Built in 1970 by renowned architect John Johansen, the building at W. Sheridan and S. Hudson avenues has been empty since it sustained significant flooding damage in 2010. Afterward, the Arts Council of Oklahoma City transferred ownership of it to the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.
Groups such as the Central Oklahoma Chapter of the American Institute of Architects and others rallied to save the building, and the Community Foundation earlier this year requested proposals for the structure’s next incarnation.
Two proposals were received. One advocated turning it into a children’s museum, while the other came from a group that sought to transform it into a museum with continuing education classes.
While foundation officials said they thought both proposals were excellent, neither were deemed financially viable, according to Mark Beffort, CEO of Grubb & Ellis/Levy Beffort, which the foundation has hired to market the property.
Tracey Zeeck, one of the leaders in the children’s museum project, said she is ready to move the idea from Stage Center to other areas.
“It’s been a long six months and we still haven’t found a superhero who wants to save the building,” she said.
“In the interest of keeping momentum, we have to let our dream of Stage Center go. We’ve been offered acres in the suburbs, but we do believe that downtown is still the right spot. We’re not pulling the plug on the children’s museum, just looking for a new place to stake our claim.”
Melissa Hunt, executive director of the local AIA chapter, said her organization hopes another group will come forward to preserve the building, which won the National American Institute of Architects Honor Award in 1972
“We would like to find a buyer who would go in and repair the building, not tear it down to use the land,” Hunt said.
Her sentiments are echoed by Leslie Batchelor, an attorney for the Center for Economic Development Law and the Urban Land Institute.
“My interest is in saving that great building,” said Batchelor, who worked with the Community Foundation and AIA on the request for proposals. “The thing that remains unchanged is the interesting nature and quality of the building.”
She said the loss of the building would not only be a blow to the city’s aesthetics, but possibly its reputation.
“If we tear down that building, there’s very little chance it will be replaced by something nearly as good. We don’t need one more brick-and-stucco block in our city, and that’s what almost all new construction is,” Bachelor said. “I picture the publicity nationally if we were to tear that down. If we seem like a community that seems not to value cultural resources, it will be hard to make progress on our stature.”
Peter Dolese, executive director of the Arts Council, which is headquartered just south of the building, said selling the building is a step in the right direction.
“It’s a derelict building no one is using for anything, and people are abusing it and people are trespassing on it,” Dolese said.
He said it would take millions of dollars to repair the building and bring it up to current code. Dolese said he hoped the foundation would act soon to put some sort of usable facility on the grounds, whether it’s the existing Stage Center or a new structure.
“We would like to see a 1,200-seat theater in downtown Oklahoma City. That would be awesome, but I don’t know who would want to do that,” Dolese said. “There’s no nonprofit organization able to make that place work. Whoever would buy the property, I think, would want a business there.”
Beffort said the Community Foundation wants to exhaust all viable options that would allow the existing building to be utilized.
That said, all options are on the table.
“If someone has a good price, is able to use the existing facility, and has the funding together, that’s a win-win,” Beffort said. “But if that doesn’t happen and someone is going to convert the site or part of the site to something else, we’ll look at that, as well.”