Final tenants prepare to move from Oklahoma City's First National Center building
The Golden Dragon Restaurant has been serving up its discount Chinese buffet to downtown denizens on the ground floor of First National Center for the past 29 years, but will close at the end of July.
Restaurant owner Ken Huor would like to reopen in another location downtown, but he's still looking for a new spot. The restaurant's sales also have taken a hit as tenants have moved out of First National Center over the past year, Huor said.
“It's been slow, this building is empty now — there's only four or five tenants left,” Huor said.
The once-bustling halls of First National Center are now almost empty as the last few retail tenants prepare to move out this summer.
Tenants have been told to move out of First National Center by July 31 in preparation for a sale of the property to a team led by developer Gary Brooks and Texas contractor and developer Charlie Nicholas this summer. The new owners have plans to redevelop the property as a hotel and apartments.
Nancy Farha, owner of Nancy Farha's clothing boutique in First National Center, plans to move to a new location downtown, but is still trying to decide between two possible new spots. Nancy Farha's has been in business for almost 40 years — 27 of them in First National Center.
Although Farha has seen First National Center empty out over the past year, business is still good, she said.
“I love downtown,” Farha said. “I've seen it up, I've seen it down and right now, it's kind of in a state of flux, but our business is doing well and we want to continue on.”
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- Video: Retail tenants continue to leave the First National Center (2016-06-03)
Some of First National's tenants already have moved across the street to the Robinson Renaissance building, including Pat's Phase II salon, Gina Master Tailor and Downtown OKC Tag Agency.
The restaurant Let's Do Greek closed it's First National Center store, but still operates an Edmond location, as well as multiple food trucks.
“Thank you for 4 1/2 wonderful years,” said a handwritten sign posted in the window of Let's Do Greek's closed First National Center location.
Other businesses at First National Center are closing for good.
Wayne Castle and his wife have run the Tinder Box on the ground floor of First National Center for the past 28 years. The Castles plan to retire at the end of July when they have to move out of the building.
“It's too expensive and I'm too old to sign a new long-term lease,” Wayne Castle said. “I've been here too long and I'm ready.”
Over the years, The Tinder Box counted many Oklahoma City attorneys and business people among its clientele — Harrison Ford even bought a cigar there a few years ago, Castle said.
“The traffic used to be shoulder to shoulder through here. It's sad,” he said.
Cafe 7, First National Center's largest remaining ground floor tenant, has just signed a lease on a new restaurant space at 100 W Main formerly occupied by Revolve Pizza. The building was formerly known as Century Center Mall.
Pauly Sorrentino, co-owner of Cafe 7, said the restaurant just signed a lease on Thursday. Cafe 7 plans a move sometime this summer.
Sorrentino said Cafe 7 decided to stay at First National Center as long as it could.
“The (incoming) owner has been very straightforward, and he was going to let me stay as long as he could let me, and he cut me a good deal to stay,” he said. “We had a lot of good offers to move out, some to locations outside of downtown, but we had a strong desire to stay downtown where we have established a loyal following.”
Cafe 7's business at First National Center has not suffered since tenants started moving out last year, Sorrentino said.
“We were very surprised the business stayed very strong when you had lost that many people leaving the building. That gives us confidence in moving to Century Center.”
Cafe 7 hopes to move in July, with a quick one- to two-day shutdown at First National followed by an immediate opening at Century Center.
Advantages to Century Center, he said, include proximity to the current spot, as well as more people.
“Century Center has people in it,” Sorrentino said.
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 ›
Brianna Bailey joined The Oklahoman in January 2013 as a business writer. During her time at The Oklahoman, she has walked across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to-south down Western Avenue, and once east-to-west, tracing the old U.S. Route 66.... Read more ›