Despite Obstacles, Philtower Sees Flurry of Activity

With the conversion of the Atlas Life Building, 415 S. Boston Ave., looming, tenants determined to remain in Tulsa’s downtown business district are scurrying to find new office space, creating a glut of office space free-agents and a healthy market benefiting managers of downtown buildings.
Just next door to the Atlas Building, Richard Winton, manager of the 24-story Philtower Building, 427 S. Boston Ave., says his property is seeing occupancy rates not seen since the 1970s.
“We have had a very recent upsurge in tenants moving in our office space,” he said. “Just last month we had five tenants move in. We are really filling up.”
The Philtower, which was completed in 1928 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, contains 110,000 SF of office space and is currently 75 percent occupied.
Hotel development company SJS Hospitality LLC will soon begin a $15 million, two-year conversion of the Atlas Life Building, from its current retail and office use to a 120-room hotel in partnership with the Courtyard by Marriott.
Winton says the current flurry of activity might also be attributed to the much-anticipated opening of the BOk Center and the nearing completion of many downtown improvement projects.
“Downtown activity has just sort of popped in the last six months. Since November I have been extremely busy,” he said, “negotiating new leases, showing space and renovating space.”
He also claims the quality and price of downtown office space is drawing tenants to his property, which stands as one of downtown’s most recognizable landmarks.
“Downtown offers a great value,” he said. “Suburban office space is expensive and for the most part, it is full.”
“We have seen a combination of people moving out of other downtown spaces and people moving from the suburbs.”
Winton says the conversion of the Atlas Building will do more than just disperse current office tenants. He thinks the addiaddition of non-office going persons to downtown Tulsa will assist in reviving the almost non-existent restaurant scene.
“Having the Atlas Life Building as a hotel will help our ground floor spaces tremendously. Right now we have some restaurant space just off of the main lobby and having the hotel there will justify having a restaurant come back.”
Winton also believes the sale and subsequent conversion of the Atlas Building means more to Tulsa than just another improved and occupied building.
“Among other things, absentee landlords have made the redevelopment of downtown much slower because they are willing to do nothing but maintain the status quo of their buildings,” he said. “But, it is a positive that the Atlas was sold to someone who wanted to improve it.”
The Philtower also contains 25 loft style apartments ranging in size from 729 SF to 1,800 SF. Winton says the presence of the apartments, which were renovated from unused office space in 2006, has helped the building as a whole remain one of downtown’s most prestigious addresses.
“The apartments are typically 100 percent occupied,” he said, noting that the building currently has three apartments available. “They has been a great success and command a premium rent because of the views and the standards to which they were built.”
“They have really helped the building.”
The apartments, despite their recent success, came about only after a 2003 spat with the City of Tulsa over the use of an outdoor fire escape.
“The fire marshal forced us to close the top part of the building,” he said, “because the space has only one interior staircase and has a fire escape as a second means of exit.”
A later engineering study later proved the fire escape needed nothing more than a “fresh coat of paint and a bolt replaced here and there,” said Winton.
After compliance with the fire marshal’s orders cleared the top floors of office tenants, Winton says the building’s owners, the Hawkins Family, wanted to take the empty space in another direction by developing Tulsa’s first true loft apartments.
He said that despite the success, the time and effort to convert the space was quite a setback for the building.
“It wasted considerable time and money moving people in and out of the space and we lost quite a few tenants in the process.”
Winton believes the City of Tulsa’s building codes, designed to assure quality and safety in development and the source of the conflict, impede downtown progress far more often than they assist.
“Downtown’s biggest challenge is in its codes. They are making it hard on landlords to make these buildings profitable,” he said. “Most of the properties are not profitable enough to afford the type of construction that the codes call for.”
“Tulsa’s building code process, in general, is very tough,” he said. “I deal with developers from all over the country and most tell me that Tulsa’s codes are the most difficult they have ever had to deal with.”
“To the point where a lot of the developers avoid the city.”
“Quite a few developers that live in Tulsa but will not develop here because they don’t have the money to deal with what comes with developing in Tulsa,” he continued. “They can do it far cheaper other places.”
“The codes are pretty draconian and are much more strict than New York or Boston, cities with far more high rises.”
“The codes in Tulsa are punitive.”



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