A plaza without people might be the best description of what's in front of Tulsa's former city hall.
But a soon-to-open hotel's front desk now faces that ghostly space. As foreseen by developer Macy Snyder Amatucci, the plaza area will benefit from events marking the site as more than a convenient place for business travelers and conventioneers.
"The part of the plaza that we own, the way we're using it is going to be really neat. It's really going to be something different for Tulsa," said Amatucci.
Together with the 190-room Aloft hotel, the project involves constructing a stand-alone lounge and outdoor pool, as well as installing greenery adjacent to the hotel.
"We'll be able to do a lot of outdoor events, concert series, things like that," Amatucci said. Already, a couple of weddings have been booked as well as a nonprofit gala, with the hotel also making use of another stand-alone structure, the former city council chambers. Now, the building will be one of two banquet areas on the property.
"We can do events in the banquet spaces and then do cocktail hours outside," Amatucci said, describing her vision for outdoor furniture and maximizing the use of "indoor-outdoor space."
The project sits along the northern edge of a six block-area set aside in the 1950s for government-owned buildings known as Civic Center Plaza, according to Preservation Oklahoma, a nonprofit dedicated to historic preservation. The area's eastern edge, along South Denver Avenue, features the daily bustle of the Tulsa County Courthouse as well as the Central Library for the Tulsa City-County Library.
But what makes the project stand out as a hotel is having the Tulsa Convention Center at the western end of the plaza, as well as the BOK Center barely a block away.
"It makes sense to have a hotel here between those two attractions," Amatucci said.
The city sold the property for $1.2 million to an investment group that includes the Snyder family, the group behind the restoration of the once badly neglected Mayo Hotel into a downtown stalwart.
The deal wasn't just a simple property purchase, however. Ultimately, the city and developers agreed to work together to extend West 5th Street through what is now a pedestrian-only plaza.
"Extending the street down will really open up the flow of downtown just in general," Amatucci said. "It will really connect the convention center -- which is really booming right now, the city's put a lot of money into it -- it will really connect it to the rest of downtown."
Construction has yet to start on the street portion of the project. Under the agreement, the developers, a group known formally as TOCH, LLC, will pay for design work, said Paul Zachary, the city's director of engineering services.
Then, the city will bid out the actual construction, with the city having allocated $5 million for the project.
"We're hoping that $5 million is way more than what's needed," said Zachary.
The new public road isn't meant to carry as much traffic as South Denver Avenue. It will only be wide enough for two cars, Zachary said, with a circle in front of the hotel to allow for convenient pick-ups and drop-offs.
Drivers headed west will be able to continue past the hotel to reach what's essentially a rear door of the convention center. Managers of the convention center "are thrilled" with making it easier to access the facility from another direction, Zachary said, adding that he expects the new drop off option for the convention center to be "very popular."
People walking should still be able to stroll across the plaza to the convention center, he said.
"I think this will have some improved lighting, and I think the pedestrian way across here will be improved quite a bit," Zachary said.
The street project has yet to start, and, because the road will be on the plaza level, which doubles as the roof for a parking area beneath it, Zachary likened it to a bridge project.
"Columns were not designed for that what we're going to be doing," Zachary said, explaining that the project calls for "basically thickening all this structure" to support the weight of vehicles.
Work is expected to start in June for what Zachary said should be a nine-month project. During that time, certain parking areas used for the courthouse, for example, will be affected.
Permanent changes will be made to parking used by the Tulsa Police Department, with angled parking to be installed along West 6th Street to squeeze in a few more spaces.
Zachary said that while a cul-de-sac driveway might have met the hotel's needs, a meeting involving the Tulsa Regional Chamber and various stakeholders led to a conclusion that extending a public street to the Tulsa Convention Center would be of greater benefit.
"It's really hard to have a private project when you're really impacting public property," Zachary noted. In most projects, design projects amount to 8 to 10 percent of construction costs, he said when asked how the expenses will be split between the city and TOCH, LLC.
Amatucci talked up the amenities and design features common to the Aloft brand, which pitches itself as a stylish-yet-affordable alternative for younger business travelers. Rates will generally range from $129 to $169 a night, said Roy Chartier, the hotel's general manager. Amatucci noted that the hotel will also feature plenty of rooms with double beds, the most popular option for many convention goers, with corner rooms able to fit six guests.
The rooms themselves remain a work-in-progress, but the building's design focus on windows -- as well as its spot away from other tall structures -- ensures impressive views of both downtown and the Arkansas River.
"What we've done inside the rooms complements the original architecture of the building," Amatucci said.
Those looking at what's best for downtown no doubt hope the same can be said for the project itself as it relates to the history and character of what surrounds it. The hotel is scheduled to open in April.
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