Local architecture firms envision the potential in three underdeveloped downtown properties.
The existing building at 202 S. Guthrie Ave. See how it has been reimagined!
Kinslow, Keith & Todd
Some people can’t see past an odd floor plan or a wild palette, while others consider them minor hiccups in the process to creating a masterpiece.
Many Tulsans pass underdeveloped downtown properties daily, but few stop to consider their uses or what they might become with the right vision, funding and elbow grease. It takes a trained eye to look beyond faded façades and sad storefronts to see hidden strengths.
In preparation for our annual downtown issue, TulsaPeople met with local developers, commercial real estate investors and preservation specialists to determine what downtown buildings have untapped potential. With the property owners’ permission, we then asked three Tulsa architecture firms to reimagine and redesign three of these buildings in need of redevelopment.
Each firm was given approximately four weeks to create and present a concept and renderings of their assigned building. The results astounded our editorial team and energized us for downtown’s “next big thing,” which is undoubtedly just around the corner.
Property: The former Oklahoma Tire and Supply Co. (OTASCO) store at 201 E. Second St. It is located across the street from One Technology Center and kitty-corner from the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
Current use: The 15,000-square-foot, two-story building is a carpentry shop for Williams, according to property owner Jeff Scott. He says Williams has refurbished its office furniture there for approximately 20 years.
Design team: David W. Short, AIA, principal in charge; Kyle Casper, project design and development; Chad Lukenbaugh, urban planning and building image modeling; and Tyler Sappington, 3-D modeling and Revit building design software.
Concept: The five-story, 50,000-square-foot Artist Repertory Tulsa (ART), a performance space with 30 units for artists to live and work.
Components: A black box theater reminiscent of Dallas’ Wyly Theater, known for its performance flexibility. The first floor also features a grab-and-go café, a loading dock and a pre-assembly space.
The second level has a mezzanine with an open balcony garden and an art gallery. Artist units fill the new third, fourth and fifth levels, which also incorporate two open balcony gardens and rehearsal spaces.
Aesthetic: A glass top added to the original building makes it “kind of a strange hybrid of the PAC and One Technology Center,” Lukenbaugh says.
For the new construction, Casper drew inspiration from the City Hall building’s mechanical shafts, which are visible from the street.
Process: The team toured the project site, including its interior. Then, they considered the property’s financial outlook, which many developers would consider grim.
“Sometimes things like this stick because they’re in a great location, but it costs a lot of money to develop them, so they end up staying there,” Casper says. “So, we thought, what you’ve got to do is public-private partnerships — some philanthropy and some incentives.”
Imagining that scenario, the team explored the area using Google Maps. After creating a sketch and floor plan of its design, the team printed a 3-D model and created digital renderings.
Vision: Despite the energy of the Brady Arts and Blue Dome districts, the team says downtown’s art community is missing a key element.
“The arts district needs artists living in it,” Casper says.
Although living options are increasing downtown, the team says many remain unaffordable for young professionals and aspiring artists. With public and private support, they say ART could provide literal “artist in residency” opportunities for artists to live among downtown’s thriving arts venues.
Potential for the area: Lukenbaugh calls the existing property “the missing link” connecting the BOK Center to the Blue Dome District and the East Village via the Second Street corridor.
“This is an incredibly important corridor,” he says. “You have the BOK Center at the end of this axis, and all of this opportunity for development along Second Street.”
The property’s proximity to the PAC led the team to imagine ART’s theater as a “mini PAC” that could host open practices or small performances by Tulsa’s arts groups and visiting performers. The addition, they say, would add to Tulsa’s burgeoning art scene.
With ART, “we want to create a performing arts district,” Casper says.
Renderings and 3-D model photo courtesy KSQ Architects
Kinslow, Keith & Todd
Property: 202 S. Guthrie Ave. The building sits in an industrial area between the BOK Center and the Cox Business Center.
Current use: This 28,000-square-foot, two-story warehouse is a parking garage for American Parking, according to its owner, George Shaffer. Insurance records indicate the 1920s-era building previously housed various trucking and vending companies.
Design team: Whit Todd, AIA; Andrew Kinslow, AIA; Jim Boulware, AIA; and Daniel Grudek.
Concept: A tornado-inspired tower with mixed-use space and the Oklahoma Weather Museum and Research Center.
Components: The existing building serves as the tower base. A “green” roof on the warehouse could serve as a learning environment for local students, according to the team. A destination restaurant-bar concept offers a 360-degree view of the Tulsa skyline from 200 feet in the air.
Elevators transport visitors to the tower’s various floors, which include indoor and outdoor levels used for art exhibitions and other events. A spiral staircase also winds around the tower’s core.
Aesthetic: The glass and mesh cyclone-shaped tower complements the circular design of the BOK Center, although it dwarfs the center by about eight stories, Todd says.
The team designed the tower to become an iconic Tulsa landmark similar to the Golden Driller or Catoosa’s Blue Whale.
“This would be Tulsa’s Space Needle,” Boulware says. “No one else would have one.”
Process: The KKT team looked at the building from every angle, considering commercial, residential and retail uses. But the property’s challenging location ultimately guided its concept.
Although the BOK Center sits approximately a block away, a three-story cooling tower sits between the hit venue and the warehouse.
“The location was not something you could put a typical, regular building in,” Kinslow says. “It had to be something unique. You had to have a reason to go down there because it’s so hard to get to. You wouldn’t just naturally drive by it.
“It needed to be up high to look over all the things that were around it. That’s where it all started, and we sort of went from there.”
The team next created a site plan and sketch and eventually developed a rendering.
Vision: The team wanted to create an Oklahoma-themed iconic structure that challenged people’s perspectives about buildings, according to Todd. He says the tornado-based form seemed like an interesting way to make it easily identifiable and locally relevant.
Attracting locals and out-of-towners in search of a genuine Tulsa experience, the restaurant at the top could rotate to strengthen its tornado theme, Kinslow says.
Local news stations might like to broadcast weather updates atop the tower, considering its stellar view.
“We tried to have fun with the design,” Todd says. “We really want people — when they see this building for the first time or 10th time — to smile.”
Potential for the area: The team says the property’s redevelopment would energize a largely ignored, industrial area of downtown and add a needed restaurant/bar option within walking distance of two major event venues.
The building also could serve as a downtown visitor’s center, according to Kinslow, and its proximity to the railroad would make it a perfect transit stop if or when Tulsa gets a light rail system.
“We took a whimsical approach to the solution,” Todd says. “But the more we thought about it, the more excited we got because if somebody did do something like this, we think it truly would be successful.”
Renderings, sketches and map courtesy Kinslow, Keith & Todd Architects Inc.
Selser Schaefer Architects
Property: 108 S. Detroit Ave. The 1920 building is sandwiched between the new STG Pizzeria and Gelateria and a bar, Enso.
Current use: The former body shop is only 50 feet wide and makes interesting use of its 7,000 square feet. Longtime owners and brothers Mike and Mark Wackenhuth lease it to downtown companies for about 20
indoor parking spaces.
Design team: Robert Schaefer, AIA; Shannon D. West; Drew Kemp-Baird; and Drew Reap
Concept: 108, a Blue Dome District restaurant and bar that celebrates Tulsa’s history.
Components: A translucent canopy is backlit with LED lighting and connects the entry to the bar with screen-printed, Tulsa-themed images.
Lighting also plays an important role in the dining area, which flanks the Detroit entrance.
“All of these lighted elements could change color depending on the particular night or the time,” West says. “You could potentially go to the same establishment every night of the week and have a different experience just because it’s been able to transform itself in mood.”
The “back of house” at the rear of the building opens to a back alley — convenient for restaurant deliveries and staff traffic.
Aesthetic: Simple cleanup exposes the façade’s red brick and maximizes its original framed openings. The overhead door is replaced with frameless glazing, which makes the interior canopy appear to float through the front of the building, West says.
The modern interior showcases the existing bowed roof and steel supports.
“We want to complement the existing architecture by contrasting it,” he says.
Process: An internal design competition resulted in two other potential concepts from Selser Schaefer.
Kemp-Baird designed a business for Tulsa’s food trucks to store food and serve customers. Reap created a collaborative workspace for Tulsa’s professionals.
None of the concepts changed the storefront, which the firm believes is original to the building.
“As we like to say, it’s got great bones,” says West, whose design was chosen. “For its age, the building is in really good condition and has a lot of character, too.”
Vision: Given the success of similar businesses in the area, West says the team imagined “something that could transition from being a dining establishment during the day to something with a night scene.”
The building’s address, 108, also describes the number of years since Oklahoma’s statehood. That coincidence inspired the restaurant’s decor — which showcases the history of Tulsa from statehood to present day — and other design elements. For example, the distance from the front door to the bar is 108 feet; the entry is 108 inches wide.
West says the team’s lack of structural changes is purposeful to respect the history of the building.
“We showcase it and we don’t hurt it,” he says. “We tread lightly on the building itself.”
For that reason, the booths and back-of-house elements are taken near the walls but have the appearance of not actually touching them.
Potential for the area: Although the team did not conduct a market analysis for its restaurant concept, they aren’t concerned with the prevalence of downtown eateries and bars.
“In a district like that, there tends to be a synergy that develops between restaurants and other kinds of establishments,” Schaefer says. “When they’re grouped together, people come to that area and everybody benefits from that synergy.”
Renderings and sketches courtesy Selser Schaefer Architects
The designers dish
So, what did the participating firms think of TulsaPeople’s redevelopment exercise — a project that required hours of pro bono work from multiple staff members?
“We all love what we do, so it was fun,” says Robert Schaefer, a principal at Selser Schaefer.
KSQ designer Kyle Casper says the project provided a unique opportunity to ask, “What would be really great?” in Tulsa.
“We rarely get to do stuff like we’re trained to do,” he says, because clients generally have specific needs. “We had a couple of really great, old school design charrettes (brainstorming sessions).”
Andy Kinslow, principal at Kinslow, Keith & Todd, says TulsaPeople’s project allowed for creativity without bounds.
“This was a fun experience that allowed firms in Tulsa to showcase their design talent,” Kinslow says. “Many times architects are hired from out of state for projects in Tulsa because those developing the projects are not aware of the talent in their own backyard.”