POSTED ON AUGUST 25, 2010:
What's a Developer to Do?
Opportunity and entrepreneurs abound, people are interested. So, are city officials dragging their feet?
Tulsa Chamber of Commerce president and CEO Mike Neal wouldn’t disclose full details, but he said many meetings and discussions have been held to further develop the area around the BOK Center.
FILE PHOTO/JEREMY CHARLES
During the final weeks of August two years ago, Bob Eggleston watched as a blur of activity filled the area that would soon become Tulsa's new BOK Center.
"The last few weeks of construction, we had up to 1,000 workers working 24 hours around the clock to get this opened," said Eggleston, who was the construction director for the arena. "They were not chasing a paycheck. They were chasing getting this thing done. The workers were literally running to get this opened in time."
The boss' interpretation of his workers' community pride shifted to the hubris of a group of Oklahomans who gathered for the grand opening of the arena Aug. 30, 2008.
Now, practically two years later, a flood of cars and people make their way downtown for concerts, games and events at the arena. But the scene directly surrounding the building has remained the same.
"The natural thing is that there would be development here, not a sea of asphalt," he said.
While growth has happened in downtown including the opening of ONEOK Field, the Mayo Hotel and other establishments -- with many city leaders pinning that growth on the success of the arena -- the area surrounding the BOK Center itself continues to remain filled with parking lots and vacant buildings.
In August, bull dozers and hard hats filled a lot across the street from the venue as workers began to add more parking. This comes as a discouraging sight for those who were close to the construction process of the arena, such as Eggleston. But the partner of One Development said he remains hopeful, especially with his development company's plan slowly making its way to reality.
"We decided to purchase this building," Eggleston said of his office building at 206. S. Cheyenne Ave. "Our initial idea was to develop this corner of the block. ... But there was still no movement on the rest of the block. So standing out there on one cold morning, we said let's do it, let's do the whole block."
Eggleston envisions that whole block being changed into One Place, a mixed-use space with 120 hotel rooms, more than 50 apartment condos, underground parking and 50,000 square feet in retail space, which could include anything from restaurants and dry cleaners to a nail salon.
The nearly $40 million project would be a good addition for the groups heading in and out of the BOK Center, said Brittany Sawyer, One Developers' spokeswoman.
"At sold out concerts, people just pile out the doors, exit and go straight to their cars," she said. "Within an hour of an event being over, the streets are quiet. That shouldn't be. If we can capture some of that foot traffic, hopefully that can continue through the rest of downtown."
A New Player
Braden Janowski said he also hopes to capitalize on the groups going to and from the BOK Center. After selling Greenline Financial Technologies, his software development firm, Janowski looked at various properties near the arena in 2008. A year later, when a plummeting stock market was steering others away from expansion, 32-year-old Janowski began buying property along 2nd St. and S. Cheyenne Ave.
"I just want to see it developed," he said. "That area needs it."
After purchasing the 33,000 square feet of space along with an additional parking lot, Janowski has completed the demolition inside the buildings to prepare for what he said the area is lacking ---- a moderate to high-end restaurant and a night club "bigger and better than anything in this area," he said.
"That area could sustain it," Janowski said. "The market is here. I just don't think anyone is willing to be the first to test the waters."
The area would have approximately 8,000 square feet dedicated to the restaurant and approximately 16,000 square feet for the night club, which would include part of the existing structures and built out into what is currently a parking lot. Janowski is also considering making a 6,000-square-foot section of his purchased property into his company's office space.
But as the CEO of Trade Helm, doing business in Chicago and Argentina as well as Tulsa, Janowski is unsure if he has the time necessary for such a project.
"I have the plans to make it happen," he said. "I just need to figure out what needs my attention."
He said he has recently considered leasing out the space to move forward with the project.
Moving forward has been a bit of a challenge for Eggleston. After negotiating with the Tulsa Development Authority for almost a year, he is now waiting on the results of a second environmental study of the site. He said he hopes to close on the property after receiving those results.
Although One Development enjoys a working relationship with the city of Tulsa, some developers have possibly been steered away from expanding in the city with its often difficult and confusing processes, Sawyer said.
"For a developer ... it's really hard to know where to start in the process," she said. "There's not a very streamlined, central location to go. One of the key components for any successful downtown revitalization is to have a strong partnership between the public and private sectors. ... That needs to be fostered more."
And the delay in development could cost the company millions, Eggleston said.
"In construction prices, there will be at least a 10 percent increase in the next year," he said. "And 10 percent of $40 million is $4 million, so there's a need for speed."
A shaky economy since the opening of the BOK Center has not helped encourage developers to look in the area.
"It's a lot tougher than it was two or three years ago to get a commercial loan on anything," Eggleston said.
But downtown Tulsa might be on its way toward overcoming the economic downturn, said Mike Neal, Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce president and CEO.
"The national recession has taken its toll on communities across the country, and while development may have slowed in our region, Tulsa has seen a number of new project announcements, entrepreneurs finding success and existing company expansions," Neal said.
And Neal said growth throughout the rest of the city has been connected to the success of the venue.
"The economic impact of the BOK Center was evident before the doors were even opened," he said. "It has served as a catalyst for other major development projects, including ONEOK Field, the Tulsa Convention Center remodel, major hotel renovations, new hotels and restaurants, and, most recently, housing."
And others seem to be following the movement near the BOK Center. Although Neal would not reveal specific details, the lull in development near the BOK Center appears to be on its way out.
"We've had a number of private meetings to discuss potential projects," he said. "However, we are not at liberty to disclose details at this time. We hope to see many projects come to fruition in the coming weeks and months."
Eggleston said he expects the area to become a success; although that success will not come immediately.
"If you take Bricktown as the benchmark of what happens when you inject hundreds of millions of dollars into a downtown that was basically beginning to decline, Bricktown itself took eight or nine years since the Ford Center was put there," Eggleston said. "We're following a similar pattern to that.
"Just look at our neighbors up the turnpike and see what happened there. It's not something that happens overnight."
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