|By Steve Lackmeyer, The Oklahoman,
Oklahoma CityMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
June 07, 2011--When the national economic crisis hit in 2008, development projects topping $50 million in Bricktown came to an abrupt halt with plans scrapped for hotels, condominiums and retail.
The freeze may be about to thaw, however, with developers confirming they are moving ahead with construction this winter on an 11-story Homewood Suites and Hilton Garden Inn tower. Another developer is eyeing construction of parking and retail along the Bricktown Canal, while the owner of the Mercantile Building is looking at turning its upper floors into apartments.
Sheridan Lodging Associates, the same partnership that built the Bricktown Hampton Inn, last month completed a $2.2 million acquisition of properties just east of the hotel for the new dual hotel development. A representative of the group confirmed Monday construction could begin as early as December.
Gary Berlin, meanwhile, is teaming with veteran homebuilder Ron Walters to look at whether they can convert the fourth and fifth floors of the Mercantile Building at Oklahoma Avenue and Main Street into apartments.
"I had it theorized in my head a couple of years ago," Berlin said. "But I don't know housing."
A.J. Kirkpatrick, an assistant city planner, introduced Berlin, owner of the building, to Walters.
"He's got one-of-a-kind views here," Walters said. "By us getting together, it allows Gary to focus on the development while I focus on how to get it done."
Planning in phases
The pair will submit their plans Wednesday to the Bricktown Urban Design Committee as an early step toward determining whether the project is feasible. They want to create 10 apartments on each floor, with balconies proposed to be added for several of the units.
The floors currently are vacant, and a big challenge Berlin has faced is how to add a required new interior stairway while keeping the development within its budget. Other questions they hope to resolve are whether they can get permission to add windows on the building's east and south facades -- mimicking changes made two years ago on the nearby Candy Factory Building.
Their tentative plans call for the apartments to range from 700 to 1,400 square feet, with rent between $1,100 and $1,700 a month. If the project proceeds and is successful, Berlin said he may pursue adding a penthouse to the rooftop.
A similar phased-in approach is being taken by Chris Johnson, owner of USA Screen Printing. Johnson bought undeveloped land along the Bricktown Canal just south of the JDM Building. The land is widely considered a prime development spot.
The previous owner, Gary Cotton, pitched a $36 million mixed-use development that included a condominium tower and retail building connected by a pedestrian bridge over the canal. That project fell through when the economy crashed.
Johnson, who previously owned and operated a surface parking lot along the canal at Oklahoma Avenue, is asking the Bricktown Urban Design Committee to approve a plan that would allow him to build surface parking on both sides of the canal at street level with retail on the canal level. The proposal also calls for construction of a new three-story building immediately south of the JDM Building that would be home to a restaurant and a store that would sell University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University merchandise.
While the Oklahoma City Planning Department is recommending approval of the Berlin project, it is advising the Bricktown Urban Design Committee to delay approval of the Johnson proposal based on concerns with the street-level parking and lack of design details on the parking structures.
Johnson did not return calls to The Oklahoman. Sam Gresham, architect on the project, said Johnson is wanting to see whether the Bricktown Urban Design Committee will approve his initial plans before proceeding.
"It's a flexible plan," Gresham said. "The real purpose is he wants to develop it, but it will be developed in phases. This will be the first phase because the parking will allow him to do debt service on the property."
The design, Gresham said, would allow Johnson to build on top of the parking decks at a later date.
Johnson proposes the three-story building will be named "House of Bedlam."
"He's in graphics, T-shirts, and does a lot of OU/OSU stuff," Johnson said. "He wants to develop the two sides of the canal at the same time on the whole level of what's successful and what will work with him -- which is parking and the bedlam story."
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Copyright (c) 2011, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
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