Abandoned by city officials and relegated to eyesore status for the past few years, the old City Hall location on the west end of downtown will reopen as a 200-room hotel in October 2011, if a preliminary schedule put together by the site's developers holds up.
Last week, members of the Tulsa Development Authority voted to accept a $1.2 million proposal by Brickhugger LLC to develop the property into a hotel, restaurant and retail space. Brickhugger initially had offered the city $1 million for the property in early March. But when a second development group offered $1.1 million for the site a few weeks later, city officials decided to put out a request for proposals for the property, and Brickhugger countered with the slightly larger amount in that proposal.
Brickhugger vice president Macy Snyder said several things must happen before her company takes possession of the building -- a contract must be negotiated with the TDA, and the City Council must approve the deal -- but she doesn't anticipate any snags in that process.
"I think it will be a quick process," she said. "The city needs the money, and nobody wants to drag this out. They want to get somebody in there generating sales tax, and the Convention Center has been having a hard time booking events because there aren't enough (hotel) rooms (downtown)."
One element that might complicate things, she noted, is the parking facility. Brickhugger would take possession of it, but she said the Tulsa Parking Authority currently holds a lease on the property, and a resolution of that situation will have to be worked out.
In its proposal, Brickhugger indicates it plans on beginning construction in October; although Snyder cautioned that depends on how quickly the closing proceeds. Construction on the hotel, restaurant and surrounding plaza portion of the development is then projected to take 12 months, she said.
Brickhugger, a group made up entirely of local investors, (see UTW Cover Story, "Meet the Snyders," at urbantulsa.com) will partner with the New York-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. to open a 200-room Aloft Hotel at the site. Aloft operates 58 properties around the world, with its hotels promoting social interaction between guests, and featuring an urban, contemporary design, accessible technology and an "anything goes" attitude, according to its website.
Snyder said that description was simply a marketing tool.
"They're kind of trying to do something different," she said. "They're not just another hotel. That's how they brand themselves."
The hotel will be the second such property in the city. According to the group's website, it is opening an Aloft Hotel at 6716 S. 104th East Ave. on Aug. 19. There are already several Aloft hotels in the region, including ones in Arkansas, Kansas and Texas.
The Brickhugger development will be more than just a hotel. Its proposal calls for the conversion of the old Francis Campbell City Council Chamber into a restaurant, while the group also will purchase an accompanying 400-space parking facility and plaza. According to Joel Slaughter, the architect who put together the preliminary designs for the project, Brickhugger plans to construct roughly 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of retail space on the site, though that portion of the project would not be completed until eight months after the hotel and restaurant are done, according to Snyder.
That's a more compact time period than she was forecasting in April.
Snyder said then that construction of the hotel, restaurant and plaza project likely would take two years, with the retail project being finished six months after that.
"We're super excited," she said after learning her company's proposal had been selected by the TDA. "It's kind of been a long wait."
Snyder said she never became discouraged about Brickhugger's chances of landing the property, despite the fact that when it made its initial offer to the city, there were no other suitors. The old City Hall has been vacant since 2008, when city government moved to the east side of downtown and took up residence at One Technology Center, 175 E. 2nd St.
The property had been on the market for a considerable period by the time Brickhugger set its sights on it, and city officials initially seemed eager to accept the offer. Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. even indicated at a March 10 press conference that he hoped a deal between the city and Brickhugger could be closed within a matter of weeks, though some city councilors expressed reservations about the proposal, given the fact that the property had been appraised at $6 million in 2007.
A development group called Omega Alpha Development unexpectedly entered the scene a few weeks later, offering the city $1.1 million for the property, planning to build a 130-room hotel with retail on the site. That's when city officials empowered the TDA to seek formal proposals for the site.
Snyder said she believed the fact that her group's proposal included more hotel rooms was a decisive factor for the TDA, along with the Snyder family's record of developing other old downtown properties, including the Mayo Hotel and Residences, which opened last fall, and the soon-to-open Detroit Lofts.
Her company's decision to hire the Manhattan Construction Company as the general contractor for the project also played a likely role in the success of its proposal she said.
"They did the BOK Center and the ballpark," Snyder said, noting that the company has a history of finishing big projects on time and on budget.
Snyder said the budget for the entire project will be scaled back from the $40 million she was projecting in April.
"We think it will be about $30 million, and the hotel by itself will be $15 million," she said.
Brickhugger's plans for the area include extending 5th Street and creating a circle drive on the property, as well as completing a refurbishment of the now-crumbling plaza to encourage foot traffic. Slaughter -- whose design firm Phillips Slaughter Rose also served as the architect for the renovation of the Mayo -- said he's excited about getting back to work on the project. But he acknowledged the property presents some hurdles.
"I think the challenge is, there are so many entities -- the police station, the library, the courthouse, the convention center -- near there, and we're introducing a hotel," he said. "We're trying to tie all that together in a cohesive manner without disturbing anybody."
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