservationists also used Grand as their boundary.) The disadvantage, of course, is that hardly anyone pays attention to Grand anymore; it's just one more road that's not on the grid.

That Oklahoman article itself, incidentally, deals with future development: at the present rate, the 600-square-mile expanse of the city will be pretty much filled up some time between 2050 and 2100. Population numbers are harder to quantify, but I think it's unlikely we'll end up with numbers like present-day Houston, slightly smaller at 580 square miles but already boasting two million residents.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:01 PM)
14 September 2006
Non-hazardous waste

Like toadstools after a rainstorm, the signs sprout before an election: plastic and wire, sometimes seemingly placed at random, sometimes positioned for maximum irritation value.

No, they're not going to be banned, but a change to the Municipal Code was taken up this week at Council and will be heard by the Planning Commission today.

From the Council agenda packet:

Currently, signs that are located in violation of the code (in the street right-of-way or sight triangle, unanchored signs, or signs that are damaged to a point that they are considered a safety hazard) may be impounded by the City. The signs are stored by the City for 30 days, in order for the sign owners to pay a designated fee and reclaim the signs.

The proposed ordinance will relieve the City of the obligation to store the signs, and eliminate the ability of the sign owners to reclaim the signs. All signs impounded under the terms of the ordinance will be disposed of by the City.

Which is less earth-shattering than it may seem:

There is no expected revenue impact since citizens rarely paid [the] fee and picked up their signs.

Now that's a shock.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:14 AM)
City Ordinance #1

Something else I found in the Council packet: the very first bit of lawmaking by the nascent City of Oklahoma City — then legally a village — on 22 July 1890. The ordinance set up four wards, as follows:

First Ward. The First Ward shall consist of all that portion lying east of the middle of Robinson Street and north of the middle of the first alley south of Main Street.

Second Ward. The Second Ward shall consist of all that portion lying west of the middle of Robinson Street and north of the middle of the first alley south of Main Street.

Third Ward. The Third Ward shall consist of all that portion lying west of the middle of Robinson Street and south of the middle of the first alley south of Main Street.

Fourth Ward. And the Fourth Ward shall consist of all that portion lying east of the middle of Robinson Street and south of the middle of the first alley south of Main Street.

This was proclaimed Ordinance No. One.

Interestingly, the document to which this was attached as an exhibit hints that the eight-ward system, adopted in 1966, might not have been graven in stone:

In 1990 a committee was formed to research several options for a twelve (12)-ward system. As a result of the committee's work, an in-depth audit was conducted and possible boundaries were presented. The reasoning behind the study was to enable the council members to be more accessible to those they represent. The plan was not implemented at that time, and the issue has remained dormant.

Which, of course, leads to further questions: do we need twelve wards? Will Council Member So-and-so be "more accessible" if he has 45,000 constituents instead of 67,500? And how much gerrymandering can we expect if new lines are to be drawn?

My thinking, in order: not necessarily; not necessarily; probably a hell of a lot.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:31 AM)
16 September 2006
Saturday spottings (she said)

"What do women want?" asked Freud, and then proceeded not to answer his own question. Not that I have any answers. And American industry has not always responded well: for instance, the mid-1950s Dodge La Femme was as capable as any top-line Dodge of that era, but it was glitzed up with Detroit men's ideas of girliness, with "accessories" such as a rain hat, bag and umbrella, which stored behind the front seat. The La Femme moved a mere 2500 copies in two years, or about as many workaday Dodges as fell off the transporter on the way to the dealership.

On the presumption that putting women in charge makes a difference, I betook myself to 10909 NW 36th Terrace this afternoon, a featured home in this year's Parade of Homes, designed by a woman: Carolyn Schluter, head of Raywood Homes. Happily, she was on hand to take questions, and I took off my shoes — the place was apparently completed on Thursday and we didn't want to mess up the floors — and took the Grand Tour. (If she had shoes at all, I never saw them.)

And if there's anything especially feminine about this house, it's flexibility. Men, according to stereotype anyway, want things in their places and that's that. They, or at least I, didn't anticipate Schluter's "keeping room," which is just off the kitchen — entirely too handy for those of us who are subject to snack attacks — and which she envisions as an informal gathering place for the family. It also makes a heck of a theatre: she's built an HDTV into the wall above the fireplace, and you have to look to see the surround speakers. But I spent more time in the kitchen, largely because it's actually designed with some sense of utility: there's the ubiquitous island, yes, but it's positioned to create distinct yet easily-accessible workspaces, a necessity for those huge family gatherings with too many cooks. The sinks are deep enough to accommodate any cooking utensil I've ever seen; the microwave is built into the far side of the island, on the sensible basis that it's more likely to be used when there isn't a major production going on elsewhere in the kitchen; the barrier between the cooktop and the island disappears into the countertop at the flick of a switch in case you need something just beyond.

Okay, this is gee-whiz stuff, which naturally appeals to guys, right? Maybe, maybe not. In the utility room, there's a sink with a cabinet, and one drawer of that cabinet pulls out to reveal: a nearly-full-sized ironing board, which somehow was folded into half the space it ought to take up.

Out back, accessible from both the "keeping room" and the master bedroom (yes!), there's a decently-sized patio with a built-in fire pit. There's a smaller bedroom and a den/office up front; upstairs, two more bedrooms and an open area that could be a central playroom.

It is a measure of how well this floorplan works that I seriously underestimated the square footage, putting it around 2400. (The official number is 2859.) Too cozy to be that big, I misreasoned. The exterior is as pointy as the market demands, but the arch over the entrance is a nice touch, and the door is cut to match its curvature, which is even nicer. The price, $309,900, is a bit out of my reach, but I can't imagine this place sitting unsold for too long. (Mental note: Buy winning Powerball ticket, commission slightly-smaller version of this house.) There's an interview and a description of the home in the Real Estate section of the Oklahoman; you can read the text (no pictures, though) here.

And for the requisite Guy Thing for the week, if such this be: with the completion of a new facility for Firestone, their old service center, the last vestige of the old Atkinson Plaza, is finally coming down. (We do love us some wrecking balls.)

Lowest gas price seen: $2.039 for regular unleaded, at a 7-Eleven on NW 39th.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:29 PM)
19 September 2006
And then along came Jones

Charles Graham Jones, who served two terms as Mayor of Oklahoma City (1896-97, 1901-03), is honored as the Father of the Oklahoma State Fair in a Centennial retrospective by Doug Loudenback.

From the Daily Oklahoman, 6 January 1907, Jones makes his pitch:

"The establishment of a great state fair in Oklahoma is imperative and now is the opportune time," said C. G. Jones yesterday when asked as to the outlook for such an institution.

"A state fair is not a local affair, but is of interest to all people of the state. Oklahoma City is the logical selection on account of the location and the admirable railroad facilities to enable the patrons to reach the fair."

Asked if he would become a stockholder in an association if such were organized, Mr. Jones replied:

"Yes, I will take considerable stock if the business men of this city will get behind the proposition and push it to completion, for a fair is of vital importance, not only to the business interests but in a larger way to the agriculturists, horticulturists and stock raisers of the new state."

With the 100th State Fair of Oklahoma now underway, it's time to give Mr Jones his due:

I've not found anything calling Charles G. Jones the "founder", "benefactor", or other title of the Oklahoma State Fair in Oklahoma City. Yet, from what I've read in the Daily Oklahoman, it is safe to say that, today, when ... eating your corn dogs and/or going vertical on the space needle, it would do you no harm for you to say, "Thanks, C.G. Jones, to you and your associates, for making this fine day in State Fair Park, possible."

Indeed. I looked around my place for references to Mr Jones, and turned up this, from a fall 2004 Spottings:

The little westside Mexican restaurant called Zacatecas has been replaced by a little westside Mexican restaurant called Red Onion, whose owners are very likely unaware of a highly-dissimilar establishment with the same name that existed here in the 90s. The 1890s, that is; the Red Onion of the Oklahoma Territory days was a notorious "disorderly house," if you will, that was a primary target for the administration of Mayor Charles G. "Gristmill" Jones, who took office in 1896 pledging to clean up this wild and woolly town. (Among other things, Jones, who really did own a mill, was the president of the Oklahoma Territorial Fair Association, predecessor to the present-day Oklahoma State Fair; the city of Jones, northeast of town, is named for him.)

And this, in turn, gives me an opportunity to point to all of Doug Loudenback's historical material, which is an invaluable resource for those who'd like to know just how it is Oklahoma City has come so far — and where it came from in the first place.

Permalink to this item (posted at 2:10 PM)
24 September 2006
Descuentos originales

The Warehouse Market at 1 SE 59th has seemingly always been there: it opened in 1938, the Oklahoma City outpost of a Tulsa chain which still exists. This part of town is adjacent to the oil patch, and over the years it's transformed from a mostly-white working-class area to a mostly-Latino working-class area; as a business, the Warehouse Market knew it had to adapt to its new customer base.

And apparently they have. The Oklahoman has an occasional supplement called ¡Viva Oklahoma! which has the same articles in both English and Spanish; the ads are sometimes in English, sometimes in Spanish, and the Warehouse Market ad (page 5) is in Spanish, though it notes: "Se Habla Ingles." Just in case, you know.

Aside: The original Tulsa Warehouse Market was at 10th and Elgin; it closed in the 1970s, and twenty years later the Home Depot wanted to tear down the old Art Deco building to make room for one of its big boxes. Preservationists fought for the Market, and got some of what they wanted: the old façade was restored, and Home Depot built behind it. Michael Leland has photos.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:47 AM)
26 September 2006
From the Department of Major Upgrades (2a)

Last fall I mentioned that Oklahoma City was looking for private-sector partners to create a Wi-Fi hot zone in the central city, stretching roughly from the Oklahoma Health Center to the Reno/Meridian corridor.

Wi-Fi map
[Location of the proposed Wi-Fi area. Click to enlarge. Map courtesy of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.]

So far, not a lot has happened, and for pretty much the obvious reasons:

Roy Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, said chamber officials are reviewing proposals submitted by several national wireless providers.

"We want someone who is in that business and understands that industry to tell us whether it is economically viable," Williams said. "The reason you don't see this everywhere is that it's still evolving. There are multiple ways to approach it. That's why we're anxious to see these business models."

After MAPS, you might think we'd have gotten over our "Let's Avoid Risk!" stance. Apparently not entirely, not yet. Williams, though, says he expects a decision by the end of the year.

Inasmuch as the city is building a wireless network to cover the entirety of the 620-square-mile corporate limits — for emergency purposes only, they tell us — I'm thinking they ought to figure out some way to offer free public access to that network at a lowish speed, and sell access at higher speeds, either through city utility billing or a third party to be named later. If the Chamber is wise, it will start looking for such a third party.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
29 September 2006
It only comes out at night

Night baseball is played under the same rules as day baseball, but things are different somehow under the lights: the shadows don't move around quite so much, the beer seems colder, and the crowd, without the sun blasting away at the tops of their heads, might be a little more animated. (Of course, that could just be the beer.)

Does this work for night rowing? We're about to find out:

Oklahoma City University announced the Third Annual Head of the Oklahoma regatta will be held Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 on the Oklahoma River in Oklahoma City. "We have been overwhelmed by the response of the rowing community to our regatta and our commitment to continuing our mission of innovating the regatta experience, providing first class hospitality, and attracting world-class racing to the Oklahoma River," said Mike Knopp, OCU's head rowing coach and regatta director.

The Head of the Oklahoma Regatta will stage the first-ever, US-sanctioned night races at this year's event. US Rowing's Glen Merry confirmed that no other sanctioned US Rowing regatta has added this element to its racing lineup before now. "The chance to row at night, under the lights in Oklahoma City this autumn opens up many exciting possibilities for US Rowing, and the rowing community as a whole. It provides us with a unique opportunity to market our great sport and to introduce rowing to thousands of people who would not be exposed to it through a typical regatta. We are elated to be working with the leadership at OCU and the Chesapeake Boathouse, as they constantly impress us with their cutting-edge ideas. We look forward to having our national team athletes be a part of this year's historic event," Merry said.

Is this the Next Big Thing in rowing? OCU's Knopp says:

While night racing certainly requires the appropriate venue to work safely, we feel that many regattas could implement such components, and — if properly positioned — greatly expand the spectator and sponsor involvement that is lacking at many rowing events.

About 30,000 spectators are expected for the Friday-through-Sunday event. At 7 pm Saturday, OG&E will line up stadium-style light trucks along the banks of the Oklahoma and turn on the shimmer.

OCU won this regatta last year; this year they'll have to tangle with teams from OU, OSU, Tulsa, Texas, Navy and Harvard.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:03 AM)
4 October 2006
Putting some teeth in the ordinance

Oklahoma City has adopted new animal-control laws for the first time in twenty-five years, and it's going to take a little more time to fine-tune at least one of them.

Upside: There is no presumption that, say, a dog is "dangerous" because of its breed. Downside: Who gets to define "dangerous"? So the section on "aggressive behavior" (§ 8-132) is on hold until a Council subcommittee — with input from citizens and animal-welfare groups, if Sam Bowman (Ward 2) has his way, which seems only fair — can nail down a definition that will pass muster and/or avoid litigation.

Carrie Coppernoll from the Oklahoman:

The main concern among pet owners is that dogs doing their jobs — keeping strangers out — will be punished. Some owners have dogs specifically to protect their property. I do. Burglars aren't scared of tail-wagging face lickers. However, neighbors are scared of fence-charging snarlers.

Other provisions are less controversial. The city has posted the changes [link to PDF file] to its Web site.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:19 AM)
5 October 2006
Message in a pothole

TRIP, The Road Information Program, has once again reported on the costs of bad roads, and they are considerable. Where are the worst?

TRIPís study, "Rough Ride In The City: Metro Areas With the Roughest Rides and Strategies to Make Our Roads Smoother," found that the ten large urban regions (500,000+ population), with the greatest share of major roads and highways with pavements in poor condition are: San Jose — 66%, Los Angeles — 65%, San Francisco-Oakland — 58%, Kansas City — 58%, New Orleans (pre-Katrina) — 56%, San Diego — 54%, Sacramento — 50%, St. Louis — 46%, Omaha — 46% and New York City — 45%. [Link to PDF file.]

In an appendix to the report, I find that TRIP considers 19 percent of Oklahoma City-area roads to be Good, 12 percent Fair, 26 percent Mediocre, and an appalling 43 percent Poor, missing the Top Ten by only a couple of percentage points. According to TRIP, these roads cost the average local motorist $568 per year in depreciation, component wear, tire wear and poorer gas mileage. (The San Jose driver, facing roads even worse, shells out $705; the marginally-less-horrible roads in Tulsa run up a $527 tab.)

A report on the state's Interstates only, issued earlier this year, bore less bad news: the freeways aren't nearly as bad as the surface streets. On the other hand, congestion, especially in urban areas, is growing rapidly.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:05 AM)
6 October 2006
That "Core to Shore" business

This is the city's wish list for the area surrounding the new Interstate 40 alignment:

  • Ensure new developments are complementary to, not competitive with existing downtown development
  • Create a world-class boulevard
  • Create a dense, urban live-work community
  • Improve access to downtown destinations
  • Connect the Oklahoma River to downtown
  • Mitigate the impacts of the Interstate 40 realignment, focusing on improved traffic flow, neighborhood revitalization, complimentary land use and enhanced pedestrian mobility
  • Consider alternate modes of transit
  • Research and recommend financing options
  • Address issues related to services for homeless residents

A fairly tall order, but this is what the Mayor's steering committee came up with yesterday. (More detailed overview here.)

Regular readers will remember that I was not thrilled with this particular alignment of I-40, mostly because it effectively isolates Union Station from the existing multiple rail lines that could make it into an instant (well, comparatively speaking) rail-transit hub. It's probably too late to change any minds at ODOT, but the committee is at least giving lip service to "consider[ing] alternate modes of transit."

None of this is going to happen immediately; that vaunted boulevard, for instance, won't even be started until the new I-40 loop is finished, which will be late 2008 at the earliest. And the success of the plan, I suspect, will be at least partially dependent upon whether the traditional power structure insists on wielding its traditional power, or has enough sense to get out of the way.

Then again, I retain a measure of hope, if only because I was here through the Bad Old Days, and we've made rather a nice recovery since.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:14 AM)
7 October 2006
Dates from hell

Springtime in New York: what better time for romance? It's about time, thinks Haley Walker, and you can't blame her: a few years back she and daughter Vera fled Austin, Texas and "psychotic" husband Roger, with little more than the shirts on their backs — and about six hundred pairs of designer shoes.

Haley has done fairly well for herself. Upon her arrival in the Big Apple, she waited tables at a restaurant, which turned out to be a front for a money-laundering operation for Romanian mobsters; when the ringleader was tossed into the slammer, she was the only person on staff who had any idea of how actual restaurants were supposed to work, and by default she became the manager. Now the restaurant's a success, the daughter's turned thirteen, and maybe, just maybe, it's time to dip one Jimmy Choo-clad toe into the dating pool once more.

This is the setup for Theresa Rebeck's Bad Dates, the season opener for the Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, and in true CityRep tradition, they're working without a net: Bad Dates is a 95-minute monologue, the musings of Haley Walker in her Manhattan bedroom as she reflects on the perfidy of men, the mythos of Mildred Pierce, and the value of quality footwear. And the dates? Bad, bad, and finally, at long last, worse.

The genius of this particular play, I think, is establishing Haley as an expat Texan, as fiercely independent as any native New Yorker, but maybe too wistful to immerse herself in that legendary Manhattan cynicism. It also makes an already difficult role more so, since at any given moment there are two or three or more emotions being juggled and only one person to convey them all. And in this production, that one person is Oklahoma City native Stacey Logan, who's spent enough time on the Broadway boards to know where the Southwest and the Big Apple intersect, and whose timing is Borscht Belt-perfect. Logan's Haley is utterly believable: you share her excitement when she goes out, and her disappointment when she recounts the horrible story of what happened when she did. (Pacing is critical here, but director Michael Jones maintains a steady hand.) And remember that jailed Romanian mobster? He's not going to stay in stir forever.

It's hard for me to talk about Bad Dates, simply because I've been someone's Bad Date more than once (and someone's psychotic husband once). But I laughed out loud at the funny stuff, of which there is an abundance, and I was moved by the suddenly-scary events of the second act. The crowd this afternoon was smallish — something about a football game, they tell me — but appreciative. And you've got until the 22nd to see it yourself.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:13 PM)
10 October 2006
I even remember how to get there

A Louisiana Googler wanted to know if there was really such a street as "Memory Lane."

As a matter of fact, it's just down the road from me, off the 3900 block of NW 50th. (Google map here.)

If you're looking for the Heartbreak Hotel, though, it's at the end of Lonely Street, which doesn't intersect 50th at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:42 PM)
18 October 2006
Downsizing wards

In 1890, Oklahoma City was set up with four wards; in 1966, following a spate of annexations, the city was redivided into eight wards.

Last month I mentioned that there was some discussion about expanding the City Council further, and noted that there had been talk as early as 1990 in support of a twelve-ward system. At the time, I had my doubts:

[D]o we need twelve wards? Will Council Member So-and-so be "more accessible" if he has 45,000 constituents instead of 67,500? And how much gerrymandering can we expect if new lines are to be drawn?

My thinking, in order: not necessarily; not necessarily; probably a hell of a lot.

At this week's Council meeting, Pete White (Ward 4) said he'd like to see a ten-ward system in place before the next batch of city elections in 2007. Mayor Cornett was doubtful: "In general, I don't like to create more government."

One of White's arguments was that there is insufficient minority representation:

"I think the council doesn't look like the city," White said. "We have a pretty diverse population in Oklahoma City and one black person on the council."

This is, I think, a dubious premise at best. More to the point, owing to the demographics of the city — as is the case in most cities, minorities are not evenly distributed — it won't change much by adding two wards unless they go out of their way to create bizarre-looking districts that violate the City Charter.

The wards shall be as compact in form as possible and ward lines shall not set up artificial corridors which in effect separate voters from the ward to which they most naturally belong. [Charter, 2 April 1957, amended 18 March 1975.]

In 1992, the redistricting mandated by the 1990 Census drew some public discussion along the lines described by Councilman White; city attorneys pointed out that the Voting Rights Act did not actually require proportional representation. (42 USC §1973, paragraph B specifies that "nothing in this section establishes a right to have members of a protected class elected in numbers equal to their proportion in the population.") The city's analysis, including both that 1992 discussion and the results of a 2006 survey conducted at White's request, is here. [Link to PDF file.]

Councilman White's other primary motivation is simply that Ward 4, which occupies the southeastern part of the city, much of which is rural, is just too darn big. Wards 1, 3 and 7 are similarly huge. The problem, of course, is that cutting the population of those wards by twenty percent won't reduce their size by twenty percent. If we're going to expand the Council, we will get closer to the desired results if we go for twelve seats rather than ten. I think Pete White knows this, but figures he stands a better chance of selling a ten-ward Council.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:52 AM)
Don't even think about short-sheeting them

Too tall for the usual hotel bedding? The Colcord will be offering this:

With several NBA teams signing contracts for players to stay at the Colcord after playing the Hornets, many of the hotelís California King-sized beds were custom designed by Certa to be 15 inches longer to accommodate for extra tall guests.

And if that's not enough for you:

The "rock star" suite, located on the top floor, can be reserved for $1200 a night and boasts the cityís best view of Myriad Gardens.

(Noted by Hornets247.com.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:00 PM)
25 October 2006
Byers remorse

Eastbound on Reno on the way out of Bricktown, you encounter a light. To the north — left — is Lincoln; to the south — right — is Byers. If you're like me, you've come up to that light and thought, "Didn't I just pass Byers a block ago?"

You did, of course. City Council has finally decided that this is completely farging insane, and that southbound loop of Byers (which, once it approaches the Rotary Playground around SE 11th, becomes Central Avenue anyway) will be renamed South Lincoln Boulevard once they can scrape up some money for signage.

One bête noire down, one to go. (The other? Kelley north of I-44, where westbound 69th is actually a block or so south of eastbound 68th.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:38 AM)
1 November 2006
Seeking a wizard

Oklahoma City is looking for an Urban Design Consultant.

More specifically:

Over the last decade the center city has benefited from $2.4 billion in public and private investment. In addition, several new design districts and specialized review of development proposals have been developed to address a growing and changing city. In order to ensure that new development of this scale, value and impact promotes sustainability and quality growth of our city, the City Council allocated resources for four new positions to support an enhanced urban design function as part of the FY 2006-2007 budget. The Planning Department has created an Urban Design and Planning Division to house this staff and oversee this function. A high-level professional advisor is needed to supplement the expertise of staff for guidance and advice in developing the City's Urban Design Program, including review of high profile projects, and the development of design guidelines and procedures consistent with national standards.

The beginning of wisdom is the point where you realize you don't know everything.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:19 AM)
7 November 2006
A second look

Yale Hollander lives in St Louis these days, but he remembers Oklahoma City; he studied law at OCU back in the early 1990s. He came back through for the first time this past week, and posted some observations, from which I excerpt the following and throw in some commentary of my own:

When I was at the airport on Sunday (November 5), there were 23 flights scheduled between 2 and 5 p.m. None of the gate areas were crowded; there was virtually no line at security. It does appear that the existing concourse is not yet complete, so there should be plenty of room to handle present flight loads and even a healthy increase in flight volume should that situation arise. I see no reason whatsoever to go to the expense of building another concourse which will likely go underused or completely unused.

Barring the sudden disappearance of malefactors from the face of the earth, I don't see any huge upturn in air travel; I have never quite subscribed to the "If we build it, they will come" theory inasmuch as it applies to airports.

If OKC does aspire to host larger and more consistent convention business, there will probably need to be one more large scale, higher end hotel within proximity to the Cox Center. This might be the perfect opportunity for the Drury chain to break into the marketplace with a Drury Plaza.

Penn Square is clearly the marquee shopping mall in OKC. To put it politely, Fifty Penn is in terribly sad condition. There's essentially four operations driving that mall (Full Circle Books, Harold's, Balliet's and Belle Isle Brewery) and that's way too few to make the center a viable destination. One thought I have is to incorporate the three retailers into [a] possible mixed use center on Western.... A bookstore like Full Circle would do very well in such an environment and Harold's and Balliet's would certainly play well into the hands of the demographic that would work and/or live near there.

Full Circle, after starting out in what is now the Asian District, was actually on Western during the 1970s, in the old Veazey Drug. later VZD's. A fire at VZD's drove them out.

One thing I noticed while driving up and down NW Expressway and N. May as well was the proliferation of new or recently built strip malls within a stone's throw of abandoned ones. Some of the abandoned locations werenít even built when I last lived in the area — so they've gone up and gone bust in a mere 13 years and already been supplanted by new strips nearby! This just seems to make little sense to me and really clutters up the area. NW Expressway west of Independence and pretty much past Council Road is an absolute hodgepodge if not [an] outright mess in places. It'd be nice if the abandoned strips could be razed. And yes, I realize that there are a couple or three different municipalities responsible for the zoning in that area. Something needs to be done to clear the clutter.

Two municipalities. Warr Acres has a strip of the Distressway, roughly 5400 to 6000.

I don't see this area improving much over the next few years, since right now its most distinctive characteristic is horrendous traffic, not exactly a selling point for anything New and/or Different.

I donít think OKC's downtown is situated well for a true urban mall along the lines of an Indianapolis Circle Center nor do I feel like an urban arcade along the lines of what you see on Chicago's Michigan Avenue or even a 50 Penn style format would be very successful without full time high end residences in the area or a substantial, sustained retail tourist trade (again, highly unlikely outside of NY and Chicago). The raw infrastructure certainly seems to be plentiful to lure more office business to the area. And while Bricktown certainly seems to be a logical and attractive area to locate restaurants, it wouldn't hurt to land a couple of higher-end dining locales to the central business district of downtown. Notwithstanding Bricktown's relative proximity, it's not the same as having a Ruth's Chris within a block or two of the major office towers downtown for business lunches and dinners. Surely downtown can support a couple of these types of places.

Restaurants are spreading out away from Bricktown; I expect this trend to continue. And really, I envision Ruth's Chris somewhere along Western, in the manner of its Kansas City restaurant, which is on the Plaza, five miles south of downtown. Then again, I suspect we're not on their radar just yet.

I am firmly convinced that Bricktown needs a healthy mix of national and local operations to be a success. As much as it may be nice to be able to have a district that's exclusively "local flavor," you need name recognition in order to get a certain segment of out of towners to even consider the area. The addition of the area's second Cheesecake Factory together with something along the lines of a Houston's or Houlihan's would be a good infiltration of a nationally recognized brand to complement the local entities already present. Some street food vendors, especially ethnic ones, would also be a nice touch, especially during the warm weather months. I'm not sure retail is ever going to take hold in Bricktown and I'm not sure it needs to.

I can go along with this, though I'd prefer a Houston's to another Cheesecake Factory; if you're going to pitch a restaurant as a destination, it's more plausible if you only have the one.

Retail, I suspect, is more likely to materialize on Automobile Alley (which I see as having Restaurant Row potential) or in the to-be-cleared area between old and new I-40 alignments.

Back in the revived [Blazers] franchise's first season back (92-93) we were astounded by the reception the team got. It wasn't unusual to see crowds of nearly 10,000 on weeknights and packed houses of 13,000 on weekends when Tulsa was in town. We were both a little taken aback to witness crowds of what must have been about 3,000 to 4,000 on Friday night and Saturday afternoon — attendance was never announced.

According to the CHL, the Blazers averaged 7,154 for their first five home games, which is a little off pace: last year's season average was 8,609. (The Ford Center seats 18,036 for hockey, so it's usually going to be half empty, or half full, depending on your frame of reference.)

Politically risky suggestion #1 — do something about the liquor laws so that grocers can at least sell wine. If that restriction is modified I'd be willing to [bet] that Trader Joe's drops 2-4 stores into the area. Wine sales make up too much of their revenue to justify opening stores anywhere that they can't have a wine department. I think TJ's would be a great addition to the area and would certainly improve the present grocery landscape. Politically risky proposal #2 — open more businesses on Sundays and open the ones that do operate that day a little earlier. I was really surprised to see that Will's Coffee Shop was closed on Sundays. What better day to sit and relax with a coffee and the paper than Sunday? I wanted to grab a burger at Irma's before catching my plane out of town — no dice.

I'm firmly behind #1, though it will take some serious finagling to get such a measure through the Legislature. As for #2, we don't have much in the way of blue laws, so it's going to take some substantial increase in demand before the supply appears.

There's lots more in Mr Hollander's piece, which I suspect will be sliced and diced over at OKC Talk; inasmuch as there is almost no overlap between their readership and mine, I figured I'd post some of it here and see where the chips fall.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:21 AM)
No parking for priest-driven ambulances

Mayor Cornett, some days back, tossed out the idea of renaming a couple of city streets for Vince Gill and Charlie Christian, and maybe a back alley in Bricktown for the Flaming Lips. The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer has been getting mail on the subject, and apparently to his surprise, Lips fans worldwide have voiced their support for Flaming Lips Alley.

Lackmeyer notes:

Fans from around the world argued the alley is an appropriate honor for the band and noted The Flaming Lips' humility and roots in the underground music scene.

They also correctly pointed out the band is intensely loyal to Oklahoma City. The Grammy-winning band's lead singer, Wayne Coyne, still lives in Oklahoma City, and his band regularly calls attention to its Oklahoma ties.

For years, Oklahoma City has struggled to discover its place in the world — something "hip" that no other city can claim. If fans across the world are to be believed, The Flaming Lips may very well be a key to Oklahoma City expanding its image beyond cowboys, Indians and oil wells.

Wendy Castro from Sacramento, Calif., was one of dozens of fans who pledged to make "pilgrimages" to Flaming Lips Alley.

The proposed Flaming Lips Alley runs between the BNSF tracks and Central Avenue Vince Gill Avenue in Bricktown. Right now, it's pretty much Dumpster City, though I suspect that a sudden influx of national attention might be enough to spark cleanup efforts.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:38 AM)
8 November 2006
Ask Sam

Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman dropped into our Neighborhood Association meeting last night, and passed on some news of interest. Apparently they've shuffled a couple of jurisdictions at City Hall; used to be, Neighborhood Services could bust someone for high grass or weeds or debris in the front yard, but not for parking on the grass. This seemed like a dissipation of effort, so the Planning folks who were responsible for yard-parking complaints were moved over to Neighborhood Services, and now it's a one-stop shop; citations for parking in the yard doubled from the same month last year. That wasn't a major issue for me, but this is: NW 50th from Pennsylvania to May, one of the more wretched stretches of pavement in this town, will be scraped off and resurfaced in 2007.

One question that came up was the ongoing issue of city officials running for higher office while retaining their jobs. Mayor Cornett was mentioned, as was Ward 7's Willa Johnson. Nobody had anything good to say about it, but it's not illegal.

And I asked Bowman about Pete White's idea for increasing the Council to ten wards. Bowman pointed out, as White had, that the existing arrangement was perhaps insufficiently diverse, and suggested that it might be possible to redraw the lines to produce something resembling a majority-Hispanic ward and take some of the sheer vastness out of Pete White's Ward 4. There is, though, said Bowman, not much support for expanding the Council right now. If it's going to happen, I suspect it will be in 2011, after the new Census figures come out and they have to redraw the boundaries anyway.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:19 AM)
Couch change

And a lot of change it is, too: Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch is getting a raise to $192,500 a year — which, for a person overseeing an annual budget upwards of $750 million, doesn't strike me as an enormous sum of money.

(In case you were wondering: each member of City Council gets $12,000 a year; the Mayor is paid $24,000.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
10 November 2006
Needle alert

I generally don't go poring over the legal notices in the newspapers; they're legitimate news, but hardly ever good news, and each and every five-pound notice is packed with ten pounds of Officially Mandated Boilerplate, which is not what makes for encouraging reading. To get my attention, a legal notice has to have something I've never seen before.

Something like this one, found in the Mid-City Advocate:


In accordance with state laws and regulations, [name and address redacted], a corporation, hereby publishes notice of its intent to apply within sixty days from this date to the Oklahoma State Department of Health for a Tattoo Establishment License, under authority of and in compliance with state laws and regulations: That it intends, if granted such license, to operate as a tattoo and piercing studio with business premises located at [address redacted], in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, under the business name of [name redacted].

Dated this 31st day of October, 2006.

Signature follows. I suppose that either this is nothing new where you live, or you can't believe that the state actually regulates such things. But I've been here more than three decades (not all of it consecutive), and to me, this is news, and not bad news either.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:57 PM)
11 November 2006
We got too much at stake

Seen today in the supermarket parking lot: a red Chevy with the vanity plate NIHIL.

Simultaneous with the sighting, the song starting up from Gwendolyn's stereo: the Blues Magoos' "(We Ain't Got) Nothin' Yet."

Anyone for weird Jungian (as distinguished from Stingian) synchronicity?

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:12 PM)
14 November 2006
A pair of public transit meetings

This came in as "COORDINATED PLAN 2007 PUBLIC MEETINGS OCARTS AREA", and it's basically an announcement of a couple of public meetings ("hearings" suggests greater formality than this). Here's what's coming:

COTPA (Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority) requests your participation at a meeting listed below to help formulate the Coordinated Plan for federal funding. This includes three programs: 5310 (Elderly Individuals and Individuals with Disabilities), 5316 (Job Access and Reverse Commute, or JARC), and 5317 (New Freedom). The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) requires that projects selected for funding be derived from a locally developed, coordinated public transit-human services transportation plan ("coordinated plan") beginning in FY 2006 for JARC and in FY 2007 for the 5310 and New Freedom programs. Your input and suggestions are important in order to identify the transportation gaps in your area. In accordance with the federal law, COTPA will create the coordinated plan that takes into consideration the needs of elderly and low-income persons as well as persons with disabilities.


Wednesday, November 15, 2:00 p.m.
The new History Center (NE 23rd and Laird by the Capitol) in Oklahoma City

Monday, November 20, 10:30 a.m.
ACOG, 21 E. Main Street, Bricktown District of Oklahoma City

You can also e-mail or mail comments by November 27 to diponker.mukherjee at okc.gov, or mail to him at the Union Station, 300 SW 7th St., Oklahoma City, OK 73109.

Virtually anyone within the OCARTS area (all of Oklahoma and Cleveland County as well as part of Canadian, Grady, Logan, and McClain County), as COTPA is seeking partners to help identify transportation gaps as well as to formulate projects in order to close those gaps. Human service agencies, public health advocates, public and private transportation providers, state and local elected officials, economic development and job training agencies, commuters, people with disabilities, business owners, social service agency staffs, advocates for older adults, and others may want to participate. People outside the OCARTS area are also welcome.


  1. An assessment of available services;
  2. An assessment of needs;
  3. Strategies/projects to address gaps for target populations.

October—November 2006: Gathering of information and assessment of transportation needs
December 2006: Preparation of the draft plan
January 2007: Review of the draft plan and submittal of final plan to ACOG with the TIP

OCARTS refers to the Oklahoma City Area Rapid Transit Study. A brief summary of SAFETEA-LU (may the person who came up with this backronym be covered with boils) is here. (Entire text of bill.)

Disclosure: This was sent to me by Tom Elmore of NATI, presumably in the expectation that I'd give it an airing. Which I did.

Permalink to this item (posted at 3:02 PM)
17 November 2006
Samaritan at work

Twelve or thirteen to five (not to be confused with "25 or 6 to 4"). The usual traffic snarl at Pennsylvania and the Northwest Distressway. A battered old station wagon starts the left turn onto northbound Penn, and gets three, four feet before it dies. A couple of horns, but not the cacophony you might expect. Two guys get out of the beater and start pushing it across the intersection. Eventually the left-turn signal goes red, and the driver caught by the light, a fellow in a white trucklike object, flashes his hazards, gets out of his vehicle, runs up to the wagon and provides some much-needed push power; the wagon, in a few seconds, is clear of the intersection.

No real place to go from that point, and my light (to southbound Penn) was turning; I'm assuming he got back to his truck, and the fellows with the wagon managed to make it to a Penn Square entrance.

There are parts of the world, we are led to believe — as the news guys say, if it bleeds, it leads — where this sort of situation would have turned out badly. With Thanksgiving coming up, I'd like to express some gratitude for the fact that I don't live there.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:21 PM)
18 November 2006
Saturday spottings (early withdrawal)

Almost all ATMs around these parts are designed for auto, not foot, traffic, though I'm not above walking through a drive-through lane. The one I usually walk through, though, managed to escape my attention today at the supermarket — it's on a pad in the parking lot, and I didn't park particularly close by — which meant that I found myself down to $13 with raffle tickets to buy. 42nd and Treadmill, you see, is having a charity fundraiser, proceeds to go to a needy family, in which the one actual prize to be won is a paid vacation day. Dinner was likely to run $7 or $8 (wound up at $8.12), so padding out the wallet was something I had to do this weekend.

One reason I walk through those lanes is the placement of those ghastly yellow pillars that are supposed to keep you from driving into the machinery: if you clear them sufficiently to avoid shearing off your outside mirrors, you'd better have the reach of Yao Ming, or you're never going to reach the buttons. Most of my Evil Downtown Bank's machines are so designed, and I take a 34 sleeve, so I had to plan this trip carefully. Eventually it occurred to me that I'd never used one of the Evil Downtown Bank's machines located downtown, so off I went to the middle of things, where I discovered, to my delight, a nice, wide lane and easy access and no one in front of me making six futile efforts to talk the cruel, heartless bastard of a machine out of a lousy twenty bucks, fercrissake. I will have to use this machine more often, since I can almost always think up some excuse to go downtown.

Northeast 3rd Street is closed just east of E. K. Gaylord; you can get to Untitled (Artspace) and an auto-repair shop in the first block, but that's it. Beyond the barriers lies a construction zone, where the Brownstones at Maywood Park are going up. This is the first phase of development in the area unofficially known as the Triangle District; the Brownstones will fill in the space from NE 2nd to NE 4th, between the elevated BNSF tracks and Walnut. (The actual Maywood "Park" will be right in the middle, at NE 3rd and Oklahoma.) I noticed a sign promoting BuildBlock, which turns out to be an insulating concrete form, hollow foam blocks stacked up in the appropriate wall form, reinforced with steel rebar, and then filled with concrete. This system is being pitched as "earth-friendly", and it certainly looks impressive on paper.

The original Maywood addition dates back to the earliest days of Oklahoma City, and includes the little circle now known as Founders' Plaza at Stiles Park. Today's I-235 slashes diagonally through the middle of Maywood, which no doubt inspired the Triangle name. The Brownstones have three floor plans, each named for a city father: the, um, budget version is the Shartel, which is 2½ stories and covers just under 2400 square feet. This is way more room than I need, but it's about as small as you can get and still attract actual families (actual families who can afford a $600k home, anyway) these days.

More modest activity is going on in Midtown, where Greg Banta and company have started work on their newly-acquired properties on NW 10th. These should be pretty sharp when they're finished, and perhaps will be affordable by mere mortals.

I wondered, taking I-40 west out of downtown, if maybe, with the massive changes that have taken place in the city over the last decade or so, we're getting a trifle impatient: there's so much still to come. Perhaps we're forgetting how far we've come. (I was going to do a review of the new Steve Lackmeyer/Jack Money book, OKC Second Time Around, which remembers the Bad Old Days in great detail, but Doug Loudenback has already made a compelling case for it.) But I'm still persuaded that, with the possible exception of the actual 1889 Land Run itself, this is the most exciting time ever in Oklahoma City, and if a few things don't quite fall according to schedule, well, we'll get over it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:30 PM)
20 November 2006
The reinvention of downtown

We're going through it here, as some of you may have noticed. Meanwhile, Lileks looks at the prospects in Minneapolis:

A new plan for downtown will — well, as usual, the new plan attempts to undo the damage of the last plan, thereby giving urban designers something new to fix in 20 years. Theyíre going to make some streets two-way again, which is bad for traffic but good for The Street, in some nebulous way. If all the cars go one way it tends to enervate the life of the street, we're told. On one hand I understand; a rushing stream of metal and plastic heading in one direction does seem to pull some strange energy away with it, and cars moving in the opposite direction creates a contrast that's more interesting. Whether it's worth the congestion to provide psychic balm for the pedestrians, I donít know.

I love streetcars. I do. I would love to walk outside, hop on a trolley, roll downtown while reading the paper, doff my boater to the ladies who came on, then hop off six hours later at my destination. I would love to do it once. The rest of the time, I would drive.

We're rethinking one-way streets here also, though it's to benefit bewildered visitors from other towns who can't make heads or tails of our half-grid-half-maze downtown streets. (Want a name for the new parkway to be fabricated out of the old I-40 alignment? "Minotaur Road" works for me.)

And I suspect that a lot of people around here who are big fans of local rail will, should it actually arrive despite the best efforts of various forces to kill it, will indeed ride it. Once.

[I]f they could have propped it up for 15 years and rehabbed it, downtown would be a different place. But wrecking balls and sleek featureless skyscrapers had an erotic appeal to the technocrats, so out with the flophouses and bum-bars, and in with a phalanx of noble, logical, rational towers. Or, in the case of Minneapolis, a handful of smaller buildings surrounded by acres of parking lots.

If we want to go back to the city of 1946, then jackhammer the freeways and chop down every building over 30 stories tall. I will put my sense of soggy, uninformed nostalgia up against anyone's, incidentally; I would love, in a sense, for downtown to be what it was before the suburbs and the freeways, but only if we could manage that while also having suburbs and freeways. But you canít.

Tom Wolfe, in From Bauhaus to Our House:

O Beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, has there ever been another place on earth where so many people of wealth and power have paid for and put up with so much architecture they detested as within thy blessed borders today?

The one building in downtown Oklahoma City I hope they dynamite is the old Downtown Library at 131 Dean A. McGee, a 1950 barracks for the proletariat that replaced a perfectly lovely Carnegie facility. (Compare and contrast.)

For "smaller buildings surrounded by acres of parking lots," see Tulsa.

Back to Lileks:

[T]he big office tower model for downtown is dead around here. People in the exurbs want to work in the suburbs, and who can blame them? I much prefer a penthouse view, I get allergic smelling hay, etc., but I also understand the attraction of living in the woods away from the airplanes and the gunfire.

When there are enough people downtown, it'll have the vitality it did before. Not until. And when it's newly revitalized, it'll be different. It has to be.

Which is why I keep harping on residential development in the central city. Architecture is just architecture; a city is, first and foremost, where people live. And if all of Kerr-McGee Center goes condo, it's just fine with me.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:49 AM)
21 November 2006
Early holiday break, the hard way

Students at Choctaw High School, 14300 NE 10th Street, were evacuated this morning after a handwritten threat note was found in a classroom. No specific target was named in the note; Choctaw police have been searching the buildings for explosive devices.

Students will not return until Monday, as Wednesday was previously scheduled as a day off.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:33 AM)
25 November 2006
Saturday spottings (fast and furry-less)

I suspect that it might have been actually safe to go to Heritage Park Mall in Midwest City on Black Friday; the day after, it was drearier than a pub with no beer. Will this be the last holiday season at HPM? Right now, I'm guessing 50/50. And if/when the place closes, I'm going to have to find another shop to do what's left of my hair. (The turnover is probably ferocious: only twice in the last two years have I drawn the same stylist.)

I rounded the edge of town and headed back toward 240 Penn Park, a strip development that replaced (and then some) an old Wal-Mart near I-240 and Pennsylvania. When I lived on the southside back in the Pleistocene era, I thought that having an exit every half a mile along 240 was the very definition of coolness; now, decades later, it's a whole string of accidents waiting to happen. There were definitely crowds on hand; I can't swear that there were more people along Penn Park then there were at Crossroads Mall, three miles to the east, but stories of gang activity in the area certainly discourage me from setting foot in there.

And the circle 'round the city took me past no fewer than three of those Value Place "extended-stay economy hotels," which aren't what anyone would call upscale, but which, from the look of them, are a couple of orders of magnitude better than the places we used to call "flophouses," a few of which I've flopped at over the years, and the price, starting at $169 a week, isn't exactly harsh.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:42 PM)
26 November 2006
More than mere masonry

The Oklahoman (presumably business writer Steve Lackmeyer) talked to developer and Criterion Group vice-president Marva Ellard last week, resulting in this interesting revelation:

When we first got the Sieber [Hotel] in 1998 and a friend of mine told me there are still Siebers in Oklahoma, every year since then I've been in contact with them. It's important to me and important to my partners that the Siebers are informed and pleased with what is going on. It's their legacy, not my legacy.

I think that's something in preservation people sometimes miss. It's not just the building. A building to most people is an inanimate object. People built that building. People had livelihoods and careers and families in that building. That personal part gets separated from the steel and wood and bricks of the building. But to me, you can't separate that. You can't separate William Skirvin from the Skirvin. You can't separate the Siebers from the Sieber.

The six-story Sieber Hotel at 12th and Hudson, built in 1928, closed and was boarded up in the 1980s during the Great Oil Bust. Ellard and her partners took over in 1998, but securing the financing for the $8.5-million rehabilitation (including a two-story building next door, once a grocery) proved to be a long, arduous process; the last increment, from Oklahoma City's Community Development Block Grant funds, came early in 2006. Construction began in the summer. While the ground floor is reserved for retail and a restaurant, the upper floors will be subdivided into apartments. And, oh, yes, the property will still be called the Sieber, and as of 2005, it's on the National Register of Historic Places.

(How it looked right before reconstruction: photo by Jason B.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:07 PM)
29 November 2006
Sing a song of door dings

John Estus notes at the Oklahoman's blog:

City code says parking spaces must be at least 8½ feet wide. That's the standard size for a compact car spot, but city planners recommend all parking spots be at least 10 feet wide. The minimum size of parking spaces changes slightly depending on the angle of the space, but 8½ feet is pretty much the norm.

It seems to me that parking spaces are getting narrower. Gwendolyn insists it's not her fault, that she's less than one inch wider than her predecessor. (I had to look this up twice, because frankly I didn't believe it the first time.) But inasmuch as half the cars sold in this country aren't cars at all — they're SUVs, pickups and vans — I'm guessing our vehicles are getting wider. Then again, so are we.

And none of this matters at Penn Square, where there are no parking spaces anyway. I'll check some time around the 27th of December.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
2 December 2006
In with the Inn Crowd

From today's Oklahoman's Land Sales list:

OKC-Bricktown Lodging Associates LLC from Sheridan Development LLC, 308 E Sheridan Ave., $732,500.
OKC-Bricktown Lodging Associates LLC from Power Alley Parking LLC, 308 E Sheridan Ave., $558,000.

Power Alley Parking is Marsh Pittman's parking facility northeast of the Bricktown Ballpark, and Pittman and the Wisconsin-based Raymond Management Company are joining forces to develop a nine-story Hampton Inn on that block of Sheridan.

Hampton InnThe project has been on the drawing board for three years already, and is scheduled to open, says Raymond, in the summer of 2008. The inn will feature 200 guest rooms, hot Continental breakfast, complimentary wireless-high speed Internet access, business center, indoor pool and whirlpool, exercise facility and meeting space. It will not, however, have its own restaurant, which, given the vast number of eateries already in Bricktown, is no big deal. And the inn's location near the ballpark means that at least some of the rooms will have a nice view of right field. Hampton is a mid-priced Hilton brand, which means that this hotel won't likely be cannibalizing guests from Hilton's higher-zoot Skirvin, opening this spring. The picture was swiped from Raymond's Web site; I'm assuming it represents what they expect the place to look like when it's finished.

(If Richard Mize, the Oklahoman's Real Estate Editor and an occasional visitor to these pages, is wondering if anyone ever reads those little columns of raw data, the answer is Yes.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:12 PM)
Saturday spottings (I thought I thaw)

One of the unfortunate facts of life is that while snow is white, and my car is white, the combination of the two is a dingy grey, and it got more so as the day wore on. I might have attempted to clean off the windows at the gas station, but the squeegee was still frozen solid inside the little bucket o' slop they provide as a low-cost water substitute, so it's another Windex Weekend.

I wasn't too successful at dodging all the potential sources of slush, but I did manage to avoid hitting any of the fresh crop of pavement craters that have opened up this weekend, usually adjacent to previous craters which have been patched once or twice already. Most of the ones I found, to absolutely no surprise, were along NW 50th west of Pennsylvania, a stretch of road so legendarily bad that the city, which ran a small surplus this year, is actually promising to use some of the overage to fix it next year rather than wait for a city vehicle to disappear into a hole, never to be seen again.

The Del Rancho on Britton Road has closed, sort of. In fact, it's moved across the street and down a block, and it's no longer a traditional drive-in: the new facility is about the size of one of those seasonal snow-cone shops, and it has a drive-through and one curb-service space (if there are any others, I couldn't see them from the westbound lanes). Cutting expenses, I suppose. Still, better this than tampering with the Steak Sandwich Supreme; it's as sacred as the B. C. Clark jingle.

Bob Moore has relocated the Mazda dealership one very long block east to 130th and Kelley; as I passed it, I got the feeling that, given the vast sums I'd spent there, I'd financed this move myself. I'm not sure what's going to happen to the former location, though it's obviously being turned into something else; my best guess is that it's going to house Moore's Saab store, which is currently bunking with the Cadillac/Land Rover people down the block.

And around the corner from me, for a limited time only, are the remains of a snowman (he presumably looked better when he was new, but who among us didn't?) carrying a sign which reads, prophetically enough, "The End Is Near."

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:43 PM)
9 December 2006
Borat was here

Obviously I can't keep track of everything that happens in this town — I have a day job and the occasional need to sleep — but I do regret missing Borat Sagdiyev's address to Oklahoma City officials.

Yes, really. Carrie Coppernoll reports:

[Sacha Baron] Cohen made a stop here in Oklahoma City under the guise of his character in 2004, and his film crew documented the entire painful display. Early that year, Borat attended, of all things, an Oklahoma City Traffic and Transportation Commission meeting. I would bet most of Oklahoma City has never attended an Oklahoma City Traffic and Transportation Commission meeting.

During a 17-minute ramble to the commission, Cohen talked about democracy, women and his love interest in one of the female commissioners. He then asked for 10 minutes of silence to remember a Soviet massacre that heíd made up. Cohen also visited the Oklahoma Republican Party Headquarters and learned how to give a speech from Gary Jones, who was then Republican Party chairman.

Sadly, none of his shenanigans were part of the movie.

What did Borat say? For the benefit of those of us in the US and A who missed it, here's a transcript of his speech before the city fathers, complete with audio — the meeting, as usual, was broadcast live over cable channel 20 — and a brief news clip (audio only) from KWTV which identified Sacha Baron Cohen in the context of Da Ali G Show.

And City Council requests that members of the general public limit their speeches to three minutes. Purely coincidental, I'm sure.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:04 PM)
19 December 2006

Flaming Lips T I remember the last time I was in Memphis, I saw exactly one sign along Elvis Presley Boulevard, and it seemed to be about three or four feet above the streetlight, presumably to discourage theft. Which is by way of saying that the Visitor Center in Oklahoma City's Bricktown — 25 South Oklahoma Avenue at Flaming Lips Alley — would like you to know that you can now get T-shirts with an illustration of the actual street sign at that intersection, perhaps in the hope that people won't steal the sign if they can get an image of it. Lead Lip Wayne Coyne, for his part, said that he'd heard some fans were already planning to snatch the sign, which surprises me hardly at all.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:00 AM)
Stone the crows

Somewhere around four-and-twenty-thousand black birds were congregating near NW 50th and May right around sunset, some on overhead wires, some clustered on the ground, and many more swooping down out of the drizzle into, if not your face, certainly your path. It wasn't exactly a scene out of Hitchcock, but it certainly looked menacing enough, and during the four minutes I was stopped at Popeye's, half a dozen of them drew a bead on Gwendolyn, who was apparently far too unblack for their liking. Shoppers weren't avoiding Walgreens or Target, but they were keeping their heads down, just in case. Call it evolution in action: these birds are not only unaffected by human encroachment, they're utterly indifferent to it.

Permalink to this item (posted at 5:54 PM)
20 December 2006
Shake it up, baby

I didn't notice it, but Monty did, and she lives over there: there was an earthquake in eastern Oklahoma County about an hour ago.

It was a large boom followed by a small ground tremor, and an estimated 2.5 on the Richter scale, said the Oklahoma Geological Survey. What was the boom? They haven't said yet.

Yes, we do have such things:

Nothing that will make a Californian shudder, but the state is riddled with fault lines, and seismic disturbances are even harder to predict than the weather.

Personally, I can think of better ways to have my world rocked.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:46 PM)
23 December 2006
End of the line?

Forty years ago, Oklahoma City had about 300,000 people and twenty-three cafeterias.

Today, there are 530,000 of us, and now, with the Luby's chain concentrating on Texas (though their Village location is still open for now) and Furr's rebranding as "family dining," we're down to one traditional cafeteria. (That would be the Boulevard in Midtown.)

In this morning's Oklahoman, in addition to the report of the last days of the Queen Ann, Steve Lackmeyer has an overview of Oklahoma City's days as Cafeteria Capital of the World. What's most interesting, I think, is how all of those local cafeterias were essentially descended from one: the Anna Maude, opened in the late 1920s in the Perrine Building (later Cravens, now Robinson Renaissance) downtown by Anna Maude Smith, who previously had been running food service for the downtown YWCA. Contemporary reports say that friends tried to dissuade her, and you have to wonder if maybe it was her idea to put her own name on the business that scared them off — or maybe it was the fact that she'd chosen to locate in the Perrine's basement. Not to worry: the Anna Maude was a success, and yes, there was an entry directly from Robinson Avenue, below street level.

The Queen Ann, incidentally, was named for Anna Maude Smith, and had been started by her nephew Bob Smith, who had been a partner in the original Anna Maude cafeteria. John Schroer, Jr. was the last owner of the Queen Ann, and his nephew Harrison still owns the Boulevard.

Charles Dodson, who once had a couple of cafeterias of his own, commented:

It's gone the way of the typewriter and drive-in movie theater. It's just a different time now.

We still have a drive-in (the Winchester, on Western north of I-240), and I still own a typewriter. I guess this tells me where to have lunch.

Permalink to this item (posted at 12:16 PM)
24 December 2006
Plant your bulbs today

Very large tree
This picture was received with "WOW" in the filename, and it might well be justified: this tree is around 80 feet tall, reportedly, and at least three-quarters of it is covered in lights. If you'd like to see it in person, so to speak, it's near NW 19th and Land, which would be three blocks west of May.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:16 PM)
30 December 2006
The wheels begin to turn

Dillard's has sold its former store in Midwest City to Midland Capital LLC for $900k, according to the Oklahoman's weekly sales list, which may mean nothing at all — or it may mean the beginning of the next phase for the struggling Heritage Park Mall, where Dillard's was one of the original 3.5 anchors. (Service Merchandise and Montgomery Ward are long gone; Dillard's closed early this year.) The Wards store was sold earlier; Sears remains at the east end of the mall.

I'd probably feel better about this complex if it hadn't resorted to a giveaway server for its Web site.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:20 AM)
Saturday spottings (respotted)

Beverly Bryant gets the cover story in the Oklahoman's Real Estate Magazine on Saturday, and today she hit an area I've talked about before: south of NW 10th near Blackwelder, legally the Neas Addition to Oklahoma City, which I described as "a relatively nice, if obviously not at all upscale, neighborhood." "Nice," of course, is in the eye of the beholder, but I saw this area as slowly improving. The new streetscaping along 10th, a gesture made by the city to discourage St Anthony Hospital from fleeing to the suburbs, helps somewhat, but it does nothing for the side streets, which are WWI-era narrow and often clogged.

Today's story reports that Neighborhood Housing Services, an Oklahoma City nonprofit, is focusing on 7th Street; they've built three homes in the 1300 block, between Ellison and Douglas, to sell for $85,000. This is a bit high for the area — there are lots of $55k, even $45k houses nearby — but it's only about half the usual price for new homes in central Oklahoma, and a check of some properties within a block or two suggests that prices in this area are rising a little faster than average.

The floorplan is a fairly simple one, with three bedrooms and two baths and a one-car garage: living space is about 1160 square feet. And we can expect more of these, says NHS's David Ash:

For 2007, NW 7 is our main target. We will be going down the street to find dilapidated houses and empty lots where we can build new houses. We want to revitalize NW 7.

I drove down 7th from Ellison to Virginia, and I counted about half a dozen potential locations — which, of course, depends on one's definition of "dilapidated." ("Empty," I figure, isn't open to debate.)

I have to applaud this sort of thing on general principle, since I have long been persuaded that the best way to maintain a neighborhood is to maximize the number of homeowners therein, and not everybody can afford the mythical "average" home: the local median home price in the third quarter was just under $120,000. (This is, I must point out, pricier than any house on my block, assuming the real-estate firm that bought the house across the street from me doesn't perform some massive upgrades before reselling. Of course, if they're just going to use it as a rental — but let's not go there.) Perhaps it will never be beautiful in the old Neas Addition, but it's worth the effort to keep it livable.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:47 PM)
31 December 2006
Doing a 360

Bob Moore got the local Saturn franchise early, and set up Saturn of Oklahoma City at the far north end of the Moore Autoplex, at 13020 North Broadway.

Ford used to sell cars here at retail; they bought up the local dealerships and replaced them with company stores. The local Mazda franchise wound up at the downtown Auto Collection, which is where I bought Sandy back in 2000.

Then Ford decided that maybe they didn't want to be in the retail business after all, and broke up the Collection. Bob Howard, recently acquired by Group 1 of Houston, got the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury stores downtown, but it was Bob Moore who ended up with Mazda, which they moved to 13020, moving the Saturn dealership to the southside.

In the fall of 2006, the Mazda store was relocated a block east, to 13045 North Kelley, leaving 13020 open once more. It's now been filled: Moore is moving Saturn of Edmond there, which means that technically, it's no longer in Edmond. I have to wonder if maybe they kept the Saturn signage in the back of the building, just in case this Mazda thing didn't work out.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:55 AM)
2 January 2007
Changes at Crossroads

Well, if Crossroads Mall can't make a go of it with ownership from California, let's give the Arkansawyers a chance:

Arkansas investors have purchased three malls, including Crossroads Mall in Oklahoma City. Midwest Mall Properties, formed by Doyle Rogers, John Flake and Sam Mathias, has also purchased Citadel Mall in Colorado Springs, Colo., and Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville, the company announced Tuesday.

The purchase price was in the $400 million range, Midwest Mall said.

Sam Mathias operates Mathias Properties in Springdale, Arkansas; John Flake heads up Flake & Kelley Real Estate Management in Little Rock; Doyle Rogers runs the Doyle Rogers Company, with offices in Little Rock and Batesville. None of these fellows are what you'd call small-timers, so I'm pretty sure they're not in over their heads.

The Macerich Company owned all three of these malls. Citadel in Colorado Springs is just under 1.1 million square feet and is anchored by Dillard's, JCPenney and Macy's. (There was a Mervyn's, which has closed.) Northwest Arkansas Mall in Fayetteville covers 820,000 square feet; its anchors are Dillard's, JCPenney and Sears. (Dillard's has two anchor spots here, suggesting that something else left.)

Last spring I suggested that Crossroads was doomed; let's hope that judgment was a trifle premature.

Update, 9 am Wednesday: Apparently, says someone who's familiar with the area, the second Dillard's at Northwest Arkansas Mall was built on; it didn't replace something else.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:56 PM)
3 January 2007
Buttering up the new guy

Yesterday, Ray Vaughn was sworn in for the first time as District 3 Commissioner in Oklahoma County; shortly thereafter, Brent Rinehart of District 2 nominated Vaughn to serve as chair.

Vaughn declined:

"I appreciate that, but honestly, I think the citizens would continue to be served best if we just continue with the same leadership we've had," Vaughn said. "I need some time to learn this position."

Which, you can be sure, annoyed Rinehart; the "same leadership we've had," District 1's Jim Roth, has been a thorn in Rinehart's side for some time, and Vaughn has already said he will work with Roth to restore the Budget Board, which was abolished by Vaughn's predecessor, Stan Inman, and Rinehart back in 2005 in a fit of pique.

Go get 'em, Ray.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
6 January 2007
Perusing the Land Sales page

Every Saturday, the Oklahoman runs a list of major land sales in Oklahoma County, based on the County Clerk's report, and more often than not, there's something interesting lurking in there. For instance:

JM Investors LLC from Christine Gaylord Everest, Louise Gaylord Bennett and David O. Hogan, 1506 Dorchester Drive, $1.1 million.

This is, if I remember correctly, the home of the late Edward L. Gaylord, publisher of the Oklahoman. Mrs Everest succeeded her father as chair and CEO of OPUBCO; Mrs Bennett is the corporate secretary. And speaking of Mrs Bennett:

Clayton I. and Louise G. Bennett from Eloise M. McEldowney, 6600 NW Grand Blvd., $1.8 million.

Clay Bennett heads up Dorchester Capital here in the city, and Professional Basketball Club LLC, which owns the Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA and the Seattle Storm of the WNBA. I hesitate to read too much into this, but I suspect that Mr Bennett doesn't aspire to live around the corner from Bill Gates.

Permalink to this item (posted at 11:13 AM)
8 January 2007
4 warned

The New York Times is on its way out of the television business, having dealt its Broadcast Media Group to Oak Hill Capital Partners, a diversified investment firm with lots of holdings, none of them in broadcast. The Times retains its two New York radio stations, WQXR (classical) and WQEW (Radio Disney under a local marketing agreement).

So what happens to KFOR and KAUT, the two Oklahoma City stations that were sold? Nothing, at least at first. Oak Hill has given no indication that it plans to sell off any of the stations they're buying.

Oak Hill was founded by Fort Worth billionaire Robert Bass; among the partners are Phil Knight of Nike and Microsoft's Bill Gates.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:18 AM)
9 January 2007
Lips service

Steve Lackmeyer at the Oklahoman has been catching flak because of the MTV/VH1 writeup of Flaming Lips Alley, which contained this incendiary passage:

"The 'street' was actually an alleyway, one that a reporter for OKC newspaper The Oklahoman kindly described as 'littered with open dumpsters and poorly lit at night'."

Mr Lackmeyer demurs:

Kindly? I wasn't being kind at all. The alley may be littered with dumpsters and poorly lit, but it's also in the heart of the city's most expensive real estate. Internet chat sites for the Flaming Lips took my comment as evidence Bricktown is a seedy area, when I was only questioning whether the alley was a sufficient tribute to a Grammy-winning band that has sold millions of records and boasts a worldwide following.

Meanwhile, a fan using the nym "BlueNote83" seeks to set the record straight:

I think the impression that everyone including international media got is that the Lips got a crappy little dirt alley. Couldn't be further from the truth. When the Oklahoman reporter was writing this, he was writing to a local audience, all of whom it was safe for him to assume knew the Bricktown area quite well. By Bricktown's standards the alley IS a little scruffy, but it fronts arguably the most valuable real estate in the state of Oklahoma.

Either way, people now have an undeservedly bad impression of the honor, and of Oklahoma City, which is exactly the OPPOSITE of what was intended by the Lips, and by the people who pushed this.

He follows with a gallery of ten photos (scroll down to his next post) and this pertinent observation:

One other thing that was missed: quite a few people who got behind this had nothing personal to gain by it, and did it at some political risk. I think it's notable that this was pushed by a politically conservative Mayor and a Chamber of Commerce made up primarily of people whose politics might not match up with the Lips' on every issue. Nevertheless, they recognized the Lips are incredibly deserving of the honor, and are an asset to Oklahoma City both culturally and economically.

So before you go off ripping OKC as small-minded or ugly, you might consider these facts. Frankly, if you love the Lips, you shouldn't hate on the city that gave birth to them, and the city where they still feel the most at home.

And that goes double for those of you who live here.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:35 PM)
11 January 2007
No more flags

Last year, Six Flags came this close to selling its Oklahoma City parks to local folks, but nothing came of it, and I can't say that I'm surprised to see that the two facilities were unloaded as part of a package deal today.

The buyer, a Florida real-estate trust called PARC, is getting seven parks for $312 million; PARC will then sell them to CNL Income Properties, which will then lease them back to PARC.

What effect this will have on White Water Bay or Frontier City remains to be seen, though I keep thinking "tax loss."

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:02 PM)
14 January 2007
MLK events postponed

The one year in seven (more or less) when the holiday proclaimed for Dr King actually falls on the man's birthday, and the festivities are put off until the following weekend. Doesn't that just frost you? (Actually, if you live here, anything you've done outside since Friday morning probably frosted you.)

Anyway, if you missed out on the schedule, OK Blue Notes has the revised list, which is of course subject to change.

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:29 PM)
16 January 2007
That name again is Mr Plow

Oklahoma City has designated Snow Routes which actually get plowed; if you venture anywhere else, you're on your own.

I live near Northwest 50th Street, which is not a Snow Route. What's more, the city, having been hit hard twice this season — just over halfway through January, we've had about 75 percent of our annual winter-precipitation average — is way over its snow-removal budget.

Just the same, when I pulled onto 50th this morning, the weekend's Slabs O'Sleet were piled up on the shoulder: they'd actually plowed the street, at least from Villa west. I didn't recognize it at first, simply because I'd never seen such a thing before on 50th.

To whoever it was who approved this unprecedented move, thank you.

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:43 AM)
18 January 2007
Warm words on a cold day

The only thing I've never quite understood about the Mayor's annual State of the City address is that it's given, not in a forum generally thought of as public, but in front of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. Fortunately, the city has always coughed up transcripts pretty quickly, and Mick Cornett's 2007 address, given Wednesday, was up that afternoon.

The biggest news, of course, is the possibility of MAPS 3, in the spirit of the original Metropolitan Area Projects and the ongoing MAPS for Kids remaking of local schools. The MAPS for Kids one-cent sales tax expires December 2008; any MAPS 3 projects would perforce be predicated on voters' approval of a new tax, presumably to start January 2009. Assuming it runs seven years, as did the MAPS for Kids tax, there will be, I'm guessing, around $600 million for New Stuff. (MAPS for Kids will raise about $500 million for local schools, not counting the $180 million bond issue that was floated at the beginning.)

If there is to be a MAPS 3, it will presumably be a package deal. ("It's all or none, folks," then-Mayor Ron Norick had said of the original MAPS. "It makes it easier to sell.") What's in the package? Nobody knows yet. The city has set up a Web site to take suggestions, which will be open through mid-May. I'm contemplating a wish list of my own, to be sent in for consideration.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:25 AM)
19 January 2007
Scraping by

Once I got out of the neighborhood this morning, the commute went at close to full speed; the hard part, of course, was getting out of the neighborhood at all, where the streets are still covered with re-refrozen ice.

This should not surprise you, says Mayor Cornett:

If people expect an extremely high level of service when it comes to snow cleanup, they've got to be kidding. That's why we've designated specific snow routes.

Said snow routes make up something like a twentieth of the 14,000 miles of roadway in the city, and it's taken the better part of a week to get them into shape. Were they to start on every residential street this morning, they'd finish in March, maybe.

The average annual snowfall in Oklahoma City is 8.1 inches. Going into this weekend's version of the White Death, we've piled up 6.9 inches, so I think it's safe to say that this winter has been snowier than average. (Worst winter ever? 1947-48, with 25.2 inches. And on the 19th of March, 1924, 11.3 inches of the stuff came down.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:49 AM)
22 January 2007
Pre-inked for your convenience

The following thoughts hit me more or less simultaneously with the arrival of the Feist YellowBook on my porch:

  • There's a fair amount of lead time involved in compiling a phone directory;
  • Tattoo parlors in Oklahoma were only just legalized in November.

So I was curious to see what, if any, listings there might be in this January book. And there are plenty: two and two-thirds pages of display ads, and thirty-three individual listings.

There are also, I must mention, three tattoo-removal listings; one firm has listings under both.

Permalink to this item (posted at 8:02 AM)
31 January 2007
Lower expectations

Reno Avenue — um, Johnny Bench Drive — separates Lower Bricktown, a wholly-separate development, from Bricktown proper. Inevitably, the two sections find themselves in competition; however, Lower Bricktown has taken the lead in Web presence, although someone needs to update the events calendar, stat. Check out the official Lower Bricktown Animation: it strikes a nice balance between low-key and high-energy, and someone had the temerity to drop an Audi R8 into the scene — appropriately, since much of the new Lower Bricktown development will arrive about the same time as the R8, which is late 2007-early 2008.

It should be noted here that some of our urban purists object to Lower Bricktown for being insufficiently, well, urban, what with a Bass Pro Shop and something with Toby Keith's name on it, fercrissake: visions of mobile homes evidently are dancing in their heads. I'm inclined to be a touch more forgiving, if only because the fevered rush that led to the founding of this city in 1889 practically defines "haphazard," and I'm keen on tradition, especially when it annoys people.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:32 AM)
How do you get to Carnegie?

In Oklahoma City, it's "hang a left on McGee."

Two years ago, the city was unable to get a satisfactory bid for the vacant Downtown Library at 131 Dean A. McGee: they were hoping for $950,000.

With the property still in inventory, City Council voted this week to accept an offer of $775,000 for the building, which will be converted into condominiums upstairs and retail at ground level — with parking in between.

Carnegie Centre is the new name for the building; Carnegie Centre LLC is the new owner; the prime mover is Norman Realtor Judy Hatfield. Why "Carnegie"? Because this was the site of the original Carnegie Library, built at the turn of the century — the 20th century, of course. (The 21st-century library is here.) No target date has been set for the opening.

Permalink to this item (posted at 9:53 AM)
7 February 2007
You might wait until you get home

In this month's City News, enclosed with the utility bill:

If you see potholes in City streets, give us a call on the Pothole Hotline at 631-1111. Or call *OKC on your cellular phone.

If you're in the habit of making cell-phone calls while you're driving, I suggest you're just asking for problems far greater than mere potholes.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:59 PM)
10 February 2007
What may be in store

The Saturday Oklahoman has a column on the second business page which lists major office leases. (This is separate from the major real-estate transactions, which is usually one page over.) This item from today's list gave me pause:

VS Pharmacies signed a ground lease for 60,412 square feet of space in Mayfair Village Shopping Center at NW 50 and May Avenue. [Mark] Inman, Alaina McGlothin and [Brian] Donahue handled the transaction.

This threesome works for CB-Richard Ellis Oklahoma. The first thing that struck me was, well, who is "VS"? Most likely, I reasoned, a typo: this is really CVS. And inasmuch as there's a Walgreens on this corner, a CVS should be considered inevitable: these two chains chase each other all over.

But wait: there's a CVS at the far end of the complex, near 48th and May. And they surely don't occupy sixty thousand square feet, which means that this is probably not a renewal of their current deal.

Which can mean only one of one thing: the oft-rumored displacement of the Mayfair Market, which has sat on this corner for decades. I am, of course, outraged, not so much because of the historical importance of this store (not much) but because this is the only place I know of that actually stocks Kellogg's Pop-Tarts in the plain (unfrosted) blueberry variety. I am so screwed.

But wait! The market isn't 60,000 square feet either. According to the County Assessor, it's 19,600, and there's no way they can scrape it off the pavement and replace it with a building three times its size without getting in the way of Union Bank. That Walgreens is listed as 15,396 square feet.

If nothing else, this gives you an insight into the sort of things I worry about while the rest of the world concentrates on ephemera.

Permalink to this item (posted at 6:09 PM)
17 February 2007
Saturday spottings (in anticipation)

Nine days from now is the scheduled opening of the Skirvin Hilton, and it looks like they'll come in on time: when I wandered by this afternoon, they were about halfway through the process of restoring the pavement in front of the entrance, which indicates that they're not expecting any more heavy equipment on the site. From my first post on the subject, four years ago:

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.

And the city committed $18 million to the restoration of the hotel, which began in the summer of 2005. Total investment in One Park Avenue (which you have to admit is a pretty spiffy address) is $51.3 million. I have promised myself at least one night's stay, probably this summer. If you're curious about the early history of the Skirvin, historian Bob Blackburn can fill in the details.

Meanwhile, there's apparently been a stay of execution for Purgatory, the one-time Episcopal church turned death-metal venue, which was slated for demolition last year and which now bears a modest (albeit red) For Sale sign out front. I'm guessing the plan for a strip mall on the site fell through. (Update, 26 March: And the wrecking ball has been summoned. Darn.)

And speaking of "fell through," there are enough potholes on Classen near this site and for blocks to the south to make you wonder if your car is going to fall through the pavement.

Surely this has been up for a while, but I hadn't seen it until today: a billboard by former DA Wes Lane, thanking the citizenry for allowing him to serve in that capacity through last year. There's a small-print reference to Psalm 100 along the bottom; Lane was occasionally a controversial figure, and maybe getting out of the public eye was an opportunity for him to make a joyful noise. At any rate, it's a classy gesture, especially in view of the general nastiness of the last electoral campaign.

Finally, a tip of the synthetic-materials hat to the newly-named Metro Alliance for Animal Life, about whose beginnings I wrote here (last paragraph).

Permalink to this item (posted at 7:06 PM)
25 February 2007
AutoZone could use the room

The Consumerist reported this week that CompUSA will be closing about 100 stores, which wouldn't seem like such a big deal except for the fact that CompUSA has only 229 stores, meaning that almost half of their locations are on the chopping block.

I suspect the Oklahoma City store is doomed, for the following reasons:

  • There are other big-box electronics stores close by: Best Buy is five blocks away, Circuit City about a mile.

  • Rather a lot of people you think are store personnel are actually manufacturers' reps brought in to hype their lines, who turn out to be less than helpful.

  • A substantial percentage of the geek community shops at we-build-'em shops like PC Club, which is also close by.

  • And an even more substantial percentage of the geek community says "Why go outside?" and orders the same stuff online.

A Gizmodo commenter adds:

Their marketing model seems to be to charge 10% more than anywhere else, and give you a rebate for the difference, which never arrives.

Nice work if you can get it, I suppose.

Update, 3:45 pm, 27 February: The Oklahoma City store has been spared. This is the new list, pared down. (Via the Consumerist.)

Permalink to this item (posted at 1:34 PM)
3 March 2007
And there was no room in the inn

During World Tour '05, I scheduled a stop in Concord, New Hampshire. As per my usual practice, I didn't actually book a room until 48 hours before arrival, and it was somewhat offputting to hear that a fairly modest room that had run $80 or so when I was there three years earlier had zoomed up well into the triple digits.

The reason became apparent when I arrived: Concord is maybe fifteen miles from New Hampshire International Speedway, and I had come during a week when a major racing event was scheduled. Had I waited a few more hours, I'd have been out of luck altogether.

So I wasn't too surprised to hear that rooms in downtown Oklahoma City are very hard to come by this coming week, what with the Big 12 basketball tournament and all, and what few rooms there are will cost you. For example: the Courtyard by Marriott, 2 West Reno, is next door to the Ford Center; they're asking a minimum of $299 per night. (A more typical rate at the Courtyard is $189.) The Skirvin Hilton apparently has a couple of openings on Sunday for $329.

Just for the hell of it, I wandered over to the Web site of the Waldorf-Astoria in New York. Some rooms this week are quoted as low as $235.

For all of you who were wondering just how this supply-and-demand stuff works, now you know.

Permalink to this item (posted at 10:50 AM)
We want the funk

AWG writes from Norman:

There's a popular slogan here in Norman that is along the lines of the old "Keep Austin Weird." It reads: "Don't Edmond My Norman." I love it! As some of you may not know, Edmond is a higher end suburb on OKC Metro's north side. Norman, however, being a college town, has a funkier feel to it. Not to say Edmond is dull or anything, it's just that Norman is, well, cooler.

And yet last I looked, Edmond was a college town: UCO isn't exactly one of those trade schools that advertises on The People's Court.

I think perhaps some of this is due to the fact that a lot of places with Edmond addresses aren't actually in Edmond; the Oklahoma City post office doesn't deliver north of 150th or so, and much of the "suburban sprawl" that is often decried in these parts is actually taking place within Oklahoma City limits, and a perusal of the real-estate ads will tell you that "Edmond," as a concept, is now just about everything north of Memorial Road and south of Guthrie.

Then again, if Sir Nose D'Voidoffunk were moving here, you know he ain't coming south of 122nd.

Permalink to this item (posted at 4:07 PM)
Saturday spottings (to the east side)

I've written before about Central Oklahoma Habitat for Humanity and board chairman Ann Felton, who has built this chapter of Habitat into one of the most active in the entire nation, and today seemed like a good day to see what they were up to.

Turnout was pretty impressive today for the very beginning of the biggest project they've ever had: a complete subdivision. Hope Crossing is just west of Kelley between Wilshire and Britton, and eventually it's going to provide housing for over 200 families. The First Presbyterian Church of Edmond is sponsoring the first house. This is the first time Habitat has had to assume responsibility for roads and utilities, and winter delays pushed back the start by a week,