In the Brady Arts District, cranes scratch the skyline while fresh new buildings rise slowly from cracked and yawning old parking lots.
Things are looking up in this once-forgotten district in T-Town's downtown. But in the meantime co nstruction is causing a bit of confusion and parking trouble in Tulsa's arts district.
Crystal Keller, who works closely with businesses as part of the city of Tulsa's economic development department, said the Brady Arts District is definitely going through "growing pains." But, she said she's seen business owners and employees work together to come up with creative solutions to temporary parking problems.
The Brady District benefits from a small area plan designed to develop the area as the cultural and arts corner of downtown. Current construction in the Brady District includes a new Fairfield Inn, Hardesty Arts Center, Metro Lofts (also called Tribune Lofts II), Brady Park and renovation of the Tulsa Paper Co. building.
In an effort to highlight new Brady District attractions, developers are beautifying the area with streetscaping that includes lighting, fresh sidewalks, landscaping and consistent signage.
Not bad for an area that was once bustling with railroad and oil businesses, as well as home to cotton and flour mills. More than a hundred years ago, the Brady District was lined with tents offering meals to passers-by. The daily arrival of the train was the biggest event of the day, as the Frisco Railroad offered the fastest route between the burgeoning Tulsa community and news and goods from the outside world.
Since those days, long-haul trucks have taken on the brunt of wholesale goods shipping, while old railroad communities (like downtown Tulsa and the Brady District in particular) were ditched for modern suburbs. But forward-thinking Tulsans are bringing the Brady back to life again with the small area plan and new construction. Before the plan was put into place, arts, theater and music groups have flocked to this historic locale for the inspiring architecture and vibe.
In the Downtown Area Master Plan draft from Sept. 2009, the Brady District was praised as an asset to Tulsa for its character, location and potential. "...Threads of Tulsa's Native American heritage and oil boom days are still visible in the city's historic fabric. As the city grows and develops in its second century, downtown will continue to capitalize on the potential in the historic buildings, existing infrastructure, and ample room to grow downtown..."
Informal, creative, historic and urban -- these are just a few of the words developers use to describe the re-emerging Brady Arts District. Fresh construction and renovation in the area also brings another word to mind: repurpose. Recycling, reusing, repurposing and conserving are trendy buzzwords, but they're also a mindset.
What Tulsans created a hundred years ago is still valuable. Our history is still valuable. Our celebrated buildings, like Cain's Ballroom or Brady Theater, are still valuable. Saving them is central to saving our city's identity.
"It's always great to see cranes and new buildings popping up" in the Brady Arts District, professed Muriel Hakim, the community relations and marketing director for McNellie's Group. She spoke on behalf of Brady Tavern.
To combat parking troubles, Hakim said patrons of Brady Tavern can pull right up to the door and hand their keys over to a valet for complimentary Friday and Saturday night valet service. "We think it's easier for people to come up to the front door and we'll take care of their car while they're enjoying" dinner, she said.
Hakim said business at the Tavern has been fantastic, considering the construction going on all around them. Overall, she said, "We want more people to realize all the great things going on in the Brady Arts District, and it's great to see positive changes down there."
Across Brady St., Caz's Chowhouse is facing the same parking challenges. The beloved Tulsa bar and restaurant has seen a small drop in customers, but not much. According to Sydney Smith, Caz's front-of-house manager, "People are getting used to the idea of walking around to get to any part of the Brady area" during the construction.
"There's plenty of parking if people are willing to walk a block -- and it's very safe," said Jeff Castleberry, owner of Caz's. "Every month that passes by in the future, more parking will be available as projects finish up. There's parking available if you don't mind walking a block and that's what you have to get used to because that's the future [of the Brady District]."
Smith also noted the slow but sure opening of parking spaces as construction is completed. She said more than a 100 spaces will be available in the coming months once initial Fairfield Inn and Brady Park construction is complete; she predicted another 35 spots in the Mexicali Border Café lot soon, too.
If you're looking for a good parking spot on the weekend, also check out Archer St. Smith said the street has been reduced to two lanes and already repainted to allow parallel and diagonal parking spaces for visitors. "No one really sees" those spaces are open, Smith said, though you might want to keep this UTW secret to yourself.
"I love that it's all going to be done at the same time," Smith said. "But they probably should've thought about parking a little more before they dove in with all these projects."
Over at the Hunt Club, 224 N. Main St., bartender John Paul Rowland said traffic and parking troubles haven't affected the club's business much at all. "There are pretty much always places to park" at least on weekdays, Rowland said.
He said the parking issues affect him more because he lives in the Brady Arts District, but patrons of the Hunt Club are finding ways to come out for drinks regardless of the construction.
Over at Hey Mambo Italiano, 114 N. Boston Ave., parking is a little trickier. Boston Ave. will be dug up in a few weeks for the addition of new water and sewer lines, so frontage parking will be troublesome for awhile.
Next door to Hey Mambo is the new Classic Cigar & Lounge, 118 N. Boston Ave. Parking for customers and employees "is a little bit of an issue," confirmed lounge owner Chris Weiss. And in a few weeks, Weiss said the lounge's closest parking lot will be unavailable to his customers as Fairfield Inn construction eats up more space.
But Weiss is positive that the trouble is worth it in the long-run. "I believe that it's an inconvenience right now," Weiss said, "but the long-term is excellent."
There is parking in the Brady District, it just might not be as close to your favorite restaurants, clubs or bars as you'd like it. For now. "The bottom line is people usually have to walk a little bit to get to where they're going," Weiss said.
"It's not the best situation right now, but long-term it's going to be wonderful for us," he said.
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