Investors Driving Reawakening of Downtown Tulsa



When the Mayo Hotel closed in 1981, it marked the end of an era; the passing of Tulsa’s reputation as the oil capital of the world. As the energy industry flocked to Houston, it left in its wake a collection of Art Deco buildings in the 100-square-block downtown district of Tulsa. Over the years, those once proud buildings stood abandoned as the suburbs expanded and investors looked elsewhere.

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photo credit: Sooner4Life via photopin cc

Three decades later, the Mayo Hotel was purchased by a construction executive for the lowly price of one dollar. The Snyder family immediately embarked on a redevelopment plan to bring the 102-room hotel back to life. At a price tag of $42 million, the plan was ambitious, to say the least. Along with the purchase of the hotel, Snyder also purchased a nearby parking lot for a quarter of a million dollars. In 2009, the Mayo Hotel and Lofts reopened and ushered in an era of resurgence for downtown Tulsa.

Over the past several years, other investors have followed suit and poured nearly $1 billion into Tulsa’s central business district. Among the projects completed in the last decade is the BOK Center. Tapping into the desire of a new generation to flee the suburbs and live closer to the action, developers have added approximately 400 apartments to the downtown area. Many of those residences are located in older office buildings that have been repurposed. While the new apartments represent significant growth, more than 600 apartments are slated to open in the downtown district through this year to serve the renewed interest in Tulsa. Several new hotels are also planned in a bit to meet increasing interest from travelers.

At the forefront of much of the downtown rejuvenation in downtown Tulsa is the George Kaiser Family Foundation, a philanthropic organization with a $3.5 billion endowment. The Foundation has led efforts to revitalize Tulsa, particularly the Brady Arts District, located on the north end of the downtown area.

Among the projects tackled by the Kaiser Foundation is a truck loading dock that was replaced with an urban park that is the setting of frequent events and concerts. Nearby, an old warehouse was rehabbed and is now home to the Woody Guthrie Center, a musician archive repository and museum. Residents and visitors are now able to enjoy new restaurants and bars that have opened in the Brady district.

Businesses are also once again turning their attention to downtown Tulsa. According to Tulsa World, Hogan Assessment, a company providing personality assessments on a multinational level, recently broke ground on a 35,000-square-foot building. The $15 million-building will serve as the firm’s new headquarters. When completed, the building will include meeting space for training events and seminars and feature a rooftop entertainment area with a catering kitchen.

With numerous new projects in the pipeline, a rejuvenated Tulsa with new places to live, dine, and play within easy walking distance will now easily be able to compete with such markets as Denver, Dallas, and Chicago.

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