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September 27th, 2013 - Kelley Chambers

Tower Talk


Developer Rainey Williams plans to build an office tower Downtown on the site of Stage Center


 

When Rainey Williams looks at the Oklahoma City skyline, he sees something others don’t. Within the next few years, however, he says everyone will see his vision: an office tower of at least 20 stories on the site of Stage Center, across the street from the Myriad Botanical Gardens and the Devon Energy Center.

Expectations are high, as Williams and his team will replace an architecturally significant, albeit dilapidated, structure with a gleaming new office tower and bring leasable office space to the Downtown market. A yet-unnamed office anchor tenant is also in the mix.

Williams, president of Kestrel Investments Inc., purchased the property from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation for $4.275 million. The foundation sought a buyer who could renovate the property but was unable to find anyone with the estimated millions of dollars it would take to save the building.

As a native of Oklahoma City, Williams says the decision to purchase the site and knock down Stage Center is not one he takes lightly.

“I personally put a great deal of thought into the property and the Stage Center facility, and unfortunately, it’s just not a useable space,” he says. “Removal of Stage Center is simply the next logical step in the evolution of making this property usable again.”

His group’s plan calls for razing Stage Center and constructing an office tower and parking garage on the 3.15 acres bordered by W. Sheridan, W. California, S. Hudson and S. Walker avenues.

The question now is how big it will be and what it will look like.

“We’re going to stick with something in the neighborhood of 20 stories,” Williams says. “Certainly our goal is to build an absolutely world-class tower that will complement what has already gone on in the area and something Oklahoma City will be proud to have.”

Getting there, however, could be a long road as Williams begins the process for a demolition permit and then completes designs and site plans for the new building.

Russell Claus, Oklahoma City planning director, says the purchase of the land won’t necessarily make going through design approval from the city a walk in the park. All plans and designs must come before the Downtown Design Review Committee, which has the discretion to require changes to the design and site plan before construction begins and before Stage Center is torn down. He says the process will proceed with fewer hurdles if the new owners present a cohesive plan at the same time they seek a demolition permit.

“It’s easier for the committee when they know what’s going to go in its place,” Claus says. “At this point [in] time, we have nothing to review.”

But even when plans are presented, he says approval is at the committee’s discretion, and nothing guarantees a rubber stamp. The committee even has the ability to deny a demolition permit if they feel it is in the best interest of the future look and feel of Downtown.

“DDRC can ask them to modify the plan,” he says.

More than likely, unless the plan is preposterous, cheap building materials will be used or there are widespread protests, it will move through the approval process.

“If they propose a 20-story tower made of EIFS with no windows, I presume DDRC is not going to be happy about that,” Claus says with a laugh. “I’m not expecting that to happen.”

Williams takes his responsibility and his stewardship of the property seriously. He is part of a group that owns the BOK Tower Downtown and properties in northwest Oklahoma City, including Grand Centre and 3 and 5 Corporate Plaza. The Stage Center property, however, is an entirely new challenge.

“I have not built one from the ground up,” he says.

The process will likely take several years, and in the meantime, Downtown will prepare for one of the first office buildings constructed in about 30 years. While Devon Energy built a tower and headquarters solely for its company, Williams says he plans to announce an anchor office tenant and have space available for lease in November.

The same questions about vacancy arose when Devon announced it was building a new headquarters and vacating space in five Downtown buildings. With the amount of lead Devon gave the market, much of the space was backfilled and leased. Looking ahead, Zach Martin, vice president with commercial real estate firm Newmark Grubb Levy Strange Beffort, says the situation is similar to Devon, in that an office building isn’t going to just pop up overnight.

“One thing people have to keep in mind is how long it takes to build a building like this,” he says. “This is probably a 36-month build.”

He says the task ahead is to look down the road and ask if Downtown will need a new office building in 36 months.

“While I contend that the Downtown market could already absorb new class A space if it were available today, as MAPS 3 is implemented, Project 180 wraps up and so on, the already-needed additional space will soon be in even higher demand,” he says.

Williams hopes to have plans to present to DDRC and the community by the end of the year. He has not revealed a price tag or announced whether he will seek any form of tax credits for the project. Before he says too much more, he wants to have plans in place, as he knows expectations are high.




The site for the proposed tower is at 400 W. Sheridan. It includes 3.15 acres bordered by W. Sheridan, W. California, S. Hudson and S. Walker avenues. Just to the west of the site John W. Rex Elementary is under construction. On the east side of the property is the Myriad Botanical Gardens. On the northeast corner across from the site is Devon Energy Center, and to the north is the former Black Hotel and other retail and office properties.
 
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