The developers who hope to acquire the former City Hall campus on the west end of downtown and convert it into a hotel and restaurant are planning on adding a retail component to their project, as well.
Brickhugger LLC -- the local partnership that submitted an offer of $1 million a little more than a month ago to buy the old City Hall building, the accompanying Francis Campbell City Council Chamber and a 400-space parking facility -- intends to construct roughly 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of retail space on the site, according to Joel Slaughter, the architect who is working on preliminary designs for the project.
The deal between the developers and the city hasn't been completed yet, but Brickhugger vice president Macy Snyder said there have been no snags, and she hopes the process can be completed within a month. The City Council was expected to act on a request by Mike Bunney, the city's chief economic development officer, on April 13 to empower either the Tulsa Development Authority or the Tulsa Industrial Authority to carry out negotiations with Brickhugger and come up with a contract.
Meanwhile, Slaughter continues work on his designs. He and Snyder are convinced that a retail presence is a vital element in creating the kind of foot traffic they believe the development needs.
"We need to bring people in with some new construction and some retail. We've done the Mayo Hotel, a development on Cherry Street and a development at 91st and Sheridan, so we understand how important retail is," Slaughter said of his firm, Phillips Slaughter Rose. "And I think there are areas within that zone where we can reintroduce retail. Right now, the closest shopping to downtown is Utica Square. Somehow, someway, we've got to reintroduce shopping."
Snyder sees the addition of retail to the site as part of a larger effort to link the hotel to the nearby Tulsa Convention Center. Brickhugger's plans include extending Fifth Street and creating a circle drive on the property.
"The whole idea of the circle drive is to unlock the convention center," she said. "People could get dropped off at the circle drive at the end of Fifth Street and walk to the convention center from there. That would unlock the convention center to the rest of downtown."
Snyder and Slaughter are eager to take advantage of the opportunities the recently renovated and enlarged convention center presents, but they believe the building is still a mystery to most Tulsans.
"Can you tell me where the front door is for the civic center?" Slaughter asked. "We need to work with the city on that by creating extensions and making it more inviting. We want to make the hotel the front door to the civic center, if we can."
Part of that plan includes an extensive renovation of the surrounding plaza, which is now home to a good deal of crumbling concrete. Snyder said a big part of that plan will include new plants and trees.
"It's been so standoffish for so long, we've got to invent reasons to bring people down there," Slaughter said.
Snyder doesn't seem fazed by that challenge, pointing out that her family faced a pretty tall order earlier in the decade when it acquired and began renovating the historic Mayo Hotel, which was in a state of severe disrepair.
A few years later, the Mayo is now one of downtown's gems, home to a boutique hotel and luxury lofts.
"It's just like with the Mayo," she said. "Somebody has to do it and take the risk."
The hotel planned for the site would feature 200 rooms. Slaughter said he has developed floor plans that feature 20 rooms per floor, with rooms on 10 floors. Snyder said some space could be used for suites or banquet spaces; although she emphasized the hotel will be designed for business travelers attending events at the convention center, which has its own banquet facilities.
She indicated this hotel would be much different from the full-service Mayo in that its proximity to the convention center would be its main appeal, as opposed to the amenities it offers.
"When people come to the Mayo, they come for amenities like the room service and a spa," she said. "But amenities can also be the things around a hotel. Right now, downtown doesn't have that many amenities to offer, especially after 5(pm)."
Snyder and Slaughter hope to change that situation around the new development, at least on a limited basis. Slaughter said the retail component of the project would not compare to a 100,000-square-foot mall, but it will be the first significant retail project downtown in many years. He said the retailers who move into the new space will most likely be local, expressing the belief that downtown is not ready to attract national chains at this point.
As for the restaurant, Snyder said Brickhugger would lease that space to someone who would operate it independently. But Slaughter said he intends to design the whole project so that it retains its campus atmosphere.
He hopes the project eventually serves as an anchor for the west side of downtown, helping draw people from other districts.
"Philosophically, it's not that hard to do," he said. "You just connect the dots from Greenwood and the Brady and Cherry Street. If you could get another dot down here with the Mayo and what you might call 'Civic Plaza,' you start connecting the dots, and people come back."
Snyder said the hotel, restaurant and plaza project is budgeted for a cost of $40 million. That figure does not include the retail component. From start to finish, she said, the work would most likely take two years, with the retail project being finished six months after that.
Brickhugger has lined up all its investors, she said, and is ready to go.
"We're just waiting for the deed, and we'll get started," she said.
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