Doomed Dome?

Situated
at N.W. 23rd and Classen Boulevard, the building long has been
recognized for its unique architecture; its quirky, mid-century look;
and the sacred gold roof that, over the years, lost its glistening
appearance.

Meanwhile,
David Box, owner of the former bank building, finds himself in an
untenable position. Box, a developer and owner of the Greens Country
Club and Box Talent, has few options in connection with the landmark.

His
top choices include the sale of the property or its demolition. For
now, Box says he is losing $10,000 a month on the old, vacant building
since the last tenants left last December. To make matters worse, the
building is deed-restricted from being used as a bank, which was its
original purpose when built in 1958.

The
Gold Dome’s return to the headlines came when Box tried to secure a
demolition permit in March, only to discover the application would have
to be approved by the Oklahoma City Urban Design Commission.

Since
then, Box has sifted through every alternative possible to make the
landmark a financial success. He even has talked to local experts about
tax credits in connection with historic places. The Gold Dome was placed
on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.

Catherine
Montgomery, a licensed architect who specializes in historical
preservation tax credit projects, says if Box chose to renovate the
building, he could recoup 40% of the cost through federal and state tax
credits.

Among a
litany of other items, improvements to the familiar round, anodized
aluminum roof would cost an estimated $2.5 million. That figure could go
higher depending on how the building is used, Montgomery says.

So
far, none of the ideas to turn the Gold Dome around have panned out.
Suggestions have included restaurants, a nightclub and office space.

“I’ve
had about every restaurant person in town look at it, and they won’t
touch it. Everyone’s backing away from it,” Box says. “I’m willing to
listen to anyone who has an idea. There’s not a lot of interest in terms
of people spending money on it. There’s no return, even with a
nightclub setting. And I’ve done that since I was 23. I don’t want
anything that’s not safe.”

Box
purchased the building for $800,000 at a foreclosure auction in
September 2012. Bank 7 assumed control of the property when Irene Lam no
longer could afford to make payments.

At the time, Box said he did not have plans to tear it down, but he also acknowledged he didn’t have any plans to develop it.

“I
want options,” he says. “But the building is losing so much money. The
heat and air (conditioning) is shot, and the roof needs to be repaired,
but we’re still trying to come up with a plan. I’m not a guy who tears
things down.”

His
track record proves that. He’s been instrumental in the redevelopment of
Campus Corner in Norman while also purchasing and developing properties
in Bricktown and along Automobile Alley.

Developer
Richard Tanenbaum acknowledged his development firm, the
Gardner-Tanenbaum Group, was interested in turning the Gold Dome into a
nonprofit performing arts theater before Box bought it.

“It’s
a great location with parking. It’s 23rd and Classen. What more do you
want?” Tannenbaum says. “It’s a redevelopment opportunity for somebody,
especially as the city becomes more dense and sophisticated with growth
all the way from Downtown to MidTown.”

However, the longtime OKC developer also acknowledged that “the dirt is worth more than what he (Box) paid for it.”

Tanenbaum,
owner of The Classen Luxury Apartments situated next to the Gold Dome,
says he doesn’t agree with Box’s assessment of the building’s
infrastructure.

“We
looked at it top to bottom, and I don’t think it needs that much
retrofit dollars,” he says. “If he was going to write a check for
$800,000, I figured he would have a plan.”

At one point, Box says, OnCue Express representatives were interested in placing one of their stores inside the building.

“They were not able to make the dome fit their dimensions,” he says.

Since then, interest in developing the dome has waned, except for those who advocate the building’s preservation.

In March, Box suggested he would pay one lucky person $100,000 if they wanted to relocate the building’s once-golden roof.

“Everybody
loves tire-kicking, but they’re not willing to pay anything,” he says.
“If I had a $1 for every time the tires have been kicked, I could make
the monthly payments on this (the dome) without any problem.”

Money Aside

Unsurprisingly, preservation and historical buffs want the Gold Dome kept intact.

Lisa
Chronister, an Oklahoma City architect, was among a group of people who
fought to prevent the dome’s demolition a decade ago when Bank One,
then the owner, filed for its own demolition permit.

“I
cannot believe we are here again 10 years later,” she says. “Everyone I
know is still committed to saving it. I have to think there is some
system of metrics that make it viable. Without question, it is one of
the most unique buildings in Oklahoma City. I can’t imagine it not being
there.”

Chronister doesn’t want to see a repeat of the old urban renewal days when historic buildings were torn down in the name of progress and modernization.

“We’ve
torn down too much that we regret, so we have to take the long view,”
she says. “Nobody wants to see vacant buildings, but I’m not ready to
say it’s a done deal.”

Neither is Box, who has opted not to file a demolition application … so far.

“I’m
not even sure I’ll file the application,” he says. “I pride myself on
buying things and making it better. But what’s the use for the dome?
They say an event center, but what will that bring you … maybe $1,000 a
weekend? I had hoped people would understand. I’m willing to sell it if
someone wants to talk.”

Bob
Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, says
the dome should be preserved because of its unique design, location and
the shared memories people have of the building.

“People
grew up seeing that, and it reminds us of home. It’s part of our
personality as a community,” he says. “That area was the main connection
for people in the 1950s and 1960s. People look at that building and
say, ‘There’s nothing else like it.’”

The Gold Dome was designed by the
Oklahoma architecture firm Bailey, Bozalis, Dickinson and Roloff in
collaboration with Kaiser Aluminum Corp. The building was based on the
geodesic design by inventor, architect and engineer Buckminster Fuller.

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