As development continues to thrive in Tulsa’s core, the once-languishing Brady District has become a hot commodity, poised to house projects ranging from hotels to art galleries to green spaces. Here is the story of how this historic Tulsa neighborhood gained new life.
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Brady boosted by billionaire’s foundation
But there is another reason for the district’s recent resurgence.
Wallace credits the long-term vision and fortitude of Brady property owners like Sharp and others, but he says the involvement of billionaire philanthropist George Kaiser, through his George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF), has accelerated the pace of development and expanded its scope.
“George Kaiser has been an amazing catalyst,” Wallace says. “He’s really put his money where his mouth is.”
The GKFF has its hand in several of the key developments going on in the district, including the redevelopment of Mathews Warehouse (the former Tulsa Paper Co. Building), the Robinson Packer Lofts and the Brady Lofts, as well as funding streetscaping and the building of Brady Park.
All told, GKFF’s investment in the Brady District stands at around $56 million, says Stanton Doyle, a senior program officer at the foundation, who is overseeing the development of the $18 million Mathews Warehouse. The repurposed building will house a satellite location for Philbrook Museum of Art and the Zarrow Center for Art and Education, which will serve The University of Tulsa School of Art and the TU-managed Gilcrease Museum. The second phase will contain the Brady Craft Alliance, the Woody Guthrie Center and Tulsa Symphony Orchestra offices and rehearsal space.
“It’s a great district that’s attractive because it’s so close to the core of downtown,” Doyle says. “Plus, there was undeveloped real estate there. We hoped that our investment would attract more investment and people. People had been working there for a long time to make it an arts district, but it felt like it needed a push.”
Doyle says the foundation had been looking into major investment opportunities in the Brady District since 2007, and once things got rolling, new opportunities arose.
“It was about working with the character and authenticity of the existing neighborhood and wanting to help out and not impose our own vision,” he says.
To ensure that any investment would be in line with the existing feel and theme of the district, GKFF held meetings with property owners and residents to get their feedback and ideas. Repopulating the area was a central concern addressed by the foundation, which is providing housing for Teach for America corps members in two Brady loft developments.
“They bring more residents to the area, and that helps build momentum,” Doyle says. “Plus, it’s a way to support education.”
Blake Ewing, downtown business owner and District 4 city councilor, is one of two entrepreneurs planning to open grocery stores in the Brady District, a residential necessity that has been absent for decades.
“What’s occurring in the Brady District is a pretty amazing testament to what happens when public and private sectors invest in an area,” he says.
Wallace says he believes the future of the district is as bright as its recent past was dingy, with each new development attracting others.
“You know, I couldn’t have written a better script myself for all that is going on down here,” he says.
Living Brady style
Bonnie Dilber has been living in the Brady District since August 2011.
“I love it,” she says. “It’s definitely an area that is developing fast.”
Dilber, 29, lives in a two-bedroom loft in the refurbished Robinson Packer Building, one of the projects funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation to provide housing for Teach for America (TFA) corps members.
Dilber, who is a TFA staff member in Tulsa, has lived in the city for nearly two years, but she first resided in south Tulsa. She says she’s pleased with her move downtown.
“This is the nicest place I’ve ever lived in,” she says, referring to her loft. “The amenities are great.”
She also likes her location in the Brady District. Dilber, an Atlanta native, is no stranger to urban living. She also lived in a redeveloped area of downtown Houston.
She likes the walkability factor, the plentiful (for now) parking and easy access to a growing number of restaurants, pubs and entertainment venues.
There are some things she would like to see downtown, including more shops, more people and, especially, a grocery.
“That’s the No. 1 thing,” she says.
Her wish should soon come true, with two groceries expected to open in the Brady District.
Although the streets sometimes have a deserted feel in the evenings, Dilber says, she believes that in time they will be buzzing with more residents and activity.
“I’m excited for that time, when it becomes even more vibrant, but I think it’s already a place that more and more people are going to find attractive to live in,” she says.