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Retail Likely for Gold Dome - Grocery Stores Looking at Anchor Spot

Jonathan Russell may be the owner that finally "gets it" when it comes to finding an adaptive re-use of the Gold Dome. The property has been besieged with owners who have either over-thought the building and sought to maintain the open central lobby and continue with office space (Dr. Irene Lam); thought they could tear it down and not suffer from the public wrath (David Box); or involve it in some sort of ill-conceived publicity effort or worse (TEEMCO, which I purposely avoided covering after they refused to acknowledge early on that they weren't being quite truthful about not ever having bought the property).

Russell has tackled a difficult old property and restored its historic fabric while doing a complete adaptive re-use. His work at The Rise went longer than he anticipated, but he got it done. I'm not impressed with those who take issue with the results and dismisses the mix of upscale neighborhood restaurants and shops simply because The Rise also is home to a Cox store. Try becoming a developer with all of its inherent risks, double those risks by tackling neglected urban historic buildings, and make money at it. If you succeed, I'll listen for hours as you complain about the time it took to get the Rise done and its final tenant mix.

Not willing to take the risk? You're not a developer? OK. Go ahead and complain. But I'm not terribly interested in listening.

I'm very interested in listening to Russell and following his efforts with the Gold Dome. He recognizes the location at NW 23 and Classen is an incredible asset for retail. Walgreens and CVS both located at the corner, and they don't do that unless you're looking at perfect intersection for retail.

The Gold Dome is a landmark. It's unforgettable. And it is guaranteed to generate customer traffic if it is matched with the right retail tenant and right interior design. Russell told me today the Gold Dome is almost certain to be leased to retail tenants. He also said he is in talks with at least two grocery chains, one local and one national.

This makes perfect sense. What grocery chain wouldn't want to locate across from a CVS and/or a Walgreens? They've proven the market and the rooftops. The risk is abated.

Now, some observations of my own that in no way reflect anything said or hinted by Russell. These observations are my own, based on following this property for the past 20 years. It is no secret that I am passionate about Oklahoma City history and the city's architecture.

But I'm not a blind building hugger either, contrary to popular belief. I am a longtime student, in a loose sense, of state historian Bob Blackburn. He is the one I look up to, follow, and always find instructive in my understanding of our history.

He taught me years ago, and I came to fully grasp this over time, that not all old buildings are historic (likewise, I can argue not all historic buildings - like the now lost Stage Center - are really that old). The Gold Dome is absolutely historic. The architecture is unique and worth fighting for. I cringed when the Urban Design Committee allowed TEEMCO to change the original gold paint scheme on the exterior walls to a tacky silver, and I will be raising this issue soon as I look at possible inconsistencies and questionable judgement shown by its members.

And if Russell were to ask me, I'd advise him to restore that original gold color. But I'm also not a purist - I'm a pragmatic when it comes to these matters. And I really question the efforts of the past to keep all of the interior bank teller stands, walls and windows intact.

They hinder the adaptive re-use of the property. And if Russell is pressured to hold to that standard in any retail configuration, I fear such effort will fail. Blindly maintain those petitions, counters and windows and the risk may be dooming the building to failure and ultimately demolition (this is my observation, and in so way, whatsoever, have I had this discussion with Russell nor has he even hinted at such a scenario).

Likewise, the drive-through to the west of the building is not original to the structure - it was added years after the building was first opened as Citizens National Bank. Raze it. Make way for more development or parking that might be needed to ensure success for future retail tenants.

Russell is someone who shares a love for city history and architecture. Maybe he'll figure out a way to keep everything as is. But consider my thoughts tonight to be yet another effort to share a possible outcome that might become a reality - and won't be as horrifying as some might conclude too hastily.

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Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›