Still mostly just dusty, dilapidated buildings, Bricktown was a far cry from what has become Oklahoma City’s entertainment crown jewel.
Sixteen years later, Pearl’s Crabtown is a staple in the district, and Nelson is the man in charge of the organization that ensures everyone stays happy.
In February, Nelson was announced as the incoming president of the Bricktown Association’s Board of Directors. Cy Perkins, general manager of the Bricktown Hampton Inn, was tabbed as the new vice president.
Nelson, a member of the Oklahoma Restaurant Association Board of Directors, takes over for Avis Scaramucci, and previously served as the organization’s vice president.
His first order of business? Not to be the guy who screws things up.
“Let’s continue on what Avis has started and presidents before her,” he says with a chuckle.
It’s not nervous laughter that comes from Nelson. It’s a sense of humor that started more than 16 years ago when he signed on to become a restaurateur in a rundown stretch of town. Now it’s clear that Nelson’s group saw the writing on the wall that others saw as mere graffiti.
At the time, he wasn’t 100% sure. “There were a lot of people who told us we were coming in too soon and things weren’t that cemented in that they were going to happen,” he says. “We just said, ‘We’ll take our chances and make it happen.’ Over the years, it’s happened.”
Even then, it wasn’t completely a ghost town. Mostly.
Along the way, the Bricktown Association was formed.
The nonprofit membership association’s primary goal always has been to promote the entertainment district and the businesses within it.
After a stint in the Air Force, Nelson worked with Pizza Hut for 14 years, then Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurants. His association with Pearl’s Restaurant Group began in 1990, and Crabtown followed six years later.
In the future, Nelson wants to work closely with the modern streetcar project that’s part of MAPS 3. He’d like to see a station somewhere in the middle of his professional backyard.
He’s already weathered at least one storm.
The NBA lockout hurt businesses through lost games, but it also kept new events from being booked into the Chesapeake Energy Arena. Ironically, Nelson says Crabtown still booked a solid first quarter, although he still prefers having 41 professional basketball games tip off around the corner.
“It seems this year that people are really more involved with the Thunder,” he says. “I don’t know if that was because they had the lockout and they weren’t sure it was going to happen.
“We had the Hornets for two years, but this year especially, it’s really seemed to do well for us.”
And with 20,000 square feet of restaurant space in Bricktown, Nelson says he has no reason to complain.