Thanks to the entrepreneurial spirit of local businesspeople and developers, downtown revitalization has been given more than just lip service in recent years.
The Blue Dome District struggled through the post-oil bust years; thanks to new retail and restaurant businesses bursting forth from what used to be dilapidated warehouses, the area is a late-night hot spot. The Brady District has become a haven for creative professionals. Residential conversion projects have cropped up in several IDL locations.
Since building “new” tends to present fewer challenges than rehabilitating an existing or historical structure, the efforts of entrepreneurs and developers who choose to reuse an abandoned downtown building reflect hope in a revived CBD.
Many developers approach a rehabilitation project with the intention of doing a project that seems forward and hip, “and then they find out everything they’re going to have to do that’s not seen, but is very expensive,” said Carson Smith, architect at Kinslow, Keith & Todd Inc.
Most of the buildings under renovation downtown are 80-plus years old, and that they stood vacant for so long wasn’t without reason.
“The buildings have a lot of those problems of an 80-year-old-plus building. Almost all of them have steel windows, and those windows are in various states of disrepair – they’re rusting. Some of them are just ruined,” said Robert Schaefer at Selser Schaefer Architects, 1350 S. Boulder Ave., Ste. 1100.
Of course, building codes have evolved greatly since the Roaring ‘20s.
“Exiting was non-existent in these buildings. Also, the walls weren’t really designed to handle the wind load requirements of today. The good thing is, they were designed as warehouses, for the most part.”
The floors of these former warehouses boast a “terrific load capacity, so you’re not limited to what you can do on the floors. Most of the time, the structural frames are pretty much in good shape,” Schaefer said.
As could be expected, “energy is a big problem with these old buildings,” said Tom Wallace, president of Wallace Engineering, 200 E. Brady. “They have little or no insulation.”
Because rehabilitation projects pose so many energy challenges, many building owners and architects look to marry green concepts with their rehabilitation plans.
“They want to do the right thing. It’s hard enough to heat and cool these old buildings sometimes, which can’t be sealed up quite as tightly as a brand-new building can. Having a more economical heating and cooling system is really a big plus,” Wallace said.
When working with rehabilitation projects, practice makes perfect.
“The experience of having worked with the city, with other regulatory agencies, with tax dollars and with restorative challenges will carve out our niche. You have to know the system,” said Joel Slaughter of Phillips Slaughter Rose Inc., temporarily housed in the Mayo Hotel.
Phillips Slaughter Rose Inc. has worked on phase I of the Mayo Hotel rehabilitation that included the renovation of the ballroom, as well as the McFarlin Building, Geodata Building at 211 S. Cheyenne Ave., and the Osage County Courthouse, built in 1910.
“It really wasn’t until the 1970s in the Tulsa area when people started doing renovations of historic buildings of buildings built in the 1920s, whether they were historic renovations or not. Within the last 10 years, that has changed quite a lot. There is not a lot of an experience level with that, compared to the experience level of doing new buildings,” Wallace said.
Rehabilitation work makes up “not a lot” of the portfolio of business at Wallace Engineering – about 5 percent. Locally, the firm is busy with Vision 2025 projects and the Mayo Building loft project.
“There aren’t that many developers in Tulsa who are doing the housing like the lofts downtown – that’s new,” Smith said. “Having been through that twice now is a real advantage because we can teach them a lot of what they’re going to deal with, and a lot of them don’t know that up front.”
The rehabilitation portfolio at KKT includes the Philtower Lofts project, the Travis Mansion renovation, the conversion of the Mayo Building into loft apartments and the rehabilitation of the 700,000-SF Eastgate Metroplex. Half of all work at KKT is rehabilitation.
Where Credit is Due
An enviable hip factor isn’t the only incentive to rehabilitate a building.
The federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit (RTC) encourages the preservation and reuse of existing buildings by offering federal tax credits to the owners of historic properties.
Since the inception of the RTC in 1976, the credit has encouraged the rehabilitation of more than 31,000 historic properties, representing more than $31 billion in private investment. Nearly half the states now have similar programs, including Oklahoma.
Certified historic structures are eligible for a federal and state credit equal to 20 percent of the cost of rehabilitation. Properties built before 1936, but not eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places or to be included in a certified historic district, are eligible for a federal credit equal to 10 percent of the cost of rehabilitation.
Though “preservation” can turn into a dirty word in real estate and construction circles, the process should be thought of as “a couple of extra steps,” said Amanda DeCorte, preservation planner with the City of Tulsa.
“You’re dealing with the federal government here, so naturally it’s not a simple process. But, it’s 40 percent of your money back. Especially if you could couple that with some other incentives, like any kind of housing or small business credits, you could package that to be a very good thing.”
Tulsans aren’t the only ones to notice that the area is a hot market for rehabilitation and preservation projects.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Tulsa for its 2008 National Preservation Conference, to be held at the Tulsa Convention Center Oct. 21-25. The Conference is the premier preservation conference in the U.S. for professionals in preservation and allied fields.
Rehabilitation projects are “like a treasure hunt,” Smith said. “You get to see a lot of the history, and you think about how they built it. It’s like going back and putting the story together.
“I have a real sense of romance about buildings like this and the way they attach themselves to history. It really excites me to bring those memories back to life,” Slaughter said.
“Any existing building is infrastructure in our town,” DeCorte said. “When you lose that, you’re losing tax dollars, the opportunity to reuse that building. All our existing buildings are assets.
“We’re excited right now because we have so much opportunity, and we’re starting to embrace it.”
200 E. Brady
Rehabilitation plan: Rehabilitate a more than 40,000-SF, 1920s warehouse in Tulsa’s historic Brady District into a two-story, state-of-the-art, flagship office building for a local engineering firm and a creative firm.
Year Built: late 1920s
Year Renovated: 2006
Owner: 200 East Brady LLC
Rehabilitation architect: Selser Schaefer Architects, 1350 S. Boulder Ave., Ste. 1100
Engineer: Wallace Engineering; Phillips & Bacon Inc.; Jacob Braun Company
Construction manager: Working Points Contractor
SF of Rehabilitation: 40,500 SF
Cost of project: $3.6 million
Before he snatched the property, Tom Wallace said he had his eye on the ‘20s-era warehouse at 200 E. Brady since the mid-90s.
“I’ve always been attracted to these old buildings.” he said.
The warehouse posed its share of challenges during rehabilitation: damaged windows, an undermined ground-floor slab, and a west wall beyond repair.
Most of the windows were restored, and the west wall was scrapped in favor of a glass fa?ade that reflects the modernist period during which the original warehouse was built. Three of the four walls of the structural frame were preserved. Much of the original materials, including original windows, were reused.
The finished project won an Oklahoma AIA Merit Award last year, as well as the Tulsa Preservation Award from the Tulsa Preservation Commission in 2006. The project also earned a Reconstruction Award from Building Design+Construction magazine.
Though the design team didn’t pursue LEED accreditation, “the building is, by today’s standards, incredibly green and sustainable,” said Robert Schaefer, the architect who led the design team on the project.
“We hoped it would be a catalyst for the area, and some people have told us that we have been a catalyst for further development down there. It was, all around, a really good thing for us, and a good thing for this area.” Wallace said.
420 S. Main Street
Rehabilitation plan: 67 urban-style, one- and two-bedroom lofts ranging from 697 to 2,000 SF on floors 3-10; a fitness club in the basement and on a portion of the first and second floors; property management offices and offices for lease on the second floor; a walkway connecting to the fourth level of the parking garage to the north of the Mayo Building; a small deck on the roof.
Year Built: 1910 (first five stories); 1914 (expansion to the north); 1917 (addition of five stories)
Year Renovated: 2008, prospective
Rehabilitation architect: Kinslow, Keith & Todd Inc., 2021 S. Lewis Ave., Ste. 150
Engineer: Wallace Engineering, structural engineers, 200 E. Brady
SF of Rehabilitation: 106,000 rentable SF
Cost of project: $20 million, plus
Work on the long-awaited Mayo Building loft project looks like it might start this year.
Rehabilitation will take 15-18 months, starting in the top floor and working downward, according to Emily Rohledger, Mayo Building property manager and Wiggin Properties vice president. The first tenants could occupy the lofts as early as Fall 2008. The project is projected to cost more than $20 million.
“With the changes we are required to make to keep the building historically accurate, it could cost as much as twice our original target,” Rohledger said.
Still, Wiggin Properties plans to continue with the project, which will benefit from $3 million in Vision 2025 funds.
The most current plans call for the rehabilitation of the elevator doors and stairwells in the building, among other historical details. Wiggin Properties is working with Kinslow, Keith & Todd Inc. toward preserving the building to benefit from state and federal tax credits, as well as membership on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Mayo Building project “is like a Rubik’s Cube. You get one side all one color, but in the process you’ve messed up the other side that you had all one color. It’s just like that,” said Carson Smith, the architect that led the design team on the project. “When you get one thing solved, you’ve messed up something somewhere else.”
“We want to keep the building as a whole, as a refreshed and restored historical landmark. But, behind the historical fa?ade, we want modern apartments. We want the best of both worlds,” Rohleder said.
115 W. Fifth Street
Renovation plan: 100 hotel rooms ranging from efficiency to 900 SF and 76 lofts; floors 1-15 will be comprised of hotel rooms and lofts, floors 2-9 of hotel rooms, floors 10-15 of lofts with lofts also available on the mezzanine level; a 2,000-SF, top-floor penthouse; Topeca Coffee and another restaurant on the ground floor; a mezzanine-level museum; workout room on the ground floor; restored ballroom.
Year Built: 1924
Year Renovated: 2001
Owner: Mayo Hotel & Lofts LP
Rehabilitation architect: Phillips Slaughter Rose Inc., temporarily officing in Mayo Hotel, main office at 6670 S. Lewis Ave., Ste. 201.
Engineer: Phillips Slaughter Rose Inc.
Construction manager: Phillips Slaughter Rose Inc.
SF of Rehabilitation: 287,000 SF
Cost of project: $40 million
Phillips Slaughter Rose Inc. is serving as the architect, engineer and construction manager on the Mayo Hotel rehabilitation project, on which work has officially – and finally – begun.
“We have actually already started, but we have some permits out there. We have moved in, the event center is in, parking is being addressed. Our goal is to see actual work and improvement by April or May,” said Joel Slaughter, principal at Phillips Slaughter Rose Inc.
The south and west elevations of the hotel have been assigned to the National Register of Historic Places. Floors 2-15 have been gutted. The total project will take 15-18 months to complete.
“It won’t be a cookie cutter hotel or apartment complex,” Slaughter said. “It will be very high-class. We have taken what the building gave us and worked with it.
The Mayo Hotel will offer New York-style loft apartments, two-story garden apartments with three bedrooms and an office, and a penthouse.
Planning for the rehabilitation of the ballroom is underway.
“We are restoring the ballroom to exact historic specifications. We can salvage the molding and restore it. We will put that back the way it was,” Slaughter said.
Philtower Lofts and Philtower LEED Certification
427 S. Boston Ave.
Renovation plan: To build 25 urban-style lofts on floors 12-20 of the Philtower Building. Management is seeking Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification of the building, a pioneering move that will make the Philtower one of, if not the first, rehabilitated buildings in Tulsa to become green certified.
Year Built: 1928
Year Rehabilitated: 2006 (loft project); 2008 (LEED certification)
Owner: Philtower LLC
Rehabilitation architect (loft project): Kinslow, Keith & Todd Inc., 2021 S. Lewis Ave., Ste. 150
Engineer (loft project): Larry Vorba, structural engineer, with Cyntergy AEC, 320 S. Boston Ave., 12th floor; Russell Bartling, mechanical engineer; Glen Martin, energy engineering.
Construction/project manager (loft project and LEED certification): Richard Winton
SF of Rehabilitation: 30,000 SF (loft project); Philtower measures total of 160,000 SF (for LEED certification)
Cost of loft project: $5 million
The Philtower Loft project served as a learning experience for the owners and architects as it signified the beginnings of a reawakening, hip CBD.
The plans for the 25 loft-style apartments “changed as we were building them,” said Carson Smith, the architect who led the design team on the project.
“As they were being built, the market was telling the client that more two-bedroom units were what people were wanting. So, as they were building down from the top, we were changing the bottom ones coming up into two-bedroom units.”
Philtower LLC is now seeking LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for the building. Richard Winton, property and leasing manager at the Philtower, estimates the process, which began about four months ago, will take one year.
The LEED Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction and operation of high-performance green buildings. The rating usually applies to new construction.
Becoming LEED-certified as an existing building “is pretty involved,” Winton said.
Winton plans to improve thermal efficiency by lining the 800 historic, steel case windows in the building with high-performance ones. Both sets will be operable.
“In the parts of the building where we’ve put those windows in, it has made a dramatic difference,” Winton said.
Winton is also working to replace dated plumbing with more efficient models like the ones in the loft apartments in use. ?