View from the top: Tulsa's former City Hall gets a new outlook
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Sunday, November 25, 2012
11/26/12 at 5:33 AM
The developers turning the former City Hall building into an Aloft hotel are betting on the views. And not just the magnificent ones that come with each of the hotel's exterior rooms.
But the view of what Tulsa's downtown can become.
"I think the success of downtown and the safety of downtown is dependent on old buildings being restored," said Macy Amatucci of Brickhugger LLC. "Everybody knows the ones that sit empty are the ones that get graffiti. It's not good for downtown."
For Amatucci and the other members of the development team, the new hotel - set to open Feb. 14 - is good for downtown because it marks the beginning of what they believe will be the revitalization of the Tulsa Civic Center Historic Plaza. The plaza and structures surrounding it are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Built in 1969 along with a detached City Council chamber, the 11-story City Hall building can be easy to miss, surrounded as it is by the Page Belcher Federal Building, the Tulsa City-County Library, the Tulsa County Courthouse, the Tulsa Police Department building and the Tulsa Convention Center.
But the developers say the planned reopening of Fifth Street from Denver Avenue to the Convention Center at Frisco Avenue - with a turnoff to the hotel's front door on the south side of the building - will bring a whole new life to the area.
"When this is all done and the street is done and the library has a new front door and the Convention Center has a new front door, the smartest people in the room are going to be the ones who decided not to tear this building down," said Bryan Bickle, president of Sustainable Design Builders, the firm constructing the hotel. "That would have been stupid."
TOCH LLC purchased the old City Hall site from the city for $1.3 million.
TOCH is made up of Brickhugger LLC and investors Neal Bhow, Lee Levinson and Bruce Taylor. Brickhugger principals John and Tori Snyder, along with their daughter, Amatucci, redeveloped the historic Mayo Hotel and the Detroit Lofts.
So it only made sense that they would want to save and revive the old City Hall building and its mid-century modern architecture.
"We are passionate about saving old buildings," John Snyder said. "We are also passionate about being part of turning downtown around."
Sustainable Design Builders, meanwhile, has worked to live up to its name. The company is using wooden doors from the old City Hall to do concrete form work and is constructing the WXYZ lounge and fitness center with steel from the old General Motors plant near Tinker Air Force base in Oklahoma City.
"Nobody else does that," Bickle said.
The WXYZ lounge and fitness area and outdoor pool will be in a new, separate structure being constructed north of the hotel. The pool and lounge will be connected to the hotel by a glass- enclosed walkway.
The inside of the City Council chamber will remain the same with additional access to the plaza planned to accommodate indoor-outdoor events.
Turning a tired old municipal building into a "tricked-out hotel," as John Snyder calls it, took some careful work - especially when it came to meeting historic preservation standards.
The cleaning of the building's concrete exterior had to be done according to National Park Service standards. The windows, too, had to be maintained in their original form. Inside the building, the terrazzo floors, marble wall panels and plaster ceilings also had to be restored to their original form.
But almost everything else in the hotel is new - from the heating, air and mechanical systems to the four 2,200-square-foot suites built on the 11th floor, where Tulsa's mayors once reigned.
The suites include full kitchens, glass tile mosaic walls, robotic toilets and huge bathroom mirrors that also serve as TV and computer screens.
For most visitors to the hotel, however, the accommodations will be a bit less luxurious but comfortable, affordable and plugged in. Spacious, too - the ceilings are 11 feet, 3 inches high.
With nightly rates of $129 or less and free wireless Internet access throughout the property, Aloft hotels are popular with young travelers and business people alike, Amatucci said. The hotel will also benefit from the fact that it is the only hotel in downtown Tulsa to accept Starwood Points.
Of course, the hotel's location - next door to the Convention Center and a block from the BOK Center - will be one of the hotel's biggest selling points.
"The city spent so much money redoing it (the Convention Center)," Amatucci said. "But it is really awkward when out-of-town people can't even figure out how to get to the Convention Center."
And down the road, after a few years of business, it may well be those views from the hotel's nearly 1,000 windows that keep people coming back.
"You have a view from every angle," Amatucci said. "There are not high rises blocking your view."
Plan to reopen section of Fifth Street
The Aloft hotel project includes a partnership with the city to reopen Fifth Street from Denver to Frisco avenues, 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 on the south side of the former City Hall building at the plaza level.
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.
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.
The developer, TOCH LLC, is responsible for the engineering work, which is subject to city approval, Zachary said. TOCH is paying for the design services and some service during construction.
Zachary estimated that the job would cost approximately $4 million and take nine months to a year to complete from the time it is advertised.
Original Print Headline: View from the top
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313
Developer John Snyder of TOCH LLC talks about the transformation of the former City Hall building into a new Aloft hotel. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
Bryan Bickle, president of Sustainable Design Builders, looks out the window of a room in the new Aloft hotel downtown. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World
The former City Hall building is in the process of being transformed into an Aloft hotel. CHRISTOPHER SMITH / Tulsa World