Last week, Tulsans both young and old ventured downtown to the city's first "Top of Town" event where they viewed the skyline from upper-level floors of five historic downtown buildings, including the Philtower, 400 Boston Building, 320 S. Boston Building, Kennedy Building and the Mayo Hotel. A fundraiser for the Child Care Resource Center, the event gave a glimpse of the downtown business atmosphere.
This weekend, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture hosts the third annual Downtown Living Tour, which gives participants the opportunity to see five residential locations and observe how people use vacant downtown properties to create their homes. In some instances, the sites display how owners have combined both work and home life into one space.
The event begins Friday, June 26 with the patron party, a private viewing at a residence near 3rd and Kenosha. For $50, the ticket allows viewing of a "bonus site" not open for public show. Participants can also take a tour of Girouard Vines, 817 E. 3rd St. Included in the ticket cost for Friday's party are two tickets for Saturday and Sunday.
According to Lee Anne Zeigler, executive director of the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, the association has tried to change locations each year to show a variety of living spaces. This year, the First Street Lofts, 310 E. 1st St., Wire Rope Loft, 302 E. Brady Wright Building, 115 W. 3rd St., the Mayo Hotel, 115 W. 5th St., and Bell Loft, 636 E. 3rd St., are the featured stops on the self-guided tour.
The event began with several goals in mind: to promote downtown living, to revitalize downtown, to preserve historic downtown and to show the different ways people live in the area. According to Zeigler, it has been successful so far.
"Those first [Downtown Living Tours] superseded our expectations, and we thought that this has got to be an annual event," she said. "And clearly this means that a lot of people are interested in downtown's revitalization and living downtown, which is part of making that whole thing happen.
"Historic preservation and downtown revitalization are absolutely essential, and we're seeing a lot of that now."
The First Street Lofts are housed in the Jacobs Hotel building, built in 1916. Nearing the final stages of construction, the building will have 12 single-floor and six multi-level loft units ranging from 850-3,000 square feet. Michael Sager, property owner and developer, plans to include a rooftop deck and a neighborhood grocery and deli/coffee shop on the first floor.
The Wire Rope Loft, constructed in 1935 and renovated during the past two years, features 2,400 square feet of open space currently used as office space and living quarters. The building uses geoexchange heat pumps and 21 geothermal wells under the parking lot to provide heat and air. The loft is one of the sites on the tour not for sale.
The Wright Building was formerly an early high-rise office building, erected in the petroleum-boom days of the 1910s and early 1920s. Demand for office space was high and many smaller companies were housed in the building.
The Mayo Hotel has been resurrected thanks to the Snyder family. The historic hotel was abandoned for two decades and is now scheduled to re-open by October 1. For more on the apartments for lease, turn to "Return to Glory" on page 17.
The Bell Loft is thought to be the first single-family, mixed-use building to have been built in downtown Tulsa. A portion of the space is set up for retail, with the remainder used for a residence. Several renovations were in order, including installation of a heated floor within the polished floor upstairs, low-E tinted windows and commercial appliances.
The Chicken or the Egg?
The Downtown Living Tour shows Tulsans that they have options when choosing to live in an urban area. "I just don't think people know what's available," said Susie Wallace, co-owner of Wallace Engineering and the Wire Rope Building.
In theory, downtown businesses could thrive if more people moved downtown, because they would be supported "after hours" and on weekends. More businesses, like grocery stores, cleaners, drug stores and restaurants, would be encouraged to migrate to the area to serve residents.
"Living downtown and having people here after hours and on the weekend will obviously mean more support for businesses that will come and stay," said Zeigler. "I mean the things that we all need all the time--close to us--will start springing up and being supported."
The problem that arises is which comes first, the residents or the businesses? People need businesses in order to live downtown, and businesses need customers in order to open their stores and maintain profit. You can't have one without the other.
"It's sort of the chicken and the egg thing. Businesses want the people living downtown already, and the people won't come if they don't have the support services. It's hand in hand this way," said Zeigler.
Tom Wallace, co-owner of the Wire Rope Loft, said that plans are in the works to increase downtown's population.
"There [are] residential development incentives down here, and we just need more people, more density," Wallace said.
And the argument heard from many is that downtown needs more affordable living options. According to the organizers, the sites on the Downtown Living Tour are "on the higher end." But if you can afford it, according to Zeigler, there are many reasons to make the move.
"You could actually walk to the grocery store and back home again as opposed to getting in your car and having to drive five miles to get your groceries and then get back in your car and drive them home again," said Zeigler. "People see that as being a real advantage.
"I think the Brady Arts District is a real draw. The nightlife is a draw, and I think the history and the character..."
On its Web site, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture states it is a "resource that recognizes, records, and encourages preservation of the built environment and advocates quality future development that enhances Tulsa's livability."
With preservation in mind, the sites on the Downtown Living Tour have at least one thing in common: they are all renovated, historic buildings. This means that not only does the tour preserve Tulsa's history, but promotes sustainable living.
"It's a new use of a historic building. And there is no greener architecture then that which is already built," said Ziegler. "It's a wonderful way to reutilize all that energy, all the materials, and all of the infrastructure that's already been expended on those buildings."
Ziegler thinks preservation is important for the future of Tulsa.
"What would we be if we just had new buildings and there was nothing represented here from the teens and '20s or the '30s or the '40s," said Zeigler. "We have things that no one else has. If we just turned into Generica there would be absolutely no reason for anyone to come to Tulsa or, for that sake, for Tulsans to want to stay in Tulsa."
Tickets for the patron party and the weekend tour are available at Dwelling Spaces, 119 S. Detroit, or by going online to the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture's Web site www.tulsaarchitecture.com.
Weekend tour tickets are $20 per person or $35 for two. The tour is open from 11am-5pm on Saturday and 1pm-5pm on Sunday.
On the day of the tour, tickets can be purchased at Café Topeca, 115 W. 5th, Suite 169. Topeca also serves as the starting point for attendees. Trolleys will be available to transport guests from site to site and proceeds go to the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture.
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