The place could have easily been the set of a horror movie, back in the day. After all, the once great Mayo Hotel had been closed, abandoned and neglected for two decades. No power lit the 18-story building, but the light that did filter through boarded up and broken windows illuminated the graffiti streaming across marble walls. Although officially unoccupied, "guests" inhabited the edifice that once housed Elvis, who has since left the building.
"You ask anyone that was in high school in the '80s when it was boarded up, and they had all snuck in here," said Macy Snyder, vice president of the development company Brickhugger LLC. "When we got the building, there were transients living in here."
The Mayo Hotel -- the same hotel that had seen key oil deals come to fruition and major movie stars sleep off the night before -- had been torn to pieces. The staircase was gone. Marble had been chipped away, and chandeliers had been stripped to be sold at auctions. To long time Tulsans, the interior of the building was unrecognizable. To the Snyder family who purchased the building, it was an opportunity.
This, Brickhugger's first major project, the project that would create a name for the development company, was sparked by compulsion.
Being in the Construction Business Has Its Advantages
As Tori Snyder, president of Brickhugger and Macy's mother, grew to call Tulsa home after moving from Houston in 1995 for her husband's job transfer, the 18-story Mayo Hotel went up for sale for only $250,000.
"They were talking about tearing the building down, and the building was just beautiful," Tori said. "There had to be some use for it."
Tori and her husband John reached out to John's extended family living throughout the country to purchase the building in 2001, knowing that it was too stunning and, more importantly, too cheap to pass up. But Tori did not know that as she began to restore the structure, she would be building the base for a new business.
Out of the purchase of the Mayo came the development company's name, Brickhugger, as a symbol showing the company wanted to work toward preserving and saving this historic building. Although Tori knew she had purchased an exquisite building, she had no idea what kind of ride on which this one building would lead her nor what kind of future the family had bought with a building so important to Tulsa's past.
When the Mayo was purchased, Tori was concentrating on practicing law in Tulsa. However, even though the Mayo was her first project as a developer, building structures and the redevelopment process were not foreign ideas to her or her three daughters.
"Our entire lives, John has worked in construction," Tori said. "My kids -- their whole lives, they've heard about the construction industry. We've always been talking about it at our family table."
In fact, the construction business led the Snyder family to Tulsa after John received a promotion as president of Manhattan Construction, transferring him from Houston to Tulsa. Before packing up the family to make the move to Tulsa, the couple set the groundwork for Tori's love for buildings just after getting married.
After meeting and dating at Texas A&M, the newlyweds began building a home from scratch.
"We literally built the thing by ourselves," Tori said. "We bought windows out of the want-ads and raised the walls with some of our friends."
Maybe it was this love for a challenge that led Tori to the Mayo Hotel. But the building that sparked the creation of the development business would need much more than a group of the Snyders' friends to raise walls. They needed a team to piece the building back together.
With the Mayo now their own, Brickhugger worked for more than six months just boarding up all of the windows to keep rainwater out of the building.
Mother and daughter would team up during the weekends while Macy was attending the University of Oklahoma throughout the week. The duo would walk up and down the 18 floors of stairs until the elevators were fixed, which cost a hefty $1 million.
During this time, Tori and Macy began to brainstorm -- the future of the Mayo could be a parking garage, or it could be a storage building for documents. As Tori and Macy began cleaning up the Mayo, it became clear to them they had stumbled upon a Tulsa treasure. It was not until one woman approached Brickhugger that the true fate of the Mayo Hotel began to be put in place.
"In 2001, we had a girl come to us and say she wanted to do her wedding reception here," Macy said. "We told her we could promise her some light fixtures and a few bathroom stalls, but we weren't telling her we would have chandeliers and this and that.
"Basically, we painted it, and we brought the chandeliers down from the Crystal Ballroom into the lobby. Then we started doing events in here."
Brickhugger then began building its team. It partnered with Phillips Slaughter Rose construction management to renovate the first floor -- a job too small for John's Manhattan Construction. Soon after Tori and Macy got started in the event business in 2001, the stories of the Mayo's past began to flood past them. Reminiscences of weddings, proms, business deals -- memories that made the Mayo famous.
"Once we opened the lobby for events, we realized how important the Mayo was for Tulsa," Macy said. "We had people call us, we had people send us stuff, we had people all over the world thanking us for saving it from being torn down and telling us stories. It was a huge deal.
"We almost felt like it was our duty to bring it back because once it was in our hands, we saw how important it was to Tulsa."
And with this pressure and more events being scheduled on the first floor of the Mayo, Tori found herself enveloped in a full-time job and decided to take a leave of absence from practicing law. Although Macy was attending OU during the first few years Brickhugger began working on the Mayo, 2001 to 2005, she didn't mind coming back to Tulsa to help her mother with the growing business.
"Every summer and a lot of weekends, I would manage events," Macy said. "At the time, a lot of (other students) didn't think a lot about it because downtown wasn't what it is today. But people thought it was neat I was doing wedding planning. It was a learning experience you don't really get in college."
As Brickhugger invested more time into the building, even with a vision and the encouragement of Tulsans, Tori and Macy were still unsure of how to completely renovate the building. The answer finally came in the form of Vision 2025.
"We probably would have kept doing the building that way forever, just doing events on the first floor, if it hadn't been for Vision 2025," Macy said. "When they passed that, there was money out for downtown housing funds.
"After the BOK Center opened, we started seeing downtown change. The Mayo was just in the middle of all of it, so we were like, well, let's go after these downtown housing funds."
Through Vision 2025, the company was able to receive nearly $5 million to renovate the upper floors into lofts.
Brickhugger also researched state and federal tax credits they could receive for redeveloping historic buildings. Macy attributes the spiral of that work that began on the Mayo to these credits.
"We learned how to use those, and all the people in the past hadn't looked into that," she said. "Normally renovating an old building is more expensive than building new, but with the tax credits, that's what makes it all worth-while. But the biggest part (of the successful completion) was being able to be forward-thinking, just to be able to look at a building that a lot of people thought was a beautiful building but an eyesore and see it come alive."
As Tori and Macy began redeveloping the building into residences, they toured other cities, brainstorming as they went. After seeing all the amenities people receive at hotels, the Brickhugger duo began looking into putting residences on the top floor of a hotel.
"It all just came together," Macy said.
And so, after reopening the grand hotel and holding events on the first floor for seven years, the historic Mayo was once again closed in 2008 -- but only to catch its breath. After coming up with a solid idea of what the building could be, Brickhugger partnered with Presidian Destinations, a hotel management company.
With much work left to do in the building, the entire Snyder family began infusing their individual talents into the building in diverse ways.
Macy's younger sister Kellner Siegfried, though busy with a growing family of her own, would help in her spare time with the interior design of the building as a hobby. Macy's youngest sister Shelby did quality control during her summers at home while attending college in Austin, Texas. Meanwhile, John was able to step in and give advice on any construction-related issues. All of them have shares in the business, but Tori and Macy headed it up full time.
Bowing to History
As reconstruction went into full-swing, Tori and Macy soon understood restoring an older building by the National Parks Service guidelines took a little extra work. Brickhugger had to use many of the original materials used in the building and had to build a floor plan that fit into its existing structure.
"Any time you are working with something old, you find things you didn't know about," Tori said. "You find a structural issue you have to fix or find a beam in the way of what your plan was, so you have to redo your plan."
But Tori said, although it might lead to a more difficult restoration, the tax credits for historic buildings are helping empower the movement downtown.
"If you look at all the historic renovations in downtown Tulsa, think about all those buildings that had been sitting there empty," Tori said. "Now they are being redone ... I do believe those tax credits are a driving force in redoing those buildings and definitely force the developer to keep the building close to its original state."
Others see the recycling of these buildings in a positive light, too. Melvena Heisch from the Oklahoma Historical Society said the extra effort is well-worth the end result and has an impact on many more than just the developers.
"Rehabilitation of historic buildings benefits the entire community, and in many cases, a firm like the Snyder's Brickhugger may have the best chance to complete a successful project," she said. "Vacant and deteriorating buildings impact the entire commercial district or neighborhood, especially when they are key buildings in the area.
"But when these landmark buildings are put back in service as a result of rehabilitation, construction jobs are created during the project, more jobs are created as new businesses move into the community to locate in the building, property values in the district stabilize (and may increase), the rehabilitated building helps draw customers for other businesses in the area, local revenue collection increases, and a piece of local heritage is once more in productive use."
In the final days of 2009, after almost two years of work that consisted of anything from wiping graffiti off marble walls to installing chandeliers, the Mayo Hotel and Residences was finally open for business. After years of decay, almost every brick was put back in place and the iconic building was once again ready to make history.
Now, as Tori drives up to the Mayo with its more than 100 hotel rooms and 70 lofts, she is still sometimes taken aback that the Mayo is finally completed.
The $40 million completion of the Mayo Hotel was not only an accomplishment for Brickhugger. Mike Bunney, Tulsa's director of economic development, said the reopening of the Mayo Hotel was a victory for the city.
"The Mayo was a daunting task," he said. "It was a restoration project that required a lot of attention to detail to make it what it is today. The significance of having the Mayo back in operation is that it provides a historic and beautiful venue for downtown Tulsa events as well as additional luxury rooms, fine dining and residences. All of this helps to bring the focus back to downtown as a venue for important milestone events."
Being able to see the Mayo sign lit up on top of the building makes the initial gamble on the building well-worth it, Macy said.
"We had a vision," she said. "It's definitely risky. It's different to move into a city, buy a building and renovate it when it's already a booming city, but we were kind of ahead of the curve. We took a risk."
Hitting a Stride
Taking a risk has become a reoccurring theme for the company: They find a neglected building -- often public eyesores that almost always come with a history -- and renovate it to become something neighbors hardly even recognize. The Brickhugger team then takes these buildings burned and scarred, beaten and bruised, and envision them energized with people and a new existence.
Brickhugger's current project falls in line with this same method. But the Pittsburgh Plate Glass building differs from other Snyder projects -- it has risen from the ashes before.
In 1921, Tulsa became Hell on Earth with fires scorching through much of the city during the Tulsa Race Riots. One such building that caught in the blaze was the PPG building. But the ashes were swept away as PPG's building was reconstructed later that year. After decades of use, wear and tear, Tori and Macy began converting the building into lofts, nursing the building back to health and breathing new life into a rebounding downtown.
But repurposing the PPG building into residences, now known as the Detroit Lofts, was not Brickhugger's original vision. It was merely to serve as a warehouse for storing fixtures extracted from the Mayo.
While Tori and Macy were concentrating much of their money and time toward the Mayo Hotel, the PPG building became an oversized storage unit for Brickhugger. To renovate the Mayo, the duo realized they had to first remove much of the interior. With that, more than 1,000 metal doors from the hotel were moved a few blocks away and stored in the PPG building.
Even as the construction site that became beautiful ONEOK Field across the street took shape, Tori and Macy still did not plan on changing the purpose of warehouse. However, much like their other projects, the promise of receiving about $750,000 in housing loans earlier this year quickly changed their minds.
"Those are loans we pay back, but it's no interest and it makes it easier to get a loan from the bank when you have that money coming in," Macy said. "Without those, we wouldn't have done the Mayo ... and we wouldn't have done the Detroit Lofts."
Construction on the building is being wrapped up using many from the Mayo team such as Phillips Slaughter Rose construction along with new partner, and John's company, Manhattan Construction. With the Detroit Lofts being a much smaller project than the Mayo, the two other Snyder daughters have not had to help with the final push toward completion. Shelby plans to remain in Austin after having been graduated this past May.
Now, about $3.5 million later and with less than a month before the lofts open, Brickhugger is adding the finishing touches. In keeping with the style of other Synder-style renovations, much of the original, industrial era details of the building will stay in place. Exposed brick walls, some spray painted with "no smoking" stencil lettering, are being kept in every loft. Red exposed beams lie across the tops of the high ceilings highlighted by the natural light flowing through the skylights.
For the next few weeks, only construction workers and painters will be able to look out the massive windows at the skyline of downtown or at the ballpark across the street. But in August, these lofts will be piled full of moving boxes and furniture as people begin to call the former warehouse home.
Many of these residents will be newcomers to Tulsa. After Teach for America approached Tori, Brickhugger decided to work with the organization to fill the lofts. The organization works to attract recent graduates to teach in urban and rural public schools for two years. By June, 60 percent of the lofts were set to be occupied by teachers in this program, Tori said.
But Macy said the renovation will not just serve new residents living in the lofts. Next to the parking garage on the first floor for the residents, a restaurant with outdoor seating will be set on the Detroit Avenue side of the building. This restaurant will serve "ballpark grill" type foods, Tori said. A grocery store will be on the opposite side from the restaurant and will have a mezzanine for people to see the two levels of the store.
"A lot of the people that we had met with about the restaurant were interested in a grocery store as well," Macy said. "Downtown needs that."
The market will not only have groceries but will also have pre-made sandwiches for customers. For an entrance into the store, a door was made into the side of the building by taking out one brick at a time.
As the renovation enters into the final phases, Tori said she feels Tulsa continues to take steps toward a complete downtown renovation.
"When you revitalize downtown, really the bottom line is you have to have people living downtown to make it work," she said. "They are the ones supporting everything else going on downtown."
Even as the final lofts fill up, Tori and Macy do not plan to have much free time after the project is complete. Another forgotten building has caught the company's attention, a building that once had the attention of an entire city.
Hammering Away Downtown
At one time, 100 Civic Center Plaza was epicenter for the city of Tulsa; the place where leadership worked. Since the '70s, it hummed with a flurry of civic activity, pedestrians, vehicular traffic and urban conviviality as people came to work, to pay fines and to take on City Hall.
Then it stopped.
The building sat unused and virtually empty for two years after all the pomp and circumstance of this former City Hall moved to the One Technology Center, 175 E. 2nd St. The 11-story building was appraised at $6 million, but as it continued to sit vacant, it seemed that most saw it worthless, stuck as it was amidst a timewarped, agoraphobia-inducing concrete desert.
Then, this past March, the development business Brickhugger LLC offered $1 million cash to renovate the building into a hotel and restaurant. They said they saw something in it that many were not able to see anymore -- a future.
Tori said they were able to appreciate its past, noting the building was originally written up in a German architecture magazine as an innovative structure for modern architecture.
"The way people look at that building, they think it's ugly," Tori said. "But it's important for that architectural period. I bet a lot of people have never really walked up and really looked at it."
Soon after Brickhugger's offer, the dominoes began to fall as another bidder, Omega Alpha Development, offered the city $1.1 million for the building.
"It kind of surprised us because we made our offer and left three months for someone(else) to make an offer," Macy said. "You never think no one else is going to make an offer, but it had been for sale for so long."
The city then took a step back and put out a request for proposals on the building. In late June, Brickhugger answered that with a bid that would change the building into at least 200 hotel rooms. A restaurant and conference center would replace the city council chamber with a workout center possibly below the restaurant.
"If we did less hotel rooms, we could do more residential, but right now there isn't a plan to do that because we're trying to give the city what it needs which is more hotels," Macy said. "(The city) just put too much money into doing the Convention Center. In order for downtown to be successful, we need the Convention Center to be successful."
She said 60,000 square feet in retail would sit on the edges of the building, with the name of the development and companies creating the retail to be determined later. Brickhugger plans to include outdoor activities such as concerts at night and open markets during the day around the area. Macy said she hopes the redevelopment of the former City Hall will spark an entire renovation of the surrounding area.
"Our plan is to unlock 5th St.," she said. "Right now, you stop at Denver -- no one drives through there. That whole area feels like a desert, and it shouldn't be like that because that is part of our downtown."
The Tulsa Development Authority is scheduled to submit to the City Council its chosen developer by August 12.
Bunney said he expects the pieces to fall in place after the former city hall building is renovated.
"Every out of town developer I have shown the BOK Center has commented that Denver will ultimately develop into a corridor of new development around the BOK Center and the Convention Center," Bunney said. "I believe the One Developers LLC development at Third and Denver and the redevelopment of old City Hall will be the first dominoes to fall in what will ultimately be a complete change in use for the property along Denver."
Macy said she would like to see that area recharged. With an entrance to the Convention Center straight off of 5th St., Macy said revamping the area would be a bonus for the venue.
"Right now the Convention Center is so locked in there," she said. "We know just because of (operating) the Mayo. We have people stay here who go to the Convention Center, and nobody can find it. A lot of times we have our car drop them off at the Convention Center."
Tori and Macy said they are confident that a few changes to the abandoned former City Hall building can bring energy into this area of downtown that once pumped life as the heart of the city.
"Historic buildings are so important to downtown and the last thing you want to do is start tearing things down and clearing out your downtown for parking lots," Macy said. "These buildings bring character to downtown. Anything can look better with paint and lights on and activity around it."
As Brickhugger lights up more of these buildings downtown, even Macy's personal life has tied itself to this boomeranging part of Tulsa.
John Amatucci, a photographer who did all the photo artwork throughout the Mayo, will soon be marrying Macy in downtown's newest addition -- ONEOK Field -- this October.
"That was my fiance's idea," Macy said. "He and I both love downtown and we wanted to do it somewhere different."
Of course, the Mayo Hotel will be the site of the reception.
With more projects and renovations in downtown, Macy said she cannot help but love and appreciate how downtown Tulsa has influenced her life and those who thought the city's historic heart was gone forever.
"I think the Mayo and the other projects in downtown have given people hope, people that thought downtown Tulsa was dead," she said. "A lot of people believe (in) it now. Some people just see the activity firsthand now and believe this is possible. You just have to remember how much everything has changed in the past five years ... It's actually happening now."
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