Paving the way for Plaza District growth
The Plaza District, rapidly ascending to being one of Oklahoma City’s most popular urban destinations, will open 117 new parking spaces this month as the area continues to attract restaurants, shops and offices.
The parking lot at NW 15 and Blackwelder is being built by the Struble family, owners of several commercial and residential properties and who are building a two-story building at NW 16 and Indiana that will be home to offices and a restaurant.
“We knew we needed parking and we had a smaller parking lot planned on Blackwelder,” Jeff Struble said. “Then a house on the block became available so we were able to do something bigger.”
The parking lot design is intentionally laid out so that it won’t be a sprawl of concrete used only for cars.
Jeff and Aimee Struble’s son, Patrick, is helping lead programming of the site that will include public art.
“Going to other cities, you see a monolithic pour of concrete for parking lots,” Patrick Struble said. “It’s ugly and we don’t think it’s environmentally friendly. So we’re using a mix of concrete and decomposed granite. It will help with water runoff and will look more inviting for people. And on this space we will have places for retail trucks and food trucks.”
A chance meeting with artist Adam Lanman while he was visiting a class at the University of Oklahoma led to creation of an installation in the middle of the lot that will consist of 16 mural panels and LED-lit seesaws.
The public art will be overseen by Plaza Walls, which oversees a rotating series of murals on alley sides of buildings in the Plaza District. Jeff Struble said the 3-by-3-foot panels will be replaceable, allowing the art to be sold.
“I want something that we can display but then can be sold,” Jeff Struble said. “The artists need to make some money. They got advertising for themselves with plaza walls, which was great. But this will allow people to buy their work.”
Parking in the district has become an issue for both merchants and residents. Neighbors successfully petitioned the city to restrict parking on residential streets, while Steve Mason has allowed area employees to park on a vacant lot he owns on NW 16 to free up spaces in the heart of the district for visitors.
The Strubles say to ensure the new spaces are available for visitors, they will charge $1 an hour with a twohour minimum for daytime parking and $5 for evening parking after 4 p.m. They hope those rates will dissuade area employees from using the lot instead of the lot owned by Mason.
Another eatery with a built-in following, Maples Barbeque, is set to open later this year in the former Chiltepes restaurant at NW 16 and Indiana. Mason, who owns the Plaza Shopping Center on the north side of NW 16, praised the Strubles for investing in parking that will benefit the entire district.
“I believe the No. 1 problem in the Plaza is parking,” Mason said. “I am thrilled that Aimee and Jeff are adding 117 spots. And that will go a long way to solving the problem.”
Seeking diverse retail mix
Mason said he and his partner Aimee Ahpeatone are meeting monthly with fellow property owners, including the Strubles, to discuss challenges and opportunities. Mason acknowledged the loss of two retail shops at NW 16 and Blackwelder, was a hit to the district. But he cautions against judging the owner, whose rent increase was cited as a reason for the closing of one of the shops, Collected Thread.
Both Mason and Struble have worked to retain some of the district’s more eclectic shops that may not be high-rent tenants but do add to the area’s draw.
“The Plaza District, much like Penn Square or the outlet mall, has to have a diversity of tenants to ultimately succeed,” Mason said. “If Darwinism works, then in five years it’s all restaurants because they pay twice as much as a retailer, and we will all be sad. But if you care about the district, we want to curate a diversity of businesses. But that is tougher in area where you have multiple owners.”
The landlord for Collected Thread and DNA Galleries could not be reached for comment. But Mason said the owner only has one building and no higher-paying tenants to help cover the shops that require lower lease rates.
Mason acknowledges he has enough space along NW 16 that he and Ahpeatone are able to create a “sanctuary” for tenants like Bad Granny’s Bazaar and District House coffee shop.
“We have enough square footage under control that we can afford to have higher paying offices and restaurants to subsidize the coffee shops and retailers to make the experience better,” Mason said. “And as multiple building owners in a district, we need to protect that diversity.”
Mason said his conversations with the owner of the two empty stores is negotiating leases with new retailers to fill those spots.
The new parking, he added, will certainly help maintain the retail mix he believes is critical to maintaining the Plaza’s draw for years to come. Mason, Ahpeatone and Struble all agreed the district is nearing a point when it cannot support any more restaurants.”
“We love the evolution of the district, because we envisioned that,” Ahpeatone said. “But we don’t want it to become a restaurant district, and then it becomes a club district.”
Detachable “Plaza Walls” mural panels and LED-lit seesaws designed by artist Adam Lanman will be installed in the middle of a new parking lot opening this month in the Plaza District.
A new office and retail building is under construction at NW 16 and Indiana by the Struble family’s 180 Residential and 180 Urban Groups.
Patrick, Aimee and Jeff Struble say they are dedicated to maintaining a mix of uses in their new parking lot at NW 15 and Blackwelder in the Plaza District.