The old Central Business District never declined as much as the rest of downtown Tulsa. Dominated by tall office buildings, the area remained active during daylight hours Monday through Friday even after retailers and restaurants headed for the suburbs.
Now rebranded as the Deco District, however, it hasn’t changed much in recent years even as other parts of downtown have become more ‘round-the-clock destinations.
“It’s not an area that people think about going at night or on the weekends,” says Maggie Hoey, executive director of Tulsa’s Young Professionals, or TYPros. “But we think it could be and should be.”
To demonstrate the district’s potential, Typros’ annual Street Cred event will focus on an alley between Fifth and Sixth streets just west of Boston Avenue.
Yes, an alley. Dark, narrow and full of trash.
It might not seem like the most obvious choice for revitalization. But major cities all across the country have been experimenting with the idea of “activating alleys,” or turning them into places intended for people to visit at all times of the day. In this case, restaurant owner Libby Billings had the idea to turn the alley behind Elote into the Tulsa Art Alley, a sort of outdoor gallery for pedestrians.
It will remain an active alley but nearby businesses are discussing ways to consolidate the number of dumpsters and will decorate trash bins to become part of the art exhibits.
Street Cred picks a part of town that seems neglected and gives it a temporary makeover, often using chalk or traffic cones or computer renderings to show how the area could be redeveloped in the future. The hope, of course, is that developers will see the potential and someday make the improvements permanent.
This time, however, at least some parts of the project will already be permanent. Several wall murals will remain in the alley even after the Street Cred event on the last weekend of April. Other elements of the project, such as lighting and park benches, might last only a few days.
“Lighting will be a big part of this,” Hoey says. “We’re hoping the property owners and the city will work together to make everything permanent.”
If they do, the Deco District will have a first-of-its-kind attraction in Tulsa and the heart of downtown might start beating seven days a week again.