During his tenure as construction director for the BOK Center, Bob Eggleston kept an office in the Tulsa Vision Builders headquarters at 206 S. Cheyenne Ave. From that building, where the arena's sales and marketing suite was located, Eggleston greeted countless guests and led hundreds of tours of the massive arena going up several hundred feet to the west.
"We had every person in Tulsa who was interested in a suite (at the arena) or a club seat come through here," he said.
From the beginning, Eggleston pictured his office as prime real estate, part of one square block of property he believed would be snatched up quickly by a developer intent on capitalizing on the momentum the new arena would generate by opening a coffee house, a bagel shop, perhaps even a hotel. Eggleston wasn't alone in that belief, as the property's owner even kept Vision Builders on a month-to-month lease, so the site quickly could be turned over when one of those expected offers materialized.
"But nothing happened," he said. "I expected a rush, and it just didn't happen."
Upon the arena's completion, Eggleston got involved in other projects -- namely the Village on Main development in Jenks adjacent to the Oklahoma Aquarium -- but he never stopped thinking about the site where his former office was located. He remained amazed, and disappointed, that the site was not developed, especially as the BOK Center exceeded attendance and revenue projections, and other major projects popped up across downtown.
Finally, he could take no more.
"My partner Hank (Pellegrini) and I decided to purchase this building as a first step. At that stage, we actually wanted to be part of what was going to happen here," Eggleston said, indicating the two did not intend to develop the property on their own.
But after they purchased the building on Dec. 31, 2008, they looked around the remainder of the block -- which consisted entirely of parking lots -- and decided they were tired of waiting for someone else to come along and start the ball rolling.
"We're standing out there, and nobody's coming forward, so I said to Hank, 'We can do this. We can build this,'" Eggleston said. "So we said, 'Let's do it.' My skill set is as a project manager. That's where I've been since I left school. We break it down into bite-size pieces and put it in the right order. You know what the goal is ... so we went about doing that."
Operating under the banner One Developers LLC, Eggleston and Pellegrini -- son-in-law of Bill Lobeck, then-Mayor Kathy Taylor's husband -- put together a proposal for the Tulsa Development Authority, which owned most of the rest of the site. In May 2009, they offered to buy the property -- three-quarters of the city block bound by Second Street, Cheyenne Avenue, Third Street and Denver Avenue -- for $1.5 million, proposing to build a mixed-used development that would consist of a hotel, residential units, underground parking, a restaurant and commercial/retail space.
It took nearly a year to work out the details, but on March 11, the TDA accepted One Developers' offer, finally putting into motion the process by which downtown's first mixed-use development -- christened One Place -- will be built.
For Eggleston, that milestone was a big one, though it marks only the first stage in the project's eventual completion.
"We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to date to get to this point," he said. "But we're here, and we're very excited, very positive."
Eggleston said One Developers was due to sign a letter of intent with the TDA on March 22. An environmental study of the land will follow, and schematic drawings for the development will be created. One Developers is not expected to close on the property until sometime this fall.
"The process of the approval of the schematics and the environmental work will be done concurrently," he said. "When we're done, we actually close on the property. Then, the construction documents will have to be approved by the TDA."
While he acknowledged that TDA members have an obligation to make sure the development is done right, Eggleston said he's been a little frustrated by the time it's taken to get the project moving and by the complicated nature of the approval process.
"In Jenks, we don't have to do that," he said, comparing the One Place development to the Village on Main. "It's a lot more simplified. I love meeting with the city of Jenks. They open every meeting by saying, 'What can we do to help you?'"
But This Is the Big City
Eggleston said just putting the pieces of the deal together required an extensive amount of work. He and Pellegrini began by having a hotel feasibility study done, which they regarded as the key to the entire project. That study indicated that an affordable hotel would work for the site, and they began reaching out to potential hotel developers.
Eventually, they came to an agreement with American Liberty Hospitality -- led by Tulsa native Nick Massada, who is currently building a 262-room, $55 million Embassy Suites hotel in Houston -- to construct a multi-story, 120-room Hilton urban hotel on the northeast corner of the site. Rooms will go for somewhere around $110 a night, Eggleston said.
The rest of the development will consist of 40 residential units, an underground parking garage featuring approximately 160 spaces, a restaurant and a mix of retail businesses, all of which will front the surrounding streets.
The property's interior will be highlighted by a large, landscaped courtyard that Eggleston envisions serving as the heart of the development. A restaurant with outdoor seating will look over a pool, and the entire development will include an abundance of trees, even a rooftop garden, which in urban setting are all the rage these days.
The project has a price tag of $38 million, and Eggleston estimates its economic impact at $110 million.
He said the nature of the development is the product of even more research. He visited with a number of stakeholders in downtown Tulsa, getting their thoughts on what the area needed.
"We spent a couple of months visiting business leaders, county commissioner and city councilors, and taking public opinion researching what peopled wanted," he said.
The property has been appraised for $2.4 million, but the only other offer the TDA had received for it came last year from a developer who wanted to build a Hampton Inn & Suites at the site. That proposed deal was for $1.75 million but included a number of conditions that made it unattractive to the authority, leading that body to reject the offer.
Eggleston said the price his group offered for the site is a realistic reflection of its true worth, given the complexity of developing it.
"It's worth what people are prepared to pay for it," he said, pointing out there was not a line of potential buyers standing behind him with offers in hand. He argued it's to the city's advantage to have the property in the hands of someone with concrete plans for developing it, as opposed to a speculator who purchases it and waits for its value to climb.
"There are all these people who buy and hold property, and what use is that?" Eggleston asked.
He also pointed out his group isn't seeking any concessions from the authority or city.
"We're not asking for any handouts on the project at all," Eggleston said. "That's unusual, when you look around the country at the incentives people give developers to come in."
He acknowledged that many observers questioned the deal because of the involvement of Pellegrini and his association with the family of Taylor, the former mayor. But Eggleston said any notions people had about an insider deal were unfounded.
"(Pellegrini's participation) probably made it more difficult than anything," he said.
Eggleston makes a point of conveying the pride he feels in the way Tulsans have responded to the BOK Center. Now he wants to give arena visitors something to do before and after events.
"We're not building a big box, we're building destinations," he said. "In any big city, before a big event, people get there two or three hours before and have dinner, while the younger generation hangs out in bars afterward."
Eggleston said the lack of development around the BOK Center has prevented that dynamic from being generated in Tulsa -- something he hopes to change with One Place.
"There's a world of opportunity there; although, it's limited because when people get used to driving home after a BOK event, it's hard to change that behavior," he said.
The name One Place is intended to reflect the project's status as a unifying presence downtown, according to One Developers spokeswoman Brittany Sawyer. The development's mix of living, retail, dining and recreational space is intended to make it an inviting destination where activity can be found day and night, weekdays and weekends.
"This is about eliminating the barriers that divide us and having a true sense of community," she said.
Eggleston said his original intention was to have a name-the-project contest in a local newspaper to promote that sense of community ownership.
"One Place was just a place holder, but it's a catchy place holder," he said. "But I would love for people to name it."
Eggleston said he had refused to discuss the project publicly in any detail before now because he wasn't sure if the TDA was going to accept the offer. But he never grew discouraged.
"Someone asked me a few minutes before the vote, 'What if they say 'no?' I said, 'We'll come back again and keep coming until they say 'yes.' Of course, I probably can't say that for the whole of my group," he said, smiling, before turning serious again. "Really, how can you leave a parking lot in front of the most beautiful icon in the country?"
That's Eggleston's biggest motivation for getting involved in the project. During a tour of the property last week, he escorted a visitor across the street to the entrance of the BOK Center.
He explained how BOK Center architect Cesar Pelli had gone to great pains in his design to avoid supporting the distinctive icon wall -- which weighs nearly 1 million pounds -- with a column so that visitors would have an unimpeded view of downtown Tulsa when leaving the building.
"This is Tulsa," Eggleston said, quoting Pelli as the noted architect stood on the spot and pointed to the downtown skyline. Unfortunately, Eggleston said with a woeful smile, the sea of asphalt in the foreground across Denver Avenue is also Tulsa -- but not for long, if the One Place development comes to pass. And Eggleston has no doubts about that.
"I've never been involved in a project that was not successful," he said. "And I've worked on projects large and small. Often, it's the smaller ones that are the hardest to do."
Eggleston said the completion date for One Place is uncertain.
"We're going through this exercise of: 'do we do the hotel as an individual project or do we do the whole deal together'?" he said. "We probably will not see construction begin here for a year plus. Certainly, it will begin within two years."
As the man who oversaw construction of the BOK Center, Eggleston said he enjoys the irony of being the guy who will now develop the first major project adjacent to the arena. Both projects are intensely personal to him, he said.
"My job isn't finished until we develop this," he said.
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