At street level, downtown Tulsa isn't much to look at right now. With Boston Ave. and its other main intersecting conduits eviscerated by road crews for the past two years, life doesn't look very livable inside the Inner Dispersal Loop. Getting around is cumbersome, messy and inconvenient.
And then, just when you think the construction dudes have dug up just about everything they can, all of a sudden they begin tearing up yet another street even more grandly than before. It looks endless.
But if even half the city hall hype is true what they say downtown will become when these streets are reborn--once other works in progress are finally complete--the city's central business district is expected to be The Place To Be. Someday.
The very impatient among us who would love to experience the "new urbanism" in Tulsa before we die hope the hype is right. More good jobs downtown and filling all the empty office space would be a first step.
If downtown is to become a neighborhood, it's pretty simple what you need to complete the livability puzzle: A grocery store, pharmacy, retail shopping of some sort are essential.
A Central Market or Whole Foods would do the trick. Maybe even a Trader Joe's.
But what we're probably going to end up with is some sort of Wal-Mart downtown. We don't much care for the House of Sam, but if city leadership insists the thing is built in a style that fits the neighborhood, it might work. Indeed, Googling the phrase "multistory Wal-Mart" reveals that the giant retailer is capable of producing some creative designs to meet the requirements of downtown sites.
White Plains, New York, is one recent example. That two-level Wal-Mart includes a special escalator that can carry carts and customers side-by-side between floors. Parking is on several levels above the store.
Tulsa isn't likely to be treated to the same creativity. The proposed downtown store would have a single story, made to seem "urban" by the use of red brick and stucco on the exterior.
A movie theater would do wonders. Especially the kind that serves you dinner and drinks at your seat.
We really do need the Drillers baseball stadium downtown more than anyone can realize, and if that happens, could Hard Rock Tulsa be far behind? (You know, don't you, the Seminole Tribe owns the franchise. This is Oklahoma.
Someone get to work on it.) The club and restaurant business in the Brady District, Blue Dome, and South Boston areas have become a major draw for young adults back to downtown.
City mothers and fathers have known for years that the key to a truly rejuvenated downtown is to make affordable living spaces available. We at UTW have been telling them so for years. And city leadership has finally begun talking about it and, more importantly, helping out.
In the meantime, individual entrepreneurs, local developers and visionaries have been attempting to make it happen by themselves.
We figure that the day is coming that all the pieces of the puzzle will be in place and trendy urbanistas will be beating a path to downtown and around the Loop, looking for a place to participate in new urbanism.
With that in mind, my esteemed colleague Holly and I, posing as a twosome, began scouting around for a "home" downtown.
We found lots of cool digs, some within our price range, some not, but a surprising dearth of living quarters--especially considering the current demand and the future flock wanting to nest downtown.
On the Prowl
Some of the newest apartment accommodations, The Village at Central Park, newly constructed adjacent to Central Park at 6th and Peoria, were Holly's first choice for downtown dwelling. The digs are utmost urban, with a view of the gorgeous Central Park and downtown in the same line of sight.
And some searching online revealed that they are more spacious than other downtown options, most with two or three bedrooms, two or 2.5 baths, luxury kitchens with granite countertops and balconies.
However, it was impossible to know how much one of these babies would set us back per month because they'd all been sold except one, which was under contract, and no one would answer the phones when we called.
Right away we realized that there is something to this living downtown idea. Holly had written stories in the past about downtown dwelling as some of these newer apartment buildings were just opening and the idea of living in an urban environment was nearly unthinkable to many Tulsans.
One person who could be credited with leading the way in the current trend is Micha Alexander, who opened the Virginia Lofts, at 3rd and Lansing, a couple of years ago.
Alexander was an early proponent of downtown living after he himself moved downtown to be closer to his initial business endeavor, Maverick Machine, at 202 S. Lansing.
Shortly thereafter, he built the Virginia Lofts, and they've been occupied ever since.
The Virginia Lofts include about half a dozen one-bedroom apartments, one of which is about 500-square feet, with the others ranging from 600-850 square feet. And, priced between $600 and $700, they were some of the more affordable apartments we found downtown.
Alexander also owns two larger apartments, across the street from Virginia Lofts, above the old 8OneEight, soon to be Elliott Nelson's Tiny Lounge. Those run about $1,200.
My concern with speaking with Alexander, was whether a 600-800 square foot one-bedroom apartment would comfortably accommodate two people.
"Yes, I think so," he said. "But it is a different kind of living. It's sort of a minimalist lifestyle. You don't have a lot of useless things. You really have to simplify your life."
He said he's had more than a few couples living in his apartments, but they often don't stay for long. In fact, many people don't choose to live downtown for an extended period of time. At least, not in these newer urban apartments.
"It's really more transitional living," Alexander explained. "You get a lot of people in transition, moving from school to work or from being engaged to married.
"I have vacancies all the time (for that reason)," he explained. "They just get filled really quickly."
The Long and Short of It
The Central Park Apartments, 450 W. 7th St., cater to long and short-term tenants alike. The high-rise, highly secure building offers short-term, extended stay and permanent residency options--but at a price.
Many of the apartments are individually owned, and studios and one-bedroom apartments can run between $785 and $975 per month, for short-term and extended stay renters. Permanent residency options are more difficult to find and usually rent in the latter price range.
For those who can afford it, though, the price is well worth it. The apartments come complete with balconies, beautiful views, a heated swimming pool, Jacuzzi, fitness center, tanning bed, tennis and basketball courts, a track, club rooms and a sauna. Another interesting amenity is a small convenience store on the first floor of the building, which can come in very handy for these downtown residents whose most noted complaint is that there is nary a grocery store in sight (that is, until Wal-Mart comes to the East End).
These apartments actually represent the townhouse style of larger urban areas--the feel is more like a hotel. Not a real "homey" atmosphere, but it could be a good thing if you consider it's possible, when living here, to feel like you're on vacation every day.
This apartment, as well as other downtown mainstays like University Club Tower, 1722 S. Carson, and Mansion House, 1638 S. Carson, have been providing downtown dwellers with housing options for some time.
The 28-story University Club, most notable for its interesting cylinder shape, which is easily spotted in the Tulsa skyline (a skipping-stone's distance from the river), was built in 1969 and boasts 700-square foot one-bedroom studio apartments and 1,300-square foot two-bedroom apartments, all of which rent at various prices, increasing as the tower's height does.
All these highrises provide parking, an essential downtown, and this complex has eight floors of parking, with living space beginning at the 9th level and topping out on the 28th floor.
Amenities include an Olympic-size swimming pool on the lower level, a fitness room and free laundry as the apartments don't have washer/dryer hookups.
When we were looking, there were two two-bedroom apartments available, one one-bedroom and one studio. While we didn't get exact prices on these places, we felt they would definitely be affordable for the two of us, and comfortable as well.
The 12-story Mansion House, across the street, also gave us prices that were easy on our pocketbooks. There, studio apartments range from about $415 to $430, one-bedrooms from $550 to $575 and two-bedrooms from $770 to $785.
The Mansion House was built in 1968, and the only concern we had with living here was that most of the tenants were aged 55 and older. Not that we don't love seniors, we just thought that if we were looking to make friends in a community of like-minded people, similar to us in age and lifestyle, we would have a hard time connecting.
We did like, though, that Mansion House also offered a pool, fitness room, tennis courts, covered parking and a laundry home. Other amenities include a salon and a café, as well as a shuttle service to the malls.
Though these older apartments cater, whether by choice or coincidence, to older tenants, there are a few newer, loft-style apartments currently under construction that may better suit seekers in our age range.
Firsthand details are sketchy at the moment, as the project is one of downtown's numerous ongoing works in progress, but the picture painted by developers depicts the upcoming Mayo 420 Lofts as prime real estate.
"It's going to be beautiful," promised Wiggin Properties Vice President Emily Rohleder when we called to pass ourselves off as potential tenants.
She said the view from the nearly centenarian "skyscraper" will be "stunning."
"You can see out all across the city," she said, noting that the rooftop terrace will provide an exceptional viewing platform.
While the Mayo Building might not be very impressive as a "skyscraper" by today's standards, that wasn't the case in its heyday.
The building at 420 S. Main St. was originally constructed as a five-story office building in 1910, with five more stories added in 1917 to meet the growing demand for office space to accommodate the booming Oil Capitol of the World.
Today, using Vision 2025 funds, Wiggin Properties is in the process of converting nine of its 10 stories into one and two-bedroom loft apartments.
The ground floor, on the other hand, will house restaurants and retail outlets, so residential tenants can live, sleep, shop and "eat out" under the same roof.
They'll also get to exercise and park their cars under said roof, too.
A fitness center will be included on the lower level, as well as parking for residents.
Additional parking will be available in the Main Park Plaza garage, and a private walkway will connect from there to the Mayo Building.
The apartments themselves will range in size from 600 to 2,000 square feet, with ceiling heights ranging from 10 to 12 feet, with one or two bedrooms and one or two bathrooms.
Some will feature hardwood floors, and others terrazzo.
All will have island kitchens with "abundant cabinets and counter space," "abundant storage," and washers and dryers.
The apartments will also retain the early 1900s-look of the building and the city's formative years.
Along with the architecture and the terrazzo floors, Rohleder said the building and apartments will sport "a lot of things you would think of from that era," such as the Mayo Hotel insignia that will remain on the doorknobs within the landmark.
And all this for the low, low price of . . . !
Well, we don't know, and the folks at Wiggin aren't saying.
"I don't think we've settled the price range," Rohleder said.
She assured, though, that rental rates will be within "a very affordable range."
"They're not going to be out-priced for anybody," she said.
Based on responses from focus groups, Rohleder said the apartment units and the accompanying lifestyle and downtown energy will appeal to empty nesters, single people, young couples and anyone else shopping for "mid-ranged" downtown accommodations.
She said the apartments should be ready for tenants by mid-2008.
Meanwhile, the historic Mayo Hotel is also a work in progress.
Macy Snyder, manager of the building's manager, said a $38 million project, including $4.9 million in Vision 2025 funds, will result in 96 hotel rooms and 72 loft apartments in the landmark.
She said the apartments will be one bedroom/one bathroom and two bed/two bath, and will range from 720-2,000 square feet.
The lofts will also include washers and dryers, granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances.
Snyder said they'll probably rent for about $1 per square foot.
The loft apartments will initially be offered for five-year leases, after which time they intend to sell them.
Snyder said ground should be broken on the project in January next year, and completion estimated by June 2009.
Scouting Other Options
The First Street Lofts is an ongoing endeavor by Blue Dome District patriarch Michael Sager, who is currently working to turn the old Jacobs Hotel, at 310 E. 1st St., into loft-style apartments. Once completed, the five-story building should house about 19 units, ranging in size from about 650 to 2,000-square feet and renting for about $1 per square foot. Sager hopes to have the project complete in less than a year.
The Philtower Building is another historic landmark-turned-apartment-building but, unlike the Mayo and First Street Lofts, it's all ready to go.
The 24-story neo-gothic, art deco structure at 427 S. Boston Ave. was originally home to oilman and philanthropist Waite Phillips and to his petroleum company after the building was constructed in 1928.
Phillips gave the building to the Boy Scouts of America in 1941, in whose possession it remained until it was sold in 1977 to a group of local investors who formed Philtower, LLC, and eventually converted floors 12-20 into 25 private residences, which opened for leasing in February last year.
Also unlike the Mayo 420's purported "mid-range priced" apartments, the digs at the Waite Phillips' old crib are touted as "luxury," and they have the leasing rates to match.
A 729-square foot one bedroom, one bath loft apartment goes for $1,085 per month, while a 1,584-square foot two bedroom, two bath goes for $2,320.
Prices vary within that range according to various factors, like square footage and bed/bath variations, as well as whether a room is one of the six with private terraces.
Apparently, those rates are well worth it for those who can afford to pay, since every room is currently occupied, with the soonest vacancy expected in March of next year, according to Richard Winton of Philtower LLC.
And for those luxury rates, Philtower dwellers get oversized windows and a pretty sweet view of downtown Tulsa, wireless Internet access, 10-12 foot high ceilings, washer and dryer, terrazzo floors, brass fixtures and mahogany trim.
A pad at Philtower also comes with attached, covered parking with the security afforded by 24-hour controlled access via an electronic vehicle-ID system.
Living downtown often means proximity to work and play, so many Philtower dwellers often forego driving in favor of walking or bicycling, so bike storage is also part of the package.
The Philtower Building is also connected to the downtown tunnel system.
For those (like us) whose budgets don't allow, or who don't want to wait until next year for such accommodations, the Renaissance Uptown apartments at 1000 S. Denver Ave. are a slightly more down-to-earth option for downtown living--in more ways than one.
Like the Philtower and Mayo apartments, they have the obvious advantage of proximity to downtown attractions, but at only three stories high, the complex doesn't provide nearly the cool factor of being able to see across the city (at least, not from the apartments we scouted).
For better or for worse, they're also laid out like a typical modern apartment complex, so none of the cool historical bells-and-whistles seen in the Mayo and Philtower come with a Renaissance apartment.
They're still not too shabby, though.
A 1,200 sq. ft., two bedroom, two bath apartment runs $1,070 a month, and includes living room/dining area of about 14 feet by 17 feet.
The two bedrooms are about the same size, both being about 12 feet by 13 feet.
First floor units have a patio accessible from the living room, and some of the larger units (1,200 sq. ft.) have enclosed balconies off the master bedroom.
Some of the second and third floor units have opera balconies, but not all.
The apartments are pretty nice inside (especially compared to some of the dives I've lived in), and include a gas fireplace, nine-foot-high ceilings, a decent-sized kitchen ("decent-sized" by the standards of a bachelor who lives alone and eats out of a microwave; a more discerning judge might disagree--or Holly, who just likes to disagree with me . . . ), and good relaxing atmosphere, depending on one's feng shui acumen.
The only trouble I could see, though, was that I couldn't figure out where the TV should go in the living room.
Between the fireplace and the doors to the bedrooms and patio, there isn't a lot of open wall space to fit a TV and entertainment center, which would make my weekend marathon X-Box sessions a bit cramped.
It also includes secure garage, which occupies the middle third of the apartment complex.
The garage is only accessible by foot or vehicle by tenants, so Renaissance Uptown dwellers can sleep soundly knowing their cars are safe.
However, that security advantage comes with a cost in access.
The garage is located in the middle third of the complex and, depending on where one's apartment is located, it's quite a trek to get there. So, if you're driving to work downtown, half of your trip will be between your front door and your car door.
Such are the obstacles to finding affordable and comfortable accommodations downtown, however.
Another obstacle, as seen in the Philtower Building, is availability.
While that lack of availability expresses itself in waiting lists for apartments at some complexes, it expresses itself in long waits for returned calls at others.
Still Haven't Found Where We're Looking For
That was the case, we discovered, in our efforts to scout out some places at the Brady and Blair apartments. At the time this writing, our games of phone tag with representatives at those apartments was still afoot, and they were "it."
A visit to the Tribune Lofts, at 1000 S. Denver, went unanswered, and when we called, a representative told us that the lofts aren't currently being leased because they are in the process of being sold.
She wouldn't divulge the new owner's name or any details of the sale and wasn't quite sure when it would be finalized. She did, though, say that current tenants would have the option to continue their leases or buy their apartments. And, she encouraged us to phone back in a month or so and check on the sale's progress and any future availability.
Another downtown dwelling mainstay we looked into was Liberty Towers, at 15th and Boulder. We'd heard lots of good things about this place from people we know who live here, and, as with many other condominiums, we sort of got the run around when inquiring on price per month. Not because the folks at Liberty Towers are rude, mind you, but because many of these apartments are individually owned, so the price is place-specific. Prices of those not individually owned varied by size, and there are also apartments for sale by owner.
We found some one-bedroom options as low as $600 per month, and two-bedroom options as low as $900 per month.
The tower also has a parking garage, free cable, a balcony pool, an exercise room, a Jacuzzi, a canteen, library and club rooms.
We especially like this location because, not only do we have a beautiful view of downtown, we are also in close proximity to two gas stations and have quick and easy access to Cherry Street, which puts us that much closer to a grocery store.
Go East, Young Couple
Over on the East End of downtown, loft-style apartments and artist's studios are beginning to crop up. One new loft is located on the southwest corner of 3rd and Kenosha, just a door down from Living Arts of Tulsa.
The 1900s building being restored by Leigh Bell was originally to be her home until a recent decision was made to relocate to Houston, Texas. Now, Bell is converting the space into a 2,700-square foot loft to be rented, with one and a half baths, a large kitchen with stainless steel appliances, a three-car garage and a roof-top patio with a view. Rent is $3,000 per month. For more on the project, see the sidebar on page xx.
Around the corner, at 810 E. 3rd St., a 1,200-square foot one-bed, one-bath loft is available above a storefront, with hardwood floors and central heat and air. Rent for this space is only $775/month, and with all the new residential and commercial business growth the area is currently experiencing, we expect to see more spaces like this for rent in the near future.
We liked what we saw in this area and are excited to see new growth develop. This would be an exciting place to settle because, while you are still in the heart of Tulsa, you are just outside of the loop enough that the area is quiet and relaxing, with plenty still to do and see within walking distance.
Just a teensy bit farther from downtown, but still close enough to feel like urban dwellers, are a number of apartments near the Riverview Neighborhood, facing Riverside Drive.
Apartments line Riverside from Southwest Boulevard, past Denver Avenue and provide perhaps the best of both worlds: a view of downtown and of the river, all at once.
The Sophian Plaza Condominiums, 15th and Frisco, have long been a popular dwelling place for urban hipsters and folks in the know. So popular, in fact, that when we inquired about renting an apartment here, we were met with the disappointing answer that nothing was available.
Most of the 46 apartments in this complex are owner occupied, and the ones that aren't are tied up in long-term leases. We were told that if anything becomes available, there will be an advertisement in the daily paper, but we should respond quickly--they obviously go fast.
The Lincoln Park Apartments, 1816 S. Carson, offer one-bed/one-bath apartments ranging from 530 to 730-square feet for $660 to $775 and two-bed/two-bath apartments, 900 to 1,025-square feet, for $850 to $1,150. As with other condos, the amenities seem great and include a pool/Jacuzzi, on-site laundry, door-to-door trash pick up, jogging trails, underground parking and a picnic area complete with gas grills. Inside the complex like a sort of oasis, quite and serene, and we liked the apartments that had balconies facing Riverside.
On the west side of the river, and not really "downtown" anymore, is Westport on the River. I've had friends who've lived in this complex before, and, though the apartment was small, a couple lived comfortably in a one-bedroom apartment.
Westport, though, offers a variety of sizes and floorplans to choose from, all of them ranging from $476 to $830 and up per month.
While it's not downtown, Westport does provide a nice view of our metropolis, but it's not quite as urban as we were looking for.
Urban-style dwelling outside of downtown can be found via the Metro Lofts, most of which are located on the north end of the Cherry Street District.
A couple of years ago, Amanda Dailey and Shannon Walker began building these urban lofts in an effort to redevelop part of Cherry Street and offer Tulsans a cool, hip way to live. Metro Lofts currently boasts 32 townhomes, single family and patio homes, almost all of which are completed and sold.
The price on these is high, and there aren't many left, but, for those with the dough, they're wroth it. They're brand-new, beautiful and built mostly with green materials. And they're all located in walkable areas, promoting simple, urban, walkable lifestyles, something many Tulsans seem to be gravitating toward at the moment.
To Move or Not to Move
Although we couldn't speak with everyone leasing a downtown living space, we learned options were much more extensive than we initially thought. No matter how much we criticize downtown and the lack of development we continue to see there, there is obviously a strong pull among people in the know and those wanting to get a head start on any and all new progress to move downtown.
We learned that, while some places cater to the rich, providing luxurious living at an even more luxurious price, most apartments were easily affordable by combining both of our incomes.
And, contrary to the irrational fears of many Tulsans, we felt safe. Downtown is a colorful place, we know, we work there and hang out at all the hotspots downtown.
The biggest problems we had when attempting to find a home downtown were accommodating Brian's mid-size dog (most places didn't allow pets or only allowed very small animals--even when they're as super cool as Buck Rogers the Dog) and actually finding a space available for lease.
Other problems that could have been encountered, as mentioned above, were finding parking and not having close conveniences like gas stations and grocery stores.
But, the outlook is positive. With this many people making downtown their home, soon, we believe, commodities like this should follow. As jobs and the population grows, so should the businesses serving them, and we look forward to seeing that downtown.
Oh, and our most important lesson?
Though we may bicker like an old married couple, Brian and Holly should never live together.
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