DDRC approves Stage Center demolition

It was built in 1970 by renowned
architect John Johansen, and opened as the Mummers Theatre. It served
as a hub for arts and cultural events over the next decades, but a
flood in 2010 forced its closure.

With millions of dollars in estimated
deferred maintenance and no party with the resources to save it,
Williams (pictured) purchased the building, located at 400 W. Sheridan Ave.,
from the Oklahoma City Community Foundation in 2013 for $4.275
million. The sale was after a request for proposal by the foundation
to save the building was unsuccessful.

Williams, president of Kestrel
Investments Inc., plans to build a 14-16 story tower to serve as the
home for OGE Energy Corp. Additional space will be available for a
separate developer to possibly construct another tower for hotel or
residential use.

David Box, who represented Kestrel,
said independent studies conducted over the last decade have shown
that it is not financially feasible to keep the building as an arts
venue. He said it likely would cost more than $40 million just to
bring it up to date and open the doors.

Box cited a 2011 study by Webb
Management Services Inc., a planning and development firm for arts
and creative entities, that found a need for a facility like Stage
Center existed, yet it needed adequate support; and without that
support, Webb recommended an RFP to open it to the market for a new

“This is a group that seeks to find
solutions for these types of buildings,” Box said. “They don’t
seek to find reasons to demolish; they want to keep these types of

Two responses to the community
foundation’s RFP were for a children’s museum or an architectural
museum, but neither plan had adequate funding.

Peter Dolese, executive director of the
Arts Council of Oklahoma City, favored Williams’ plans and said his
organization owned the building for a time, but when it was damaged
by flood waters, it was turned back over to the foundation. He said
constant maintenance issues were inconvenient and cost-prohibitive to
keeping the building viable.

“It was just always very, very
difficult,” he said.“It’s very unfortunate that it just doesn’t

Several community leaders spoke out in
opposition to the demolition, including Preservation Oklahoma
President Barrett Williamson and attorney Leslie Batchelor.

“The building is so important that
architectural historians and writers have been discussing it since it
was built over 40 years ago,” Williamson said.

Batchelor, whose father, Dan Batchelor,
served as legal counsel to the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority
when many downtown buildings were razed in the 1960s and 1970s, said
the city has lost too many of its irreplaceable structures. She said
historic and architecturally significant buildings are scarce and
valuable. She supported Williams’ plans but said he should find
another location Downtown.

“Stage Center is not the right site
for it,” she said.

City staff recommended denial of the
demolition permit based on the historic character of the building and
that it did not comply with downtown zoning ordinances.

Committee members also questioned
approval of demolition of Stage Center with no solid plans for the
tower. Williams and architecture firm ADG have presented a site plan
and a rendering of a possible look for the tower, but no formal
designs have been submitted. Williams estimated it will cost $2
million to $4 million to completed final design work.

Chuck Ainsworth, a member of DDRC, has
a history restoring historic buildings, and while he recognized the
significance of Stage Center, he said it would be extremely difficult
to repurpose the facility, unlike the long-vacant Skirvin Hotel that
was renovated with public and private funds and reopened in 2007. He
said he would approve demolition of Stage Center but would like to
see a plan so that the lot would not just sit vacant for the next few

Committee members Ainsworth, Dick
Tanenbaum and Gigi Faulkner voted in favor of demolition. In
opposition were Ike Akinwande and Connie Scothorn. Chairwoman Betsy
Brunsteter, who works for ADG, recused herself from the discussion
and the vote.

Williams said his timeline is 12-18
months to do studies for OGE’s needs, complete final drawings and
demolish Stage Center. He said construction could begin in mid-2015
and would take 12-18 months to complete.

Gazette Staff

This article was written by the Oklahoma Gazette staff. To reach an editor, please email jchancellor@okgazette.com with this story headline in your subject line.

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