It was a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon, and after taking a walk around the Blue Dome Arts Festival (sponsored by Urban Tulsa Weekly) my mood matched the weather.
It wasn't the art that elevated my attitude but news of new initiatives from risk-taking entrepreneurs.
Private individuals are pursuing their dreams, using their own initiative and in the process making Tulsa a more interesting place to live, work, and play. To borrow a phrase from former UTW writer Jamie Pierson, they're making their own cool, not waiting for the government to do it for them. (As if the government were capable of "making cool.")
The door was open on the old garage just south of El Guapo's Cantina on Elgin, so I strolled in to look at the soon-to-be downtown home of Joe Momma's Pizza. Owner Blake Ewing gave me a look at the plans. The building permit is in hand, and remodeling is underway. Ewing hopes to be open before the BOk Center is.
Ewing began pursuing his dream of a downtown pizza place about three years ago. The opportunity to take over an existing pizza restaurant at 61st and US 169 gave him a chance to perfect his recipes and business model.
They'll offer brick oven pizza, and customers will be able to see the dough being flipped and the oven near the front of the restaurant. Garage doors on the building front will slide up to allow for covered outdoor seating during nice weather.
You'll be able to walk up and order a slice or sit down for table service. Joe Momma's will have TVs for sports or reality TV viewing, live music, beer and wine, and free wireless internet. (Hooray for free wi-fi!)
Around the corner, Cheri Asher, owner of the wonderful Coffee House on Cherry Street, invited me to sit in the shade of an umbrella at her pushcart. A few minutes later she introduced me to Tom Green, co-founder of the Diversafest Music Conference and Festival. D-Fest heads into its eighth year this July 25-26.
I don't know much about the bands or music planned for D-Fest--my tastes run to the kinds of music Billy Parker and Johnny Martin used to play on the radio here--but I'm inspired by the story behind the festival.
D-Fest wasn't created with taxpayer dollars. It was the dream of one couple, Tom Green and Angie Devore-Green, who started small but well, building on their previous successes each year. This year they hope to draw 60,000 people to hear 150 bands over the two-day event.
Not only have the Greens been successful in realizing their D-Fest dreams, D-Fest is enabling aspiring musicians to achieve their own dreams. The conference part of D-Fest--seminars, panel discussions, workshops, and personal mentoring--helps aspiring musicians hone both their business and music skills.
Tom told me about D-Fest's non-profit arm, the Oklahoma Foundation for the Music Industry. According to its mission statement, found on okfmi.org, OKFMI "fosters and promotes Oklahoma's music community with innovative programs that educate, empower and enrich musicians and fuel Oklahoma's creative economy."
OKFMI's iROK--"independent radio Oklahoma"--promotes the local music scene by podcasting the music of emerging and unsigned Oklahoma musicians of all genres at irokradio.com.
Just across from the Coffee House pushcart, Jim and Alice Rodgers of Cain's Ballroom had a booth to promote their new Brookside venture, Ida Red, named in honor of the famous Bob Wills tune (which in turn inspired the Chuck Berry hit "Maybelline").
Ida Red, at 3346 S. Peoria, will be an outlet for Cain's concert tickets and merchandise, gifts, and CDs by local musicians. At the booth they had on display some of the 28 flavors (at least) of premium brands of soda pop they plan to offer at Ida Red, along with cupcakes and free wi-fi. (Hooray for free wi-fi!)
The Rodgers family has already achieved great things with the House that Bob Built on N. Main St. Cain's Ballroom has been beautifully restored, with its facilities modernized in a way that respects its rich history. It consistently ranks in the top 50 in ticket sales for club-sized venues worldwide.
Plans are still afoot for a physical home for the National Fiddler's Hall of Fame, likely somewhere in Brady Village.
The afternoon and the festival was nearing an end, and as I helped Cheri move a water trough back to the First Street Lofts building, I ran into Michael Sager, the building's owner and the driving force behind the Blue Dome District's revival.
Michael had been offering to give me a tour of the lofts for some time, and here we were, so up we went up, four long flights of stairs to the top, where the two-story units are starting to take shape.
Floor-to-ceiling windows on the northwest side will provide residents with spectacular views of the skyline. And the brick that was removed to create those views wasn't put in a landfill. It's been reused to line the inside of the exterior walls.
Those outside walls take advantage of an energy-efficient feature already present in the 92-year-old building -- hollow clay tile brick insulates the inside from outside temperatures. That layer will be lined with a thermal break and then with the building's own recycled brick.
Existing skylights are being retained to allow natural light to the upper floor and to the main stairwell on the east side, reducing the need for electricity during daylight hours. And unlike most modern buildings, nearly all the First Street Lofts' windows will be able to open, allowing residents to take advantage of the breeze on a pleasant day.
Sager's team, which includes the architectural firm of Miles and Associates, is allowing its plans to be shaped by the 1916 building, not spending fortunes trying to bend the building to their will. For example, rather than remove the massive frame and pulley at the top of the old elevator shaft, it's being reused as the centerpiece of an atrium open to the sky.
As we were touring the building, Sager filled me in on some other developments around the Blue Dome. He's selling his 1974 building at 2nd and Elgin to Elliot Nelson, who will turn it New York style deli. (UTW's Jessica Naudziunas reported on the deli plans in a recent cover story about Nelson's ventures. Find "Raising the Bars" online at urbantulsa.com.) I'm excited to think there could be a decent pastrami sandwich in Tulsa's future.
While some downtown property owners are sitting on their buildings and land, waiting for the perfect situation to fall from the sky, Sager has been putting his buildings to use, helping entrepreneurs find places to make their own dreams come true.
All this good news is the product of individual initiative, not the product of a government committee, and nearly all of it privately funded. The lone exception is the First Street Lofts project, which received a loan out of Vision 2025 funds for downtown residential development. Those funds will be paid back into a revolving fund to finance additional downtown housing efforts.
We'll get back to the ugly struggles of local politics in a week or so, but it's only right to take time now and then to bask in some good news on a sunny day in this beautiful city of ours.
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