Lackmeyer: Kanbar mothballing could complicate future renovations

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Steve Lackmeyer of the Oklahoman wrote a response to my item from last week about the possibility that Kanbar Properties may be selling its entire downtown Tulsa portfolio and reportedly will be mothballing some buildings pending their sale.

Lackmeyer sees a pattern at work:

Tulsa, it seems, gets so close, so often, to celebrating something huge only to see their hopes dashed. While Oklahoma City goes in slower, incremental steps on its urban revival that take years to complete, Tulsa goes after one big quick roll of the dice after another.

A giant Indian statue called "The American" (something to rival the St. Louis Arch) was announced to great fanfare - and went no where. Oklahoma City, meanwhile, went with a heroic size recreation of the Land Run, and while it's taking a few years to get done, one small piece at a time, it's quietly becoming a significant tourist attraction (though it will never be the St. Louis Arch).

Tulsa then sought to create urban entertainment districts to rival Bricktown. At first glance, with incredible assets like Cain's Ballroom and the Brady Theater, this should have been a slam dunk. But again, Tulsa went for something bigger than just one district, and the result until recently has been two detached district, each with great qualities, but still falling short of the sort of place people will travel to from across the region. I have high hopes that may soon change with the latest announced developments - if they come to pass.

I have to take some exception to this. No one from Tulsa asked Maurice Kanbar to buy up a third of downtown's square footage. He just did. (Or at least his then-partner Henry Kaufman just did.) Nor was the Big Indian part of some city-approved plan. It was entirely a private initiative.

In fact, the best of what you see in Tulsa has come about by incremental steps. The Mayo Hotel's revival began with using the basement as covered parking to generate revenue, followed by the restoration of the lobby as an event space. The Blue Dome District and Bob Wills District (also known as the Brady District) have been coming back one building at a time. The same is true of shopping and entertainment districts 18th and Boston, Cherry Street, and Brookside.

I think it would be more accurate to say that city officials sought to support what private entrepreneurs were doing, by means of TIF districts that generate revenue for lighting and sidewalk improvements. There was a more formal city effort to assemble land for a large mixed-use development called the East Village or the East End (southeast of the Blue Dome District), but that effort has so far seen two unsuccessful development attempts.

But I want to focus on one passing comment that Steve made:

What's potentially worrisome is that the Kanbar is emptying some of the older buildings of their few remaining tenants. Such moves can lead to regret later if the buildings go dark, and lose their "grandfather" status under code requirements for renovations.

This would make it much harder for a new owner to make use of these buildings, which could lead to demolition.

I am still waiting to hear back from either Kanbar Properties or former Kanbar leasing agent Clay Clark. Perhaps if this story gathers some momentum, they may decide to speak out. If you're on Facebook or Twitter, please post a link to this blog entry, the earlier blog entry, or Steve Lackmeyer's blog entry.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on June 20, 2011 10:49 PM.

RightOnline 2011: Freedom of Information and crony capitalism was the previous entry in this blog.

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