BY P.J. LASSEK World Staff Writer
Sunday, April 22, 2012
4/22/12 at 7:21 AM
Looks are deceiving, developers of the former City Hall say.
While it appears from the outside that nothing is taking place to convert the 43-year-old structure into a hotel after it was purchased 18 months ago, the reality is that the project is 52 percent complete.
"There is all this progress going on inside, and nobody sees us," said Bryan Bickle, president of the construction firm Sustainable Design Builders, noting that the drive-in basement hides the staging area.
"It's kind of neat," he said. "When it is all done, we're going to walk away and nobody will notice we got it done."
Adding to the confusion is the absence of changes to the exterior of the building, said Hilary Hunt, vice president of the construction firm.
The 11-story structure with a detached one-story building that housed the former City Council chamber bears the architectural style of mid-century modern and is located within the Tulsa Civic Center Historic District, which is registered with the National Park Service.
"Because the site is part of the National Registry, we're not doing anything to the outside of the building," Hunt said.
Cathy Amber, a local preservation consultant who helped the city achieve the historic district designation a couple of years ago, said there is no reason to disturb the building's exterior. "It's in very good shape. It just needs to be cleaned."
Ambler said changing the exterior of the two buildings constructed in 1969 would jeopardize the tax credits provided for the project.
She also noted that each building within an historic district adds to the significance of that district.
Redeveloping within historic preservation parameters is not new for the site's development group TOCH LLC, which is made up of Brickhugger LLC and investors Neal Bhow, Lee Levinson and Bruce Taylor.
Brickhugger principals, John and Tori Snyder and their daughter, Macy Amatucci, have redeveloped the historic Mayo Hotel and the Detroit Lofts.
TOCH purchased the site from the city for $1.2 million and has an agreement with Aloft hotels to occupy it. The redevelopment project is estimated to cost $25 million.
Bickle said several of the floors in the former City Hall are finished out with furniture to be arriving soon. The hotel will have a total of 190 units.
The 11th floor, the former mayor's office, is being converted into four celebrity suites, each with unique designs. That floor features incredible views of downtown and the Arkansas River through the existing wall of vertical windows.
The old council chamber building will be converted into an entertainment venue, and there will be an outdoor pool on the plaza area to the west.
The construction is set to be complete by the end of the year, Bickle said.
The project also includes a partnership with the city to reopen Fifth Street from Denver Avenue to Frisco Ave-nue, the street that stretches through the current parking area along the east side of the Tulsa Convention Center.
The entrance to the hotel will be located on the south side of the former City Hall building at the plaza level. Having vehicular traffic to that entrance is vital to the success of the hotel, John Snyder has said.
Paul Zachary, the city's Engineering Services Department director, said the city has identified $5 million in surplus money from the $285 million Fix Our Streets bond package to fund the street project.
Fix Our Streets funding totals $452 million, which includes the bond package and the extension of the third-penny program for two years and capturing a share of Tulsa County's Four to Fix sales tax.
Zachary said reopening Fifth Street is a complicated project because the plaza, which was not designed for traffic flow, sits on top of street level and basement parking.
The plan is to ultimately open Fifth Street into a two-lane, one-way street to the west which crosses the plaza about halfway before ramping down to Frisco Avenue.
Code requires that a Fire Department ladder truck be able to access the side of the hotel for emergency rescues, which increases weight load and will require the plaza and street level parking to be shored up, Zachary said.
TOCH is responsible for the engineering work, which is subject to city approval, Zachary said. The city is advertising the project and with TOCH's engineer will monitor the street construction, he said.
Zachary said under the best-case scenario a contract can be awarded by Aug. 1 with construction estimated to take nine months.
The project will be done in phases to accommodate the opening of the hotel, "but that, too, will be complicated," he said.
The development group and construction firm also are involved in the converting into residential units the Vandever Building at 16 E. Fifth St. and the former YMCA at 515 S. Denver Ave.
Vandever Lofts: The interior demolition is just beginning for the $3.7 million project that will feature 40 residential units.
The plan is to have 10 units on each floor ranging from 560 square feet to 1,000 square feet, Hunt said.
There also will be 21 covered parking spots in the basement with access from the alley.
There will be opportunity for retail and commercial development on the street level, she said.
The project received $250,000 from the $3 million in 2001 third-penny sales tax revenue for downtown housing, which is allocated in 10-year interest-free loans. The sales-tax program requires the funds to be repaid and then recirculated for other downtown housing projects.
The Vandever project is set to be completed by the end of this year.
Denver Y Lofts: Unlike the Vandever project, Bickle said the $9.7 million YMCA project has unique challenges "on the way it was built and the way it was used and the multiple renovations since its original construction."
Currently under way is exploratory demolition to abate asbestos, he said.
"With that in mind, we are taking our time going through the exploratory process," and are working with the Tulsa City-County Health Department and the Department of Labor, he said.
The plan is to renovate the seven-story building into 82 residential units ranging in size from a small studio at 450 square feet up to larger units of 1,200 square feet, Hunt said.
There also will be 54 covered parking spaces dispersed between the basement and street level, she said.
Hunt said there also are plans for a fitness center "which we think is appropriate at the YMCA with the opportunity of retail and mixed commercial on the street level."
Bickle said the plan is to use the existing residential floors and then convert the old gym and racketball spaces into industrial-style lofts.
This project also received $1.75 million from the 2001 sales tax funds for downtown housing.
The project is set to be completed in spring 2013.
Downtown revitalization projects
Former City Hall
Location: Civic Center Plaza
Converted: Alofts Hotel
Location: 16 E. Fifth St.
Converted: Vandever Lofts
Location: 515 E. Denver Ave.
Converted: Denver Y Lofts
Completion: Spring 2013
P.J. Lassek 918-581-8382
Developers and investors Bryan Bickle, Neal Bhow, Macy Amatucci, Bruce Taylor and John Snyder look over the progress on the conversion of the former City Hall into the Aloft Hotel. The Italian-tiled mosaic in the background is on the exterior of a restroom. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World
Changes to the former City Hall are taking shape on the interior. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
The project at the Vandever Building, 16 E. Fifth St. in Tulsa, is to be completed in December. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World