Refreshed digs: Most downtown sites tagged vacant in 2007 are now active
BY JARREL WADE World Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
9/05/12 at 7:11 AM
View downtown properties cited by City of Tulsa since 2007 for not meeting city codes.
Unused, windows broken and with paint flaking off, it was the perfect building for their growing legal firm, Don Smolen II and his partners realized.
"It was a total dump when we bought it," Smolen said. "We knew if we could get it for the right price that we could do a whole lot with it."
After purchasing the Seventh Street and Cincinnati Avenue building in 2007, they spent two years turning the 1954-built, former home to Ridgway's into a modern, sleek downtown office building.
"It was an investment," Smolen said. "And it was a good investment. We're not going anywhere."
Smolen, Smolen and Roytman, Smolen's legal firm, purchased one of 67 downtown buildings the city declared vacant and in need of rehabilitation or demolition in 2007.
Since then, 66 of the 69 cases opened against the buildings have been marked as closed cases. Many of those were closed due to owners responding to the city's call while others were due to private investors who have purchased vacant structures with plans to rehabilitate, according to records provided to the World through an open records request.
Included among the closed cases is the Tulsa Club building, at 115 E. Fifth St., which was meant to go up for auction last month before legal action by the owner postponed the sale.
Michelle Allen, a city spokeswoman, said the 66 closed cases were closed for three main reasons: owners attended to the buildings through rehab or demolition, inspectors found the building to be occupied and legally operated or inspectors found the building simply did not meet the criteria for a dilapidated structure in the first place.
"The city achieved voluntary compliance from three property owners when the owners demolished the dilapidated structures existing at their property," Allen said in a statement. "The city has not had to incur any expense to demolish structures within the Inner Dispersal Loop at this time."
According to city ordinances, criteria used for designating a building as dilapidated include it must be "unfit for human occupancy" or it is determined to be a public nuisance through repeated code violations.
Several listed buildings owned by Wally Tipsword became closed cases after he was contacted to address minor problems, he said.
Tipsword, who owns several buildings in Tulsa's Brady District, said long before 2007, he had voluntarily demolished several problematic motels in the area after buying them.
His buildings that made the list are up to code and just waiting for buyers or lessees, he said.
"It wasn't very serious because I keep most of my property in prime condition," Tipsword said. "It's been vacant over a period of time, and they are unhappy about that."
Tipsword said city officials told him he had loose guttering that he needed to fix and that was the extent of his contact with the city.
"It's been a relationship kind of like husband and wife, we pick at each other," Tipsword said about being a developer dealing with the city. "We try to work with them (city officials). And we basically get along with them."
Tipsword said he thinks it's private investment that has revived the Brady District since 2007.
"It's a lot better down here but I don't know that the city has done anything," he said. "But I'm not knocking them. I stay clear of them."
Lester Springer, owner of a strip of circa-1925 buildings on Guthrie Avenue along downtown's railroad tracks, said his buildings are up to code and used for storage. Springer said it's not the city's business whether or not they are used actively.
Springer's case was closed in 2008 after he was contacted by city officials who asked him to cut down a tree, he said.
Records show city officials asked Springer to remove fallen tree limbs in 2008 before his case was closed.
"I never heard anything more from anybody," he said. "I don't know why they would want to tear it down unless they wanted to make it into parking for the ballpark."
Springer is involved in a lawsuit challenging downtown improvement-district fees meant to finance the construction of ONEOK Field, the recently-constructed downtown baseball park, he said.
While Springer and Tipsword have owned downtown property for decades and Smolen's firm is new to ownership, all said they would continue to invest in downtown and would like less city involvement.
"We need to find more space, and we're going to do it downtown," Smolen said. "We plan on doing more buildings."
Smolen said his legal firm has grown from six total staff when he bought his downtown office to more than 30 less than three years after moving in.
The only problem, Smolen said, is getting past many small hurdles the city has for new businesses to buy old buildings.
"There are a lot of things that made it hard to keep the project moving," Smolen said. "It would be nice" if the process were streamlined, he said.
"There's just way too much empty space downtown."
'Open' buildings list dwindles to three
The city of Tulsa only has three buildings left listed as "open." Open cases are vacant buildings where city officials have not been able to contact owners or the building remains dilapidated without plans in place for rehabilitation or demolition.
Original Print Headline: Refreshed digs
- 1720 S. Boulder Ave., The Abundant Life building - plans involving the rehabilitation of the Abundant Life Building began several years ago but have not been solidified. Other than a few minor code violations during the last several years, city officials are not seeking its demolition, hoping for investors to rehab the building for occupation.
- 1320 S. Cheyenne Ave., a fire-damaged synagogue - the city continues to try to contact the owner but has been unsuccessful. Currently, the property owner has filed bankruptcy in California and the mortgage holder has filed to move the legal proceedings to Oklahoma.
- 1416 E. 11th St., business strip - a local investor purchased the property and has contracted with a demolition company to begin demolishing the roof. The owner intends to rehabilitate the structure for commercial storefronts.
Jarrel Wade 918-581-8367
The Smolen, Smolen and Roytman law office at Seventh Street and Cincinnati Avenue downtown was purchased by the firm and renovated after it had sat abandoned. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Buildings in the 100 block of North Guthrie Avenue are among those being used for storage in the downtown area. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World
Donald Smolen's office is in the Smolen, Smolen and Roytman law office at Seventh Street and Cincinnati Avenue downtown. The firm purchased the building from the city of Tulsa and renovated it after it had been abandoned. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World