Real estate development game leads to constant changes in downtown neighborhoods
Looking out from the thirdfloor balcony of her home in a former storage warehouse, Linda Mandel can see the immense downtown skyline, including a thriving Deep Deuce and, of course, the 50-story Devon Energy tower.
“It’s a good place for coffee in the morning and wine at night,” Mandel jokes.
Mandel and her husband, Peter, a movie props mechanic, bought the former Tom Munday Moving and Storage at 6 NE 6 in 2004 when the building was surrounded by blight and she didn’t dare leave the entrance door unlocked.
They’ve spent the past 14 years slowly turning the 21,000-squarefoot building into their home, starting with conversion of the first-floor offices into a temporary apartment and then working their way up. She says the home is still a work in progress, though to the casual eye of a visitor, it’s already a showcase for how to turn a warehouse into a home.
All along, the couple have noticed development popping up all around. Across the street, the century-old Pioneer Telephone Exchange warehouses are being converted into
offices and retail. Immediately to the east of the Central Exchange project, Basil Rayan is converting a garage and warehouse into the mixed-use 6th Street Marketplace. “I like it, but Pete tends to like it the way it was,” Linda Mandel said. “We walk to Thunder games, we walk to all the restaurants, and we walk to the Arts Festival. We walk a lot.”
Jonathan Russell, meanwhile, has led in acquiring land along the stretch of NE 6 between Broadway and Oklahoma Avenue, just north of Interstate 235. One of those lots purchased early on was immediately south of Mandel’s home where she currently enjoys her balcony view of downtown. “We were concerned,” Mandel said. “I could see a five-story apartment complex or a parking structure — anything could go in there.”
Russell declined an offer by the Mandels to buy the empty lot, but he promised he would talk to them before making any further moves.
Several weeks ago, Russell did just that, swapping the lot south of the Mandel home for the yard they own to the east. It in turn connects to property Russell owns to the south and east. The swap with the Mandels is one of several transactions Russell has made along Sixth Street, treating it almost like a chess board as he has bought, sold and flipped deals along the way. At the northeast corner of Sixth and Broadway, developer Nicholas Preftakes abandoned his plans for a heavily promoted Condominiums on Broadway.
Russell previously owned the southeast corner of the intersection but sold it to two different groups, one for development of a seven-story headquarters for Heartland Payment Systems and the other for a Towneplace Suites hotel.
“Nick’s property really got into my head after he decided to change his path on the condominiums,” Russell said. “I had already owned the two storefronts next door for years and years. He did some structural improvements to my building due to snow load that would have been caused by his new building. He also fixed the encroachment easement.”
The lot, cleared of surface parking as part of site preparation for the canceled condominiums, is now ready for a fresh start and Russell reports he is in discussions on how to proceed. Russell also has a lease for adjoining surface parking next to the former Preftakes corner. He owns one warehouse on the south side of the street yet to be redeveloped next to another that was renovated into the headquarters for the Oklahoma Geological Society.
Should all of these properties develop as hoped, the stretch of Sixth between Broadway and the BNSF Railway viaduct will be transformed into a dense mix of retail, restaurants, a hotel and offices.
Back on the east side of the tracks, construction is well underway at the former Pioneer Telephone buildings being developed into Central Exchange.
The brick buildings at 7 NE 6 and 11 NE 6 were constructed in 1909 and 1911 as the early day telephone company’s garage and warehouse. The properties later were owned by Southwestern Bell and then AT&T.
The property extends north to NW 7, and glassencased stairway additions will be added to both buildings with some of the older covered parking covers to the north set to be cleaned up and painted for re-use.
Basil Rayan was unaware of the Central Exchange development plans when he purchased a garage and warehouse immediately east at 19 and 23 NE 6. Rayan recently filed building permits that show equally ambitious renovations and rooftop additions. “It is strategically placed off one of the first entrances and exits of the intersection of two major interstates,” Rayan said. “This, in a sense, makes it the gateway to downtown Oklahoma City. Whether you are heading to work, coming into the city for a night out, or a tourist driving into the city for the first time, we could potentially be the first thing you see coming in or the last thing you see before heading out.”
Rayan said he is not ready to reveal his tenants, other than 19 NE 6 is set to be renovated for a restaurant. “Without divulging too much information, the concept is a modern American with contemporary renditions of classic dishes that will offer unique dining options,” Rayan said. “The atmosphere has been inspired by many restaurants from around the world, and will boast an open kitchen, private and communal dining areas, outdoor patio seating, and the focal point, a rooftop patio with an exquisite view of downtown.”
The final piece of the block, meanwhile, owned by Pat Garrett, is also in play. The empty lot at the northwest corner of NE 6 and Oklahoma Avenue is located across the street from the sprawling Metropolitan Apartments that opened two years ago.
“We are in the process of vacating the alley that goes through it,” Garrett said. “We’re talking to a prospect about building an office building. We’re moving forward to a transaction. We’re hopeful we will get it done.”
With all this development, the street itself continues to be a concern for motorists and property owners. The street has been largely industrial since the city’s earliest days and when the BNSF viaduct was built, the city chose to save money by simply creating a dramatic dip on the street under the rail crossing. Trucks routinely get stuck under the low span and the adjoining sidewalks and safety railing are crumbling.
The street is part of a confusing set of highway egresses created when I-235 opened amid a large abandoned industrial and rail area. Developers are eyeing improvements to the area and with traffic jamming up the narrow Oklahoma and Walnut Avenues crossing the highway egresses, questions are emerging as to whether they might be altered especially in light of new connections opening with the Oklahoma City Boulevard.
Rayan said he is working with Tribune Capital, developer of Central Exchange, on making improvements to Sixth and Seventh streets to make them more attractive and safer for pedestrians.
“At the very least I would love to see sidewalk improvements, and maybe a unifying theme to tie the area together,” Rayan said. “Similar to how Midtown has the monuments, something unique to our part of Automobile Alley would be a welcome addition. More greenery is always a plus as well.”
Mandel, meanwhile, is witnessing the traffic jams along Sixth from the former loading dock that is now her front porch. All in all, she is at peace with the chaos, especially now that she and her husband control their view of the downtown skyline.
“If we didn’t want to be around all this, we wouldn’t have moved downtown,” Mandel said. “You can’t move down here and think things are going to stay the way they are. That doesn’t happen.”
The real estate game continues along Sixth Street between Broadway and Interstate 235 with development to include restaurants, retail, offices and a hotel. Luxury condominiums planned by Nicholas Preftakes at the northeast corner of NW 6 and Broadway, however, are dead and the corner has been sold to Jonathan Russell.
Basil Rayan is proceeding with redevelopment of a one-story garage and adjoining warehouse at 19 and 23 NE 6 into a mixed use development that will include a restaurant.
Basil Rayan’s 6th Street Marketplace will include a courtyard, parking and other improvements similar to those already being built next door by Tribune Capital as it develops Central Exchange.
A warehouse and garage once part of the city’s early day telephone operator, Pioneer Telephone, is being redeveloped into a mix of retail and offices by Tribune Capitol.
Linda Mandel is assured that her view of the downtown skyline will not change thanks to a land swap with area developer Jonathan Russell. Mandel and her husband Pete bought a early 20th-century, three-story warehouse at 6 NE 6 when the area was still blighted and have spent the past 14 years turning it into their home and work space.
Redevelopment of the former Pioneer Telephone warehouse and garage on NE 6 will include a modern addition and courtyards extending the Central Exchange development north to NE 7.