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 weren’t 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 don’t 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.

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