Greater Oklahoma City is in the geographic center of North America equidistant from the east and west coasts and major trade partners of Canada and Mexico. The ten county region is at the crossroads of the U.S., sitting at the heart of three major national highways on the NAFTA corridor.
There's a reason Greater Oklahoma City is such a great place for business: Location. The ten county region is positioned within a day's drive of the rapidly-growing south-central region (OK, TX, AR, LA) projected to grow more than 44% during the next 25 years.
Organizers of last week's first "State of Bricktown" seemed to go out of their way to reinforce questions I threw at them regarding the impression the district makes on visitors. Mayor Mick Cornett, Lt. Gov. Jari Askins and first lady Kim Henry all spoke on how important the area is to the city and state's image regionally and nationally.
If you could sum up last week's questions, they come down to this: Have the property owners shown the same pride and investment demonstrated by city taxpayers who have spent upwards of $80 million to make Bricktown a top notch destination?
Let's welcome Jim Cowan, director of the Bricktown Association, to the hot seat. He correctly points out that feedback is good from convention planners, Big 12 basketball fans, regional and national media. But he also admits Bricktown is a work in progress and "to grow long-term, we must get better."
"Of the 11 buildings on the north part of the canal, seven of them are in great condition and two others are currently under renovation," Cowan said. "The last two could use some cosmetic improvements, and I will ask both owners to consider what could be done."
Leasing is top priorityHere's what I saw: wads of used chewing gum and boarded up windows on the old Hunzicker Lighting building; boarded up windows on the Rock Island Plow building (owned by Phil and Avis Scaramucci, who to be fair, spent a fortune to keep the building standing); sandbags at the canal level of the Oklahoma Hardware Building and broken windows at 19 E California.
The two buildings under renovation mentioned by Cowan are immediately west of Zio's.
Cowan promises leasing of empty space along the canal is a top priority with a consultant's land use study coming out in a couple months and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber helping to create a retail brochure for the district.
"As a district, we would like to be more proactive to attract tenants to our community," Cowan said. "It is up to each individual property owner to determine what they charge to lease space. As the mayor said last week at the press conference, market conditions will dictate the future."
Is market the key?Really? Do market conditions truly even exist in a place like Bricktown, where the influx of tax dollars caused property values to more than triple and resulted in several owners flipping and cashing out millionaires with little or nothing spent on their old buildings?
We also discussed whether Bricktown can learn anything from Dallas' West End - the warehouse district that was a huge success through the mid-1990s and was Bricktown's inspiration. The West End is desolate these days, which Cowan attributes to "safety and security" and tenant mix.
"We need to have the right mix of local and national businesses," Cowan said. "Support from local residents is vital for Bricktown's future. But probably the biggest difference between Bricktown and the West End is that we have incredible support from the city of Oklahoma City."
Cowan cites the recent reports by various consultants hired by the city that it simply can't ignore Bricktown.
"There is still so much untapped potential here, both privately and publicly," Cowan said. "Keep working on Bricktown and that will be good for all. The state of Bricktown is great, but it's not perfect. We owe it to everyone to work even harder in the district to make it even better."