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Life returning to OKC's first high rise

Developer Andy Burnett visits with  Jimmy Irwin, whose  firm, Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions, is set to anchor the recently restored Pioneer Building. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]
Developer Andy Burnett visits with Jimmy Irwin, whose firm, Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions, is set to anchor the recently restored Pioneer Building. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]

Restoration of the Pioneer Building, the city’s first high-rise, is complete, and life is set to return with tenants to include an insurance firm, an oil and gas company and an all-day restaurant and lounge that will anchor the corner of Broadway and Dean A. McGee.

The seven-story building was originally home to the Pioneer Telephone Co., which was the first to secure telephone service to the entire city. In later years, the company and building were acquired by AT&T, which ultimately sealed ground floor windows with marble as it adjoined larger buildings built in the 1930s and 1970s.

The building was already on the National Register of Historic Places when it was purchased in 2016 by Mark Beffort, Andy Burnett and Roy Oliver. Restoration and renovation plans were drawn up by architect Jeremy Gardner and construction started in 2017.

Sitting on the porch of Burnett’s home one evening, insurance executive Jimmy Irwin discussed his desire to consolidate the Edmond and Norman offices of the Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions, which is a recent merger of two firms.

“It’s everything that embodies the Frates Irwin merger,” Irwin said. “Frates was founded in 1924, and Irwin is a young, youthful energetic company founded in 2002. The outside of the Pioneer Building is 1907, and the inside is 2019.”

Irwin loved the building, it’s limestone exterior, the marble interior created using marble from Marble City. But the deal to move the firm's 50 employees to Pioneer wasn’t done until Irwin was introduced to Tony Capucille, president of Heartland Payment Sytems, at the annual Starlight Supper earlier this year in front of the Civic Center Music Hall.

Heartland is set to move into its new headquarters being built by Andy and David Burnett at NW 6 and Broadway in July 2020.

“Jimmy was having a difficult time explaining to others why he would like to move his company to downtown, but after conversation with Tony, it became a lot more clear,” Andy Burnett said. “Tony’s reasoning was largely focused on the vibrant energy of Automobile Alley and he said that energy resonates with his company’s culture.”

Being near the streetcar route, he said, was “critical” in his decision to move to Automobile Alley. Irwin had his talking points to share with partners and employees, adding in the building’s easy access to Interstate 235, availability of Lime scooters and walking distance to downtown housing, shops, restaurants and attractions.

“Having a culture that is client and employee-centric, while at the same time having the amenities that downtown OKC has to offer people and officing in downtown’s first high rise and in my opinion the most beautiful building in OKC is an attraction that we are looking forward to,” Irwin said.

Frates Irwin is set to move into the sixth and seventh floors next March, while Robinson & Park, the office management company led by Beffort, is set to move into the third floor. A letter of intent is signed with an oil & gas company looking to move into the fourth floor. The fifth floor, meanwhile, remains available for lease.

A shared vision by Burnett and Irwin led to the leasing of the east half of the first floor to Ben Nockels, Tricia and Chris Castro, who also are partners in the Kitchen at Commonplace in Midtown. Local consulting group Springboard will oversee operations.

Floor plans for The Lobby at Pioneer show a series of smaller tables facing the windows opening up to Broadway and Dean A. McGee, while the back of the restaurant is set up with a bar fronting the restaurant’s kitchen. Couches and seats are envisioned in the mix, along with an extended table. A private dining room, meanwhile, will be located on the west side of the entry lobby on Dean A. McGee.

Nockels said the lobby, meanwhile, may be manned by a concierge.

“Imagine a single environment that transitions throughout the many moments and routines of the day just like the best hotel lobbies do,” Nockels said, “from that early morning espresso and pastry on your way up the grand central staircase of the fully preserved and appreciated historic entry of the building to a group co-working session with colleagues that might spill over into the lunch hour where you’ll continue to receive table service.”

Burnett and Irwin said the Frates Irwin name will top the building and that Irwin’s involvement has extended to joining the ownership group as they pursue historic tax credits and opportunity zone status under the guidance of veteran tax credit consultant Chuck Wiggin.

“We are creating a bold, modern grandeur at the edge of the city’s business district where it meets up with its famed Automobile Alley, while respecting the rich historic pedigree of this building,” Irwin said. “The Pioneer Building started downtown Oklahoma City’s high rise landscape while being the first of the kind and it now symbolizes everything Oklahoma City’s downtown revival is about.”

Related Photos
<strong>Pioneer Building owner Andy Burnett stands with new tenant Jimmy Irwin with Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]</strong>

Pioneer Building owner Andy Burnett stands with new tenant Jimmy Irwin with Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-b3d7250345b429afc645a09241d04f02.jpg" alt="Photo - Pioneer Building owner Andy Burnett stands with new tenant Jimmy Irwin with Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Pioneer Building owner Andy Burnett stands with new tenant Jimmy Irwin with Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Pioneer Building owner Andy Burnett stands with new tenant Jimmy Irwin with Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-3b10154c48251ba12c8ced332f9444b6.jpg" alt="Photo - The entry lobby at the 1907 Pioneer Building has been restored to its original appearance. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" The entry lobby at the 1907 Pioneer Building has been restored to its original appearance. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> The entry lobby at the 1907 Pioneer Building has been restored to its original appearance. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8b3c0328c7b0e4fe98c7bfd636822e99.jpg" alt="Photo - Restoration of the Pioneer Building, built in 1907, included the original elevator cages on each floor. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Restoration of the Pioneer Building, built in 1907, included the original elevator cages on each floor. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Restoration of the Pioneer Building, built in 1907, included the original elevator cages on each floor. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-2a2ee0c3df907a77ceacb1c607c3f77f.jpg" alt="Photo - The seven-story, gray limestone Pioneer Building was built in 1907 as the headquarters of the Pioneer Telephone Co., the first company to gain full control of phone service in early day Oklahoma City. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" The seven-story, gray limestone Pioneer Building was built in 1907 as the headquarters of the Pioneer Telephone Co., the first company to gain full control of phone service in early day Oklahoma City. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> The seven-story, gray limestone Pioneer Building was built in 1907 as the headquarters of the Pioneer Telephone Co., the first company to gain full control of phone service in early day Oklahoma City. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8caf18b35b108ba1c8b9be2c3c5c2491.jpg" alt="Photo - The Lobby at the Pioneer, a restaurant and bar, will anchor the first floor of the Pioneer Building, where windows were enclosed with marble for decades until a reccent restoration. Rendering by Gardner Architects. " title=" The Lobby at the Pioneer, a restaurant and bar, will anchor the first floor of the Pioneer Building, where windows were enclosed with marble for decades until a reccent restoration. Rendering by Gardner Architects. "><figcaption> The Lobby at the Pioneer, a restaurant and bar, will anchor the first floor of the Pioneer Building, where windows were enclosed with marble for decades until a reccent restoration. Rendering by Gardner Architects. </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-4256d38084ce84a6dc6afaed272a092a.jpg" alt="Photo - Developer Andy Burnett visits with Jimmy Irwin, whose firm, Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions, is set to anchor the recently restored Pioneer Building. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] " title=" Developer Andy Burnett visits with Jimmy Irwin, whose firm, Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions, is set to anchor the recently restored Pioneer Building. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] "><figcaption> Developer Andy Burnett visits with Jimmy Irwin, whose firm, Frates Irwin Risk Management Solutions, is set to anchor the recently restored Pioneer Building. [DOUG HOKE/THE OKLAHOMAN] </figcaption></figure>
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 ›

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