DTUBAR: 1981 plan for Brady District

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In preparation for an upcoming column, I spent some time last night photographing the Downtown Tulsa Unlimited vertical file at Central Library. Vertical files are newspaper clippings organized by topic, and they're often the best way to get a sense of the evolution of some aspect of the city over several decades.

I figured out sometime ago that it was cheaper and quicker and more portable to shoot a digital picture than to put a bunch of articles on the photocopy machine, and then scan the resulting copies into the computer. I can then review the documents as needed, even if the library is closed. (Accountability Burns strolled by and -- without stopping -- informed me that I would get better image quality if I photocopied the articles and then scanned them in.)

Skimming the articles as I photographed them was both amusing and depressing, as I read the various policy initiatives that DTU has promoted over the years. My tentative title is "DTU: ****ing up downtown for 53 years." DTU began with a focus on keeping retail downtown. Nearly all of DTU's key ideas came to fruition -- the Inner Dispersal Loop, the Civic Center (meaning the eight-block complex, not just the Assembly Center), the Main Mall, the Williams Center, and plenty more parking -- and they all contributed in some way to the demise of downtown retail.

Just as appalling are the plans they never got around to implementing. A Tulsa World business story from April 7, 1981, reports on a 10-year plan to redevelop the "Crosstown Sector" of the city's urban renewal plan, the area within the IDL north of the tracks. You probably know it as Brady Village or the Brady Arts District. Urban Design Group proposed replacing the 18 blocks of the city's original townsite with an "urban campus." (Emphasis added.)

[UDG's John] Lauder said the original Tulsa Townsite, the area from Denver to Detroit avenues and from the Frisco tracks to Cameron Street, could handle 250,000 to 300,000 square feet of new structures and could be the site of what UDG terms an "urban campus" with potential of several thousand students....

"The Municipal Theater, our Old Lady of Brady, could serve a purpose in the urban campus concept," Lauder said.

The original townsite has 12 1/2 acres of property which could be put to use for loft office buildings, retail stores and warehousing. This area would be screened from streets with low walls, trees and sidewalks.

"There's not really much character left in the Old Townsite," said Laur [sic], "so we see no reason to restore it, as some cities have done to their original site. We could just call it the Townsite, but we're open to names."

Urban Design started its survey and work on redevelopment of the Crosstown Sector last summer with a $62,500 block grant through the City Development Department handled by DTU.

The 1981 plan also recommended high-rises and garden apartments where the jail is now. (It was residential before demolition for the jail.) They also planned to move the Salvation Army from the southwest corner of 2nd and Cheyenne to "land adjacent to the residential areas."

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Jeff Shaw Author Profile Page said:

DTUBAR! Ha! (I have to admit it took a minute, though)

I haven't seen Mr. Burns for a while. I'm downtown every day. I hope he's doing well.

Good post. Its a good argument for letting a broader range of Tulsans help with city planning. It's also a good argument for not going off on the fashion whims of creative class designers. All of those failed DTU concepts, if I'm not mistaken, were the "all the rage" in their day.

"DTU: ****ing up downtown for 53 years."
Wow. So how do you really feel about this?
We're all haunted by our ghosts, aren't we? What's amazing is how long it takes for leadership to quit clutching onto outdated failed ideas.
Of course, being from OKC, I need to add (with full sarcasm) that this sort of thing ONLY happens in downtown Tulsa.

Steve, that reaction was the cumulative effect of looking a half-century worth of self-congratulatory clippings about DTU's successes. The ones from the first 20 years or so, often accompanied by the grinning, pencil-thin mustachioed visage of Bud Blust -- head of DTU for its first two decades -- were the most maddening. Some of DTU's initiatives in recent years have been positive, but on the other hand they shut down the CORE recommendations for downtown and seem intent on putting glaring acorn lights everywhere.

And sarcasm noted, but OKC seems further along the road to recovery, as evidenced by design review for Bricktown and the Automobile Alley Main Street program. Plus you've got the Humphreys brothers....

Jeff, Einstein V looked well -- seemed more energetic than I was feeling at the time. And you're right: DTU followed the trends of the day, albeit about a decade late. It seems that the plans were put in place in the mid-50s, and they were largely carried out, but not for another 10 to 20 years, by which time other cities had had second thoughts. By the time we got around to implementing much of the plan, Jane Jacobs' book was 10 years old. I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that our main mall wasn't completed until at least one city removed theirs.

I wonder, too, whether there were any voices questioning the ideas. There was at least one major bond issue defeat -- circa 1968. Merchants protested the closing of 5th St. for the Civic Center. There must have been those who decried demolition of our oldest commercial buildings and the clearance of Greenwood. I'd like to know more about those people and why their voices weren't heard.

I share your frustration in discovering past mistakes and unrealized visions. When I encounter such information here in OKC, I try to look at whether the people involved really knew any better. And what led them to make such mistakes?

Of course that's the key to future success - learning and not repeating past mistakes. People who I first thought were pure evil I later learn had good intentions, and even cared about what I care about - they just didn't know any better.

I wouldn't give up hope on your downtown. It's got incredible architecture that can still be brought back to life. I love your downtown - especially Boston Avenue. And the renovation of the Atlas Life Building into a hotel could really spark some great adaptive re-use of other such structures.

And check in with my blog this week and you'll discover the same questionable decision making that goes on in Tulsa can also be found in OKC. And yes, the Humphreys brothers ... now there's a pair worth watching.

On a related note, and proof that this sort of thinking was nationwide, I was interested and not surprised that the Columbus City Center mall, once a vibrant ritzy example of how a mall could be brought in to revitalize a downtown, is now closing down.

I suspect that ultimately we'll discover the small quirky retailers, like Tulsa's Blue Jackelope grocery and the sort of retail popping up along OKC's Automobile Alley will ultimately be the key to innercity retail returning for good. You've got me intrigued with your discovery here, and I look forward to seeing more on what you find.

As for Jane Jacobs, I suspect her voice was still considered fairly radical and not worth consideration here in the Plains states in the time frame you're looking at.
For that matter, let's get real - her ideas are still pretty foreign to some key decision makers.

When it comes to writing about downtown development and planning issues, I've always been a big fan of your work. I hope someday I can meet up with you and get your perspective on downtown Tulsa in person.

Howard Giles said:

I remember the 1981 DTU Plan. It actually had vision and described the current Brady Arts District. If you were as smart as you want us to believe Bates, maybe next time you will get the actual plan, study it and give us an actual review of IT instead of reviewing an bunch of inaccruate quotes from a so-called newspaper. You are quite the researcher aren't you! It's pathetic when writers like you use writers like the World's for their only reference. And who appointed you and Shaw the urban planning experts anyway. Your comments and mind are so out of context I am surprised you can still create any meaningful sense.....

Mr. Giles: Thank you for your comments. I appointed myself to comment on urban planning, and my readers -- about 1800 on a typical weekday -- seem to think I have something valuable to say on the subject. As I noted in the blog entry, I came across this article while researching a column about Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, and I thought it was worth sharing with my readers. It's not meant to be a finished piece of research, just a snippet of information I thought deserving of wider exposure. I let my readers know the source of the information and where it could be found so that an interested reader could do further research on his own.

Your comment was posted from an Albuquerque, N. M., IP address, which makes me curious about your interest in this topic. Did you live in Tulsa? Were you involved with DTU or the group that developed this plan? Do you have a copy of the plan you'd be willing to share? And what, specifically, in the World's story was inaccurate?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on May 7, 2009 12:19 PM.

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