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February 10th, 2012 - Kelley Chambers

Forecasters see big things for city, downtown in 2012

Clandestine corporate headquarter plans, water, web startups and onion burgers were the topics of discussion at the yearly Commercial Real Estate Council’s Forecast. The event brought together commercial real estate experts to discuss the state of the local market, hear from experts, and get a look at what is expected for the coming year.

In a morning session Mark Beffort, with Grubb & Ellis Levy Beffort discussed the local office market and his optimism that with Devon Energy Corp. vacating five buildings downtown for its new tower that the former space won’t sit vacant and drag occupancy numbers down.

Continental Resources has already begun moving its corporate offices from Enid to Oklahoma City, and Beffort said another corporate headquarters will move to Downtown this year, but was mum on who it might be. Similar mystery surrounded Continental, and rumors were plenty, until the move was officially announced last year.

In the spirit of more hints than announcements, Keith Paul, president of A Good Egg Dining Group, said in a panel discussion he has his eyes on downtown. The company owns RedPrime Steak downtown.

“We have plans for two restaurants downtown in the next 24 months,” he said.

With only that morsel of information, Paul discussed the local restaurant climate and his own restaurants, including Tucker’s Onion Burgers, which he hopes to expand in additional locations. He said Oklahoma City has long been considered a low-volume market for restaurant revenue. On the downside that means many brands overlook the metro, on the upside, he said it gives local restaurateurs a pool of homegrown talent and the lack of competition from nationals for new restaurant concepts.

Ft. Worth, Texas looks more like Oklahoma City in terms of population, but with its proximity to Dallas is able to draw more national food concepts. Paul said he has always seen the Oklahoma City restaurant scene about a decade behind Ft. Worth. But things are changing. Over the last five years he has seen his own concepts and those of others that rival big city offerings. And where skilled chefs used to get out of here as quickly as they could, Paul said they now have reason to stay.

“People don’t want to leave anymore,” he said.

Keeping and fostering talent here has led QuiBids to remain based in the metro. Matt Beckham (pictured), founder and CEO of the online bidding website, knows that the hub of web startups is not in Oklahoma City. But being here rather than Silicon Valley in Northern California has its advantages in retaining talent.

“Once you get them to Oklahoma there’s no competition,” he said of poaching practices by other web companies based in close proximity to one another

He started the company with a group of friends and charges users 60 cents per bid toward items from ski goggles to restaurant gift cards to iPads.

“When you have a startup you really have to have people you trust,” he said. “I had a group of friends I knew I could hire to achieve that.”

And while the company is doing well and expanding, Beckham admitted that this is not exactly a technology hotbed, and luring top talent can be challenging. Despite those hurdles, he plans to remain and grow the company in Oklahoma City.

But none of the expansion or growth discussed is possible without water. J.D. Strong, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resource Board, talked about where the state is in terms of water, and what the next 50 years may look like, specifically in Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

“As their populations grow they are going to be looking at even greater challenges down the road,” he said.

Recent numbers show the population in Oklahoma will likely grow by 30% over the next half century and demand for water will grow by one third, he said. That will mean more people will require access to clean water, which isn’t always necessarily nearby.  

“On a statewide basis we have more than enough water to meet the needs of the state well into the future, fifty years and beyond,” he said. “The big concern and issue is on a localized basis we don’t have access in some places to that water.”

Of 82 watersheds in the state, Strong said over the next 50 years more than half of those will experience some shortage. He said infrastructure to get water to the people will require infrastructure improvements to the tune of $82 billion.

“That’s a very daunting price tag for us to figure out,” he said.

The yearly forecast was held Feb. 7 at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel.

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