Making their own cool at 3rd & Kenosha

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There was a nice story in the business section of Saturday's Whirled about Micha Alexander and what he and others have been doing to renovate the area around 3rd Street and Kenosha Avenue on the eastern edge of downtown Tulsa.

Though he just turned 26, he has purchased four buildings and renovated a fifth in his quest to transform a stretch of Third Street between Kenosha and Lansing avenues -- just outside the East End borders -- into a laid-back, artistic mixed-use district.

Alexander said that seeing his dream become reality meant taking matters into his own hands, from purchasing the buildings to doing much of his own design and construction work.

"People have been wanting redevelopment, but it seems everyone backs out," he said. ...

All seven of his finished loft apartments are occupied, and his retail space includes tenants such as Fringe, a knitting cafe; Elements, a hair salon; The Ritz Barklton, a dog day-care center; and Alexander's own businesses -- martini lounge 818 and Maverick Machine.

What I love about this story is Alexander's initiative. Instead of waiting for someone older or wealthier to make this happen, he saw an opportunity and took it, finding ways around obstacles. When the owner of 815 E. 3rd wasn't interested in selling, Alexander convinced the owner to lease it to him.

As the story points out, Alexander isn't the only one who has been making changes in the area. In fact, the rediscovery of this little corner of downtown is not a new story.

I had noticed the interesting cluster of buildings at this corner a long time ago. They stand out because of the bend in the street where Tulsa's original townsite (where the grid runs parallel to the Frisco tracks) meets the due east-west line of 3rd Street in Hodge's Addition. But it wasn't until I saw this letter in the August 28, 1997, Whirled, that I knew that people were working to turn these buildings into a neighborhood:

Your comparison of downtown Tulsa to downtown Denver ("Mile High City Fills Tall Order," Aug. 24) would be laughable if its potential consequences were not so serious. The story led readers to believe that all Tulsa needs are a few well-placed sports facilities to instigate the metamorphosis of downtown.

Downtown Denver has a number of population-sustaining entities, not the least of which is the state capital. Denver residents support professional athletics at a level that verges on the fanatical. It is no surprise that Coors Field is a hot attraction.

Denver has maintained a healthy presence of low-rise brick buildings in which restaurants, shops and loft dwellers can flourish. Such areas are virtually extinct in downtown Tulsa where the landscape is punctuated by parking lots.

The Tulsa Project threatens to diminish further the quantity of viable low-rise structures. The proposed track and field stadium would displace a stable neighborhood of loft apartments and small businesses (including my own).

It is important to give the voters of Tulsa an opportunity to make an informed decision about what they will gain and lose if the Tulsa Project is approved.

Allison Geary
Tulsa

I subsequently learned that Allison's husband, Patrick Geary, had his set design business, Stage One Scenic, on the first floor of their building on Kenosha Ave., and they lived on the second floor, and that other folks had been renovating nearby buildings for lofts and studio space. The Tulsa Project was the 1997 attempt to pass a sales tax to build an arena, a track/soccer stadium, a natatorium, and a parking garage, all as part of an amateur athletic complex. If the Tulsa Project had been approved, this budding arts district would have been replaced with parking for the stadium. When I called into a radio talk show to ask Jim Norton, president of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited Unlamented, about this, and his response was one of amused indifference to the loss of more downtown buildings and the destruction of the hard work of these urban pioneers. Here was this proposal that was intended to revitalize downtown, but it would penalize those who were actually trying to bring downtown back with their own money and sweat equity.

More recently the area has been under a different shadow, as the Tulsa Development Authority included the neighborhood in the 115-acre "East Village" redevelopment area. Building owners couldn't know for certain whether the TDA would use the threat of eminent domain to claim their land in order to assemble the amount of property the TDA's contracted developer, Desco, might want for their project. They could only hope that the TDA would respect their efforts and exclude their neighborhood from redevelopment. (I wrote about this situation in an Urban Tulsa Weekly column last October.)

During the Vision 2025 debate I got to know another area owner and resident, Dave Berray, who was renovating the buildings on the southeast corner of 3rd and Kenosha. He organized a neighborhood association and worked with neighbors to get the area rezoned from Industrial Medium to CBD -- a mixed-use zone designed for downtown which allows residential as well as office, retail, and industrial uses. Dave pushed for naming the neighborhood Hodge's Bend, after the kink in 3rd Street and Hodge's Addition -- a more distinctive local name than "East Village." In addition to the concern about eminent domain, Dave told me about other inconveniences for area residents: Did you know you can't get residential trash service inside the IDL?

I'm encouraged to see the efforts of these hearty urban pioneers get some recognition, and I'm pleased to see that the proposed East End redevelopment will leave this area alone.

If you get a chance, drive down 3rd Street and see for yourself the progress that has been made.

MORE: Here's another story about a young downtown entrepreneur, Elliot Nelson, proprietor of McNellie's, who has reopened The Colony pub on Harvard, plans to open a Mexican restaurant across from McNellie's, and to open a McNellie's in Oklahoma City, on the north edge of downtown -- someone else with big dreams who is making them happen.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on October 23, 2006 8:37 PM.

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