Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II

February 9th, 2009

In my first post on the new Chamber building, I argued that the Chamber’s current proposal is wholly inadequate given the objectives of the City, the Chamber, and the downtown community as a whole. The site on which the building will be constructed is incredibly important to the future of not just the immediate surroundings, but to multiple adjoining districts and the whole of downtown. The importance of this site warrants taking whatever time is necessary to rethink the design in hopes of producing an alternative vision that will contribute to the vitality of the community now and into the future.

So today we are starting the process over.  We are wiping the slate clean!  Lets break free of what is clearly a flawed proposal and begin a process that looks for fresh solutions and ideas, producing a new plan that meets the Chamber’s objectives while enhancing downtown Oklahoma City for decades to come. I have found that the best plans are produced through collaboration, so I hope you will join me in this re-visioning effort!

To get things started, we are going to quickly overview the site, its location within downtown and how it relates to the districts that surround it. Many of you already know all of this, but I think it is worth posting for the people that aren’t overly familiar with the site. Plus, it gives us a shared foundation on which we can base the rest of our analysis and discussion.


THE SITE

The Site is framed-in by Broadway on the west, E.K. Gaylord on the southwest, and the Santa Fe railroad on the east.  The north edge is defined by 4th Street and the south by a small segment of 3rd Street.

In addition to the site itself, three other parcels were left vacant through the efforts of Urban Renewal and the construction of E.K. Gaylord.  Of the three residual parcels, only the westernmost piece serves any identifiable purpose, offering a small brick plaza that is isolated and rarely used.

The Site is approximately 3 acres in size, not including the adjacent residual parcels

Surrounding the site is a mix of buildings, including: The Oklahoman building and Downtown YMCA to the north, the Pioneer Building/AT&T Tower and TAP Architecture building to the west, and a drive-through bank and Kerr parking garage to the south.


LOCATION

This map shows the importance of the Site’s locations within the overall context of downtown.  The Site is positioned at the nexus of multiple districts.  It sits directly in between the CBD and the new housing that has been and continues to be constructed east of the Santa Fe tracks in the Deep Deuce – Maywood – Flatiron area.  Plus, new housing has been added to the west of the Site along 3rd Street with construction of Legacy at Arts Quarter apartments and more is on the way with the redevelopment of the Carnegie Centre, adding to a density of residences within close proximity that is likely unparalleled by any undeveloped site in downtown.

The Site is located along Broadway, the historic “mainstreet” heading north out of downtown that continues to play an important role in the development of the city.  A mixture of new offices, restaurants, and retail have sprung up along Automobile Alley, the district surrounding Broadway north of 4th street.  While the section of Broadway south of 3rd Street has just recently been energized through the opening of the wonderfully restored Skirvin Hotel and new retail street presence of B.C. Clark.  Ongoing redevelopment of the new Sandridge headquarters west of Broadway between 2nd and 3rd will likely further contribute to the vitality of this corridor.

Additionally, the Site sits between major centers of tourist activity: the convention center, Bricktown, and adjacent hotels; and the Oklahoma City National Memorial – our most frequented tourist destination.

This site has the potential to not only meet the needs of the Chamber, but to fulfill its natural role as a nexus to the surrounding districts and neighborhoods.  Providing connections where none currently exist and incorporating uses that serve the broader needs of those that live, work, and visit downtown.  Designing the Site correctly should not only lead to a better building, or even a better block, but an altogether better downtown!


FEEDBACK AND DISCUSSION

This interface provides a great opportunity for us to practice an open process with plenty of room for discussion and brainstorming.  I will try to facilitate by providing a series of short post (like the one above), each of which will provide some information and/or ideas to drive the discussion.  Like I said, I find that the best solutions are found through collaboration.  So while I won’t be shy about telling you what I think, I sincerely hope you will chime in if you have something to add – even if you disagree with me.

By the way, I have set it up so that you can comment anonymously.  While it is not my preference, please feel free to do so at your own discretion.

So what do you think?  This overview was certainly not comprehensive.  Is there anything important that you think needs to be added?


WHAT’S NEXT:

I am going to try and post something related to the re-visioning of the new Chamber building every few days. Next, we will explore the different aspects of the site and its surroundings that should be addressed as part of our new design.

Continue reading: Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives

For more on the planning of the Chamber site:

1. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal
2. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II
3. Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives
4. Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space

10 responses

  1. Starting Fresh: The Next Chapter on the Chamber Building pings back:

    [...] how he starts his latest entry: Lets break free of what is clearly a flawed proposal and begin a process that looks for fresh [...]

  2. Paul comments:

    Do you have information regarding the other proposals for the building? I had the opportunity to see Benham’s on a tour of the office recently, and I thought it presented much more of an opportunity, but, then again, it was only a model.

  3. Dennis comments:

    Let’s cut to the chase… The site is prominent and dysfunctional. The proposed plan ignores the design guidelines and turns its shiny derriere toward integration with the neighborhood. We probably can’t change the catawampus site, so what can be done about the building? Hasn’t it already been “approved” for construction?

  4. Blair comments:

    Paul -

    I don’t currently have the alternative proposals. If anyone sends them my way then I would be happy to post them. There are definitely better solutions to be found given the site as it stands AND there is much, much more that can be done if we are willing to tweak the site to meet the needs of downtown today!

    Seriously, if you come across any of the plans, please send them my way.

    Dennis -

    Yes, the building has already been approved for construction. If the Chamber decides to build it as planned; they have the legal right to do so. Maybe this process comes 6 months too late, but I think the current delay in construction due to the economy gives us an opening to reconsider. And yes, you’re correct, the current proposal is seriously flawed, BUT you may assume too much about the limited flexibility of the site…patience young Jedi.

  5. Dennis comments:

    Blair… I didn’t say the site had limited flexibility (that would only be limited by the designer), I said it was catawampus. There’s an infinity of cool buildings that could be built there that satisfy the guidelines and are sensitive to the neighborhood.

    Making the site orthogonal would help the scenario, but the Gaylord connection to Broadway is a busy and important link between the South and North of the CBD; I don’t see how it could be successfully rerouted…

  6. Blair comments:

    Dennis –

    Yeh, I didn’t state that quite right. I think both the site design and the street configuration are flexible. I don’t think you can say the streets have to stay the same until we have looked into it, tried to get all of the facts, and explored other alternatives.

    It does look to be difficult though…you make some great points.

  7. Shane comments:

    Looking at the position of the site on DOKC’s neighborhood map really reveals the importance of the site at the junction between the biggest business district, the biggest retail district, and the biggest residential district in downtown.

    I know the Chamber would not have even considered this design if they thought that it would be damaging to the image or the urban fabric of downtown, but I just don’t think they consulted any urban planners during the designing.

  8. Nick Roberts comments:

    Blair,

    The current delays in construction isn’t being caused by the economy–not in Oklahoma at least–but rather by the falling construction prices. At the Chamber they got a memo by a member company advising them to hold off for 3 or 4 more months in order to take advantage of the falling construction prices.

    The only way I think that the Chamber will reconsider is if financial constrains were a big reason of why they chose this site over many others. I don’t think that was the case, though. They spent almost 2 years proliferating over the details of this building.

    If you want to try to avert this site plan, my best advice is to do the following: Don’t relent, but put extra effort on being as respectful and careful as possible (not only because they are so politically powerful in OKC, but because without them OKC would still be in a slump and without a single MAPS project). Request from every architecture firm that you know of that the Chamber consulted, as well as anyone else in OKC. I know that they got 15-20 proposals and chose this one. Talk about all of them that you can find..put us in the shoes of those that made the design decision. Turn it into a TAP or Benham versus FSB issue, and not a Blair Humphreys versus Greater OKC Chamber issue. Contact Anthony McDermid because he lost a post on the downtown design committee over this, and he was the only one that spoke out against this project in a timely manner.

    Best of luck!

  9. Nick Roberts comments:

    The current delays in construction AREN’T* (I hate it when I post typos)

  10. Blair comments:

    Nick –

    Thank you for all of the advice.

    This is definitely not Blair Humphreys vs. the Chamber. Or Blair Humphreys versus anyone for that matter. In fact, we have not even fully unraveled the story at this point and I think as all of the information comes out we will find that the Chamber – at least initially – tried to do something terrific with the site, that would have been great for everyone – but was thwarted from doing so by other interests within the city.

    Anyway, I still believe that most of us – including the Chamber – want to see something great happen with the site that will benefit downtown for years to come. I don’t think it is ever too late to reconsider a plan if there is a justifiable reason for doing so.

    My Dad always told me to, “measure twice and cut once.” I would just consider this process the second measurement.

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