A downtown preservationist says she hopes The Tulsa World turns a new page in how it handles its non-newspaper property.
About nine years ago, The World tore down two buildings to expand parking for visitors as well as add a heating and cooling plant.
Now, Amanda DeCort, a city preservation planner, is keeping her eye on a nine-story vacant structure known as the Excalibur building.
"It would be a great rehabalitation candidate," DeCort said.
Shane Hood, a trustee with the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, called it "one of the oldest buildings in downtown."
Built in the 1910s to house clothing store Palace Clothiers, recently its only tenant was a ground-floor Arby's restaurant. In December, then-World owners the Lorton family announced earthquake damage was causing them to close the structure.
But, along with The World, the building has new owners. The Lortons agreed in February to sell the paper after receiving an offer from Warren Buffett's BH Media Group.
A property deed filed March 15 at the Tulsa County Clerk's office describes a $7 million transaction involving parcels of land that include The World's main building downtown and the Excalibur building, which are essentially on the same block.
World publisher John Bair wrote in an email that no decision will come soon about the future of the Excalibur building, which county records show was purchased by World ownership in 1997 for approximately $440,000.
"We have been owned by BH Media group for less than a week and, to date, most of our efforts have been focused on closing the sale and transitioning our staff to our new employer," Bair wrote in a March 21 email. "We plan to thoroughly evaluate a variety of options for use of this building and space and are in no hurry to make a decision relating to this property. This process is expected to take months and we will have no further comment until that time."
Terry Kroeger, president of BH Media Group, referred questions about the property to Bair. The deed lists the new owner as Delaware-based World Media Enterprises Inc., which is the Berkshire Hathaway company announced in 2012 as managing a group of newspapers acquired by the conglomerate.
DeCort said she has not spoken with anyone at The World since the paper's sale was announced, but said she would like to do so and point out that the Excalibur building is eligible for historic tax credits. Such credits can reimburse developers roughly 20 percent when they rehab old buildings.
"I hope that the new ownership, whatever their needs are, if they can't be accommodated in that building, then I hope they make the decision to either sell it or work with a partner to rehabilitate it," DeCort said.
What DeCort is concerned about, of course, is a repeat of 2004.
And it's not just her. City leaders have recently become active in an effort to further regulate surface parking, an effort described by DeCort as a means to encourage further redevelopment of older downtown buildings.
A temporary moratorium remains in place on new downtown surface parking lots, with the city considering a proposal that would require developers to follow a special exception review process before new surface parking lots are allowed.
In 2004, down came the nine-story Skelly building and a four-story building on W. 3rd Street.
At the time, then-president of World Publishing Co. Robert E. Lorton III described the change this way: "This reflects the Tulsa World's longstanding commitment to the downtown area. We bought these buildings to ensure we had a footprint large enough to expand to meet our needs," he told a World reporter.
But DeCort described the decision in different terms: "It removed a potentially economically viable historic building in favor of a dozen parking spaces and a little gate."
She said the move by World ownership "still leaves a bad taste in a lot of people's mouths."
With the closure of the Excalibur building, the World cited comments from a Virginia-based engineer that reportedly described "structurally unsound" columns in the building's basement. The World described the damage as related to a November 2011 earthquake.
However, Hood said the building is built of reinforced concrete, a material that includes steel and is known to be "one of the best structural typologies to withstand earthquake damage."
He called the December announcement "peculiar." He said there remains doubt among some Tulsa experts about the extent of damage to the Excalibur building.
"Another thing that we're interested in -- and we're hoping that the new owners are as well -- is having a real thorough inspection of the building," he said.
In terms of style, Hood described it as typical of the times.
"I can't really say that's an art deco building. Usually, when people are talking about downtown Tulsa, that's what they want to hear," Hood said, adding, "in this case, the history doesn't necessarily come from the style of architecture."
Still, he said that the building is noteworthy because of its place in local history, with Palace Clothiers operating for decades downtown. And, when it comes to older buildings, "Tulsa's torn down so many buildings over the past 40 to 50 years," he added.
DeCort said she received calls inquiring about the status of the Excalibur building before the announcement of the Tulsa World sale.
"I have had several developers contact me and say they were interested in it," she said, adding that "the developers I've spoken with are not deterred" by the report of earthquake damage.
She called the structure "definitely significant" to the "fabric" of downtown.
"We can certainly do better than another surface parking lot, and we definitely do not build them back as fast as we tear them down," DeCort said.
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