POSTED ON MAY 19, 2010:
Standing His Ground
Micha Alexander continues his plan to develop East Village, despite outside claims of interest
Small but Handy. East Village district that Alexander has renovated welcomes its latest addition The Bend, a two- condominium development. The one-bedroom, two-story units are sized at 1,000 square feet.
As Micha Alexander sees it, the development of his neighborhood around E. Third Street and Lansing Avenue in the East Village is quickly becoming his life's work.
"Yeah, it's turning out to be like that," he said. "In 2003, when I first came down here, I was 23. I thought I'd just buy up everything and build it. Now, I'll be 30 in June, and I'm just getting started."
The district Alexander has built or renovated one building at a time that welcomes its latest addition this week, when he holds an open house from 4pm-8pm Friday, May 21 for The Bend, a two-condominium development he's built at 814 E. Third St.
The one-bedroom, two-story units may be small -- they're both sized at approximately 1,000 square feet -- but they boast a sleek, ultra-modern design and numerous high-end features that are designed to appeal to buyers looking for something different.
"I've always had a fondness for that building," Alexander said last week while sitting in his office at Maverick Machine, his machine and design shop just around the corner on Lansing from the new development. "I wanted to do something that would have the most visual impact on the street."
The Bend certainly accomplishes that. The stark white building just west of a site best known to many Tulsans as the one-time home of the Tiny Lounge features a white metal fence, a landscaped courtyard and a striking glass front. Inside, the units are even more eye catching.
Bright, wooden floors, expansive countertops, recessed lighting, stainless-steel appliances, flip-up cabinet doors and steel closet doors that slide on rails are among the details that separate these condominiums from the crowd. Alexander believes he has built something that exists nowhere else in Tulsa in the middle of an area that has no peer.
Many of those touches came from developments Alexander said he had seen elsewhere.
"I see it in bigger metropolitan areas," he said. "There are extremely nice finishes and contemporary spaces young people can afford to live in. People think stuff like that is unattainable. It is attainable, you just have to do it in a smaller space."
Alexander is the first to admit the asking price for each of the two units, $219,000, works out to a price per square foot that is likely to scare off many potential buyers. But he said he's not worried about that.
"I'm trying to do something different, and I'm doing it on a smaller scale, and I'm confident I'll find a couple of people who want to live this way," he said. "When you look at what you get, it's well worth the money. In my opinion, people want to be down here. Well, here's your chance, and it's not for $400,000 or $500,000."
The lack of space isn't necessarily a negative, he said.
"If you have a good design, you don't need a lot of space," Alexander said, adding that he thinks many people are looking to downsize and simplify their living space. "It'll be interesting to see how people react to it."
He said his real estate agent who is listing the properties, Blake Loveless of Walter & Associates Inc., chuckled when they began talking about an asking price for the condos.
"He said, 'I've never seen anything like this. There aren't any comps. There really isn't anything like it,' " Alexander said.
The Bend fits in well with the other projects he has completed along Third Street between Lansing and Kenosha. While much of the rest of the East Village remains a hodge-podge of declining industrial spaces, parking lots and weedy vacant properties, Alexander's seven years of work -- loft apartments, retail spaces, a barber shop, an art gallery, even a boutique winery -- has yielded a sophisticated, eclectic look while at the same time retaining a cozy, home-grown, organic feel.
He has no master plan for the area, envisioning his projects more or less one at a time and moving on from one to the other as soon as he has time and his finances permit it. His modest successes piled up until one day he looked up and realized he was building a neighborhood.
He insisted there's no secret formula to what he's doing.
"I build something, and it's full," he said. "I don't think I have any sort of magical power. I'm happy it's going the way it is. There's a piece of me in that building at 814. If I was doing 500 of them at once, I couldn't say that. Keeping things on a small scale allows me to put my heart into it."
Alexander shakes his head and laughs every so often when he hears about a new grand plan for redeveloping the East Village lock, stock and barrel. Several major projects have been proposed for the area in the shadow of downtown since the early 1990s -- a Walmart Supercenter, a soccer stadium, a ballpark, a new central library -- but nothing has ever reached fruition.
The latest is a series of proposals that members of the Tulsa Development Authority heard about last week calling for the creation of an urban park, lofts, an office building, a hotel, a market and a streetcar, among other developments.
Alexander noted with a wry smile that one of the maps he saw of one of the proposals included land he owns and holds particularly dear.
"That guy's not putting anything on my land," he said. "That's where my machine shop is. That's how I feed my family. They're not putting anything on there."
Alexander acknowledged he listed some of his property in the area for sale after he became aware there was interest in it, but he said he has received no serious inquiries. He takes note of all the development talk about the East Village, but he believes much of it is ego driven and won't amount to much in the end.
"I'm not going to be bigfooted by anybody," he said. "It makes me a little apprehensive, but I've got to focus on what I'm doing and make sure I'm performing to the best of my ability and not worry about what anybody else is doing. This is my area -- period."
That proprietary feeling he has for the district is reflected in his plans for its future. His first priority, he said, is to find a new tenant for the Tiny Lounge space.
"I just put in a giant, wood-burning pizza oven," he said. "So hopefully, it'll be someone who wants to make pizza."
He also plans to turn his attention soon to another space on the other side of the Tiny Lounge, where he plans to build two other residences that are likely to make the two condos he just finished pale by comparison.
Preliminary plans call for the construction of two 2,800-square-foot, four-story, steel-and-glass residences, each with a living space featuring accordion glass that opens to the elements. One of the properties will have a glass-enclosed observation room.
"I want to button that project up soon," he said, noting that he already has secured permits for the development.
In the meantime, Alexander is hoping anyone who is curious about what he has built will come to the open house and take a look around. He plans on having live music, food and beverages, while one of his tenants in a building across the street -- Girouard Vines at 817 E. Third St. -- is planning a corresponding public event at the same time to unveil the latest entry in its series of wines celebrating Tulsa's art deco heritage, the Atlas Life Chardonnay.
Other developers may have their eyes on the East Village, but Alexander -- who funds each of his projects out of pocket -- continues to increase his presence in the area.
"I still own a bunch of other property around here, and I still have every intention of developing all of it," he said.
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