The city of Oklahoma has had some great news recently, two differrent energy companies have decided to construct or revamp their headquarters in the core. Sandridge and Devon Energy Corporation have both announced plans to move their operations into the downtown.
Devon Energy broke ground on its 50-story tower in October for its tower and the building is among the tallest under construction in America. The new headquarters building will also be the state’s tallest building when it opens in 2012. As part of their construction plans the company is also contributing to $140 million worth of upgrades in the downtown, including new sidewalks, bicycle lanes and two-way streets. The company is also pretty with the current construction climate. “It’s a great time to build a building. We can get it done faster and cheaper than during the boom,” said Larry Nichols, Devon’s chief executive. “We’re ahead of schedule and under budget.”
Devon’s building, however, is not the only construction project in Oklahoma City. In December, city voters approved a $777 million tax package for a 70-acre central park, streetcar system, convention centre, boating facilities, aquatic centers, and trails that will be built over the next nine years.
“It’s the best possible example of how a populace must tax themselves if they want public works,” says Rogers Marvel principal Rob Rogers. “I just wish we would recognize that nationally.”
When the city of Oklahoma bottomed out in the 90s, voters approved the Metropolitan Area Projects Plan (MAPS) as a means to finance the reconstruction of downtown. The MAPS initiative was the first-of-its-kind one-cent sales tax, it had a strict time limit of five years. Though voters later agreed to extended it. MAPS raised $360 million through taxation and was assisted by more than a billion dollars in private investment which went towards building a new central library, a minor-league ballpark, the Bricktown entertainment district, and other public works. Later a second “MAPS for Kids,” was implemented for city schools, and a third MAPS initiative, the previously mentioned $777 million package, was passed by voters in December. This one for the “Core to Shore” plan, which will rerouting the I-40 elevated expressway that cuts through town and expand the downtown toward the Oklahoma River.
The other booked to the downtown renewal came through the unveiling of Sandridge’s plans for a $100 million expansion of its downtown headquarters across three city blocks. What is different about the Sandridge plan however is that their plans include a renovated 1960s Pietro Belluschi tower, and a renovated Braniff Building–built in 1923 by the brothers who started the airline that the building was named after.
Sandridge’s plan goes against local practice by reusing existing buildings, rather then heading for a corporate campus out in the suburbs. The CEO of Sandridge, Tom Ward was a major reson the company stayed downtown when most of its employees wanted to head for the hills. Ward found the suburban campus plans were both too expensive and too inflexible for his growth plans and his desire to take the company from 600 to 1,500 employees.
“Their first response was that it was going to be a longer commute, and the idea was not one they embraced originally,” Ward says. “And then the Thunder came to town and a lot of things started changing.” (Ward incidentally owns a minority stake in the Oklahoma City Thunder).
If there is one thing that can be learned from downtown Oklahoma it is that resident iniatives like the MAPS program supported by private investment can make a difference in the vitality of our cities.
“If you’re an urbanist, vacancy of any kind is super tough,” said Rogers. “So the decision to go downtown and be a part of the city, to redevelop and reuse, is fundamentally about reinvigorating downtown. Everybody talks about being green, but one of the greenest things you can do is simply reuse things.”