More on the Pei Plan: The Power Brokers Print
Written by Jack Money   
Thursday, 20 May 2010 00:25

peimodel2

Forgive us for our absence the past several weeks. We've been very busy helping stage the succcessful return of the I.M. Pei model to public view (learn more about the project by visiting www.impeiokc.com). There is, as they say, more to the story...

I.M. Pei returned to newspaper and television headlines in Oklahoma City this week as a group of local historians prepared to unveil a model showing one of his past visions of downtown Oklahoma City’s future during a National Main Street conference being held here.

Pei didn’t make this latest unveiling of his model. But this week in 1976, he was in Oklahoma City to look at how far city leaders had gotten in advancing his original plans it detailed.

His summons to appear came from a new, informal group of downtown Oklahoma City business leaders assembled by the Chamber of Commerce to expedite implementation of his plans for the area.

The group – Metro Action Planners – was led by Southwestern Bell President John Parsons. The group had no office, no phone number, and no mailing list. And no vice presidents or directors were allowed.

Its membership was limited to CEOs, presidents and downtown property owners, and those who belonged included Charles Vose, president of First National Bank and Edward L. Gaylord, publisher of The Daily Oklahoman. (1)

His visit here in 1976 was his first in six years, and Metro Action Planners footed the bill to bring him to town. At the time, Pei told the local paper he was “very impressed” by what city leaders had accomplished during the time he had been gone.

His plan, he noted, was “well along … more than half completed, I’d say,” even though planners initially had thought the plan would take at least 20 years to implement. (2)

Pei just didn’t review what had been done so far to implement his plan. He also heard about the city’s plans to create a tree-lined boulevard leading from Downtown to the city’s medical center, which would be flanked by playing fields and other recreational areas, and about the city’s seemingly perennial dream to dam the North Canadian River and to redevelop its shores.

Additionally, Pei got to take a peak at the city’s plans for building the Myriad Gardens.

His tour included a bird’s eye view of the redevelopment area from a plane, and he also walked the area before sitting down with a meeting the new group.

The creation of this group, he told them, would be a vital addition to the process. And, for about four years, it was.

“You’ve got to move together as a whole,” Pei said. (3)

Well. That’s exactly what the group did.

Within a month, the committee was moving forward with Urban Renewal’s efforts to get work started on the planned Galleria mall.

After Urban Renewal Commissioners had approved a planned merger of Turner Southwest Venture, the site’s original developer, and Cadillac Fairview Corp., a company based in Canada that assumed a 90 percent share of the project, Metro Action Planners scheduled a lunch to hear about the new company’s plans. (4)

In October of the same year, the committee heard from the general manager of the still-being-built, $18 million Sheraton-Century Center hotel, who predicted an opening for the hotel of Jan. 2, 1977.

Ken Buksa, the hotel’s general manager, said the 410 room operation would pump about $3 million into the local economy annually, and said nearly all of its employees would be hired locally.

Buksa and other developers of the site also talked about their exciting plans for an adjoining, 100,000 square-foot mall next door. It would, they predicted, have about 50 shops capable of handling some 90,000 shoppers at any one time.

Meanwhile, the group forged ahead on other fronts.

But, its efforts to get the Galleria shopping mall project kicked off fell flat, when Cadillac Fairview released its rights to develop the project.

In April, the Urban Renewal Authority sought new proposals and got them from a local man, Bill Peterson, Dallas-based developer Vincent Carrozza, who estimated he could get the project done in six to 10 years, another outside developer, Starrett-Landmark, and Cadillac Fairview. (5)

While Carrozza, in particular, had no doubts about his project’s future success, Cadillac Fairview’s proposal was much more reserved in that regard.

The latter’s proposal cautioned that there was “absolutely no certainty at this time that sufficient department store interest can be committed to ensure that the major Galleria retail can proceed in the near future.”

But, Carrozza enchanted Metro Action Planners. The group, in fact, committed itself to raise $1.6 million needed to create a limited partnership with the developer to get the project going.

Before the end of April, 1978, Carrozza had his deal with local leaders.

And, in less than a year, he had a master plan ready for review that had been created by the firm of downtown’s original redevelopment architect – Pei.

The unveiling had a familiar feel to it, given that Metro Action Planners invited some 250 people to a reception atop Liberty Bank Tower where a new, three-dimensional model detailing the project’s external appearance was to be shown off for a first time. (6)

Then, on July 10, 1979, Carrozza celebrated the start of work on the project with an “Un Breaking” at the location, so named because the developer brought dirt into the location of his first building for the project, an office tower.

“We plan to build the most beautiful city in the country,” Carrozza boasted at a luncheon the same day. (7)

City leaders who championed downtown redevelopment since the beginning echoed his cheers, including Stanton L. Young, whom had been president of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce when the city had received its first federal dollars to implement the urban renewal plan.

“A city is like a person,” Young said. “It can’t reach its full potential without a strong heart.”

But then, headlines turned ugly for Metro Action Planners, prompting the group ultimately to disband.

Oklahoma’s attorney general launched a probe in August of 1980 to determine whether Carrozza, urban renewal and Metro Action Planners had restrained trade by creating an informal building moratorium downtown to enhance possibilities that the Galleria project would be successful.

The Metro Action Planners, it had turned out, had approved a moratorium on downtown building in October 1978. The following year, Carrozza had contacted an Urban Renewal commissioner, asking him to seek a second moratorium from the group. At the time, Carrozza was finding it difficult to find financing for a second office tower he was building on the Galleria site. (8)

The commissioner – Stanton L. Young – declined to carry out Carrozza’s request, and was not implicated of any wrong-doing.

Neither, curiously, was anyone else.

But while the attorney general’s investigation went nowhere, the damage to this super-powerful group of downtown leaders had been done.

Metro Action Planners abruptly disappeared from the downtown redevelopment scene.

Carrozza stuck around, though, asking Urban Renewal in December 1981 for additional time to submit a retail plan for the Galleria superblock. Carrozza said  he needed an additional three years to develop those plans.

He wasn’t granted that much time. In May, 1983, he lost his contract to develop the remainder of the land, leaving the one-time heart of retail in downtown Oklahoma City a desolate area, consisting of two gray office towers, an asphalt parking lot and a parking garage.

Meanwhile, the land set idle.

The area only began undergoing change in recent years, thanks first to Oklahoma City’s Metropolitan Area Projects, which built a new downtown library on one corner of  the land. Two new parking garages were built on the block as well, and just recently, Devon Energy Corp. launched an ambitious project that will bring a new skyscraper to downtown, as well as other significant changes to the area.

 

  1. Pages 48 and 49, OKC Second Time Around, 2006, by Steve Lackmeyer and Jack Money, Full Circle Press
  2. “Pei Impressed With Renewal, Hears of New Plans,” May 4, 1976, The Oklahoman.
  3. “Pei Pushes Coordination,” May 5, 1976, The Oklahoman
  4. “Galleria Developer to Visit City,” June 17, 1976, The Oklahoman
  5. “Developer Sought to Swing Galleria Project into Motion,” April 1, 1978, The Oklahoman
  6. “City Galleria Plan Ready.” January 22, 1979, The Oklahoman
  7. “Galleria Site’s ‘Un-Breaking’ Ceremony Held,” July 10, 1979, The Oklahoman
  8. “OSBI Agents Check Galleria Project Records, Chamber Official Confirms,” October 14, 1980, The Oklahoman

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 May 2010 00:40