Oklahomahomeforsale – Great Article about Oklahoma City in American Way Magazine!


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Photography by danny bollinger

Oklahoma City has a long and storied history, but only in recent years has it truly come into its own as a cultural hub and an enticing place to live. With the NBA’s Thunder, a multitude of museums and restaurants, and an energetic spirit on its side, this city is watching its dreams come true.

On the morning of April 22, 1889, Oklahoma City was an opportunity that had lured dreamers from far and wide but was not yet a reality. Officially, it did not exist. But that would soon change.

An estimated 50,000 people were camped for miles outside territory the U.S. federal government had opened for settlement. At the stroke of noon — with the sound of trumpets, the crack of gunshots and the boom of cannons — U.S. military officials signaled the official start of the great Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. By nightfall, approximately 10,000 people had successfully claimed land in an area that would later include Oklahoma City.

A century later, the mayor of Oklahoma City could relate to those homesteaders. In 1889, the land that so intrigued them was barren, but they saw possibilities. They would be landowners. They would have homes. Nothing could limit their dreams of a rewarding future.

Ron Norick became mayor of Oklahoma City in 1987, and during the early years of his administration, he looked at his city and saw a barren one by modern-day standards: The downtown area was comatose. Businesses considering relocation would look at it and catch the next flight out of town. Major stores preferred suburban shopping malls.

Massive change was needed.

Norick loved his hometown, but he also understood why others might not. “We had people working downtown, but there was nothing else there,” Norick says. “There was no reason to be there past 5 p.m. There were no restaurants — nothing.”

In the early ’90s, a large company that had announced plans to build a new facility in either Oklahoma City or Indianapolis chose the latter. Shortly after that, Norick was on a business trip to Indianapolis, and he decided to investigate the city. “I drove downtown,” he says, “and I saw people on the streets. There were restaurants with people sitting outside enjoying lunch. There was traffic. There were hotels. There was activity. So I figured it out pretty quickly. We did not have a city that any employers would want to move to — at least not if they were thinking about their employees. It became obvious to me that before we could talk to anyone about coming to town and building a plant, we had to make it a place where they would want to live and where they would want their employees to live.”

The new Oklahoma City Federal Building was completed in 2003.

That’s how MAPs — Metropolitan Area Projects — was born. That’s how Oklahoma City built the Bricktown Canal and a riverfront to give downtown an allure similar to that of the Riverwalk in the tourist haven of San Antonio. That’s how Oklahoma City built an arena that attracted an NBA team and a baseball stadium that is one of the best minor league facilities in the country. That’s how Oklahoma City renovated its Civic Center Music Hall, the Cox Convention Center and the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds. And that’s how Oklahoma City built a four-story library — named the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library — that replaced one built in the early 1950s.

That’s also how Oklahoma City became a city that in recent years has been named the No. 1 job market in the U.S., based on unemployment rates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and one of the top 10 places to live in the country, according to RelocateAmerica.

But it’s the way MAPs was funded that makes Oklahoma City unique. In 1993, voters approved a 1 percent sales tax to be collected for five years, but no project began until there were enough funds — $360 million, according to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce — to fully pay for it.

“It had to do with investing in ourselves,” Norick says. “People understood that it was pay-as-you-go. We didn’t borrow any money. We paid for it with tax receipts, and when it was finished, we were debt-free. There were no bonds issued. We had the money first.”

The results have been spectacular. Oklahoma City is now a vibrant place not only to live but also to visit, which is most apparent in the bustling entertainment area called Bricktown that was once “a warehouse district of dirt and rock streets and dilapidated warehouses,” according to Michael Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Now we have more than 80 retail establishments, restaurants and bars, and the great thing is that almost all of that is local development.”

When Avis Scaramucci was first approached in the late ’90s about moving her successful restaurant from the southern part of the city to Bricktown, she giggled. “People were trying to get me to invest in that area when property was a nickel on the dollar,” Scaramucci says. “My comment was, ‘Why in the world would I want to be in Bricktown?’ Anybody who knew it then would agree it was a totally undesirable place to be.”

“When we got the NBA, that just put us at a different level.”

But that was changing. The first MAPs endeavor, completed in 1998, was the minor league facility, now called Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. A year later, the Bricktown Canal opened and the area was becoming a hub of activity for the city. Businesses continued moving in and Scaramucci finally relented in 2005 when she opened her popular Nonna’s Euro-American Ristorante and Bar in Bricktown. One of the highlights: Nonna’s Favorite, which is spaghetti with tenderloin meatballs that are described as “the size of tennis balls.”

The Bricktown entertainment district thrives.


Nonna’s has plenty of competitors with a wide variety of eating establishments in Bricktown, some bearing the name of Oklahoma natives and favorite sons, like Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill. Bricktown is hardly the only area of town with top dining establishments, but with seven hotels in the downtown area and four more under construction, it is the social hub of the city.

Within the past year, Bricktown has attracted another major Oklahoma personality to open a restaurant, although this celebrity is adopted. Kevin Durant was born in Washington, D.C., grew up in Maryland, went to college for one year at the University of Texas, was drafted by the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics and moved to Oklahoma City with the team, which was renamed the Thunder, in 2008. When he opened KD’s Southern Cuisine next to Toby Keith’s in December 2013, it was yet another example of how Oklahoma City has elevated itself to the status of “major league city.”

When oklahoma city officials decided as part of the MAPs plan to build an arena that could house teams from the NBA, the NHL or both, they had no interest from either league. Still, city leaders did not view an arena that would seat more than 18,000 as impractical. “They thought at the time that if we couldn’t get a team,” Carrier says, “we would still have a great facility for concerts and other events.”

The arena opened in 2002, and building it proved to be a brilliant decision. When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Louisiana coast in 2005, the arena used by the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets (who later changed their name to the Pelicans) suffered extensive damage, and the team needed a place to play.

The Myriad Botanical Gardens has a variety of activities for visitors.

Carl Shortt Jr.

For the next two seasons, the Hornets were guests in Oklahoma City, and the results were impressive. The Hornets finished 11th and 15th, respectively, in league attendance. (By contrast, during the 2004-05 season, the Hornets had finished 28th out of 30 teams while playing in New Orleans.)

“There was something special that happened when the Hornets were here,” Carrier says. “The city fell in love with the team and proved we could support a team.”

When Oklahoma City businessman Clay Bennett purchased the Sonics and sought permission from the NBA to move the team to his hometown, he easily won approval.

The positive publicity generated by the Thunder has been priceless for the city. A business will not necessarily relocate its headquarters solely because a city has a major league sport, but it elevates the reputation of the area. “When we got the NBA, that just put us at a different level,” Norick says.

When the Thunder played the Miami Heat in the 2012 NBA Finals, the games were televised in more than 200 countries and territories worldwide. Commercial breaks at home games often included an impressive visual image of Oklahoma City from the air. “The beauty shots we get on national TV during Thunder games when they are going into or coming out of commercials are something we can’t buy,” says Seth Spillman, marketing and communications director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We wouldn’t be able to afford that on national TV.”

Durant, who was the NBA’s Most Valuable Player in the 2013-14 season, also advanced the image of Oklahoma City when he resisted the temptation to go to a larger-market team after the 2009-10 season. Oklahoma City was enough of a major league city for him and he signed a five-year contract extension with the Thunder. “He said he liked living in Oklahoma City and enjoyed being here,” Carrier says. “That kind of reinforced to all of us that we were doing something right.”

2013-14 NBA MVP Kevin Durant has created a worldwide following for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Streeter Lecka/getty images

Before the Thunder arrived, the first thought many had at the mention of Oklahoma City was the horrific 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building — a crime that led to the 2001 execution of Timothy McVeigh, who set off the bomb. The bombing resulted in 168 deaths, almost 700 injuries and damage to or destruction of more than 300 buildings.

“Instead of the bombing, when you tell someone now that you live in Oklahoma City, the first thing they want to talk about is the Thunder,” Spillman says. “The Thunder has changed the perception of Oklahoma City nationally and internationally.”

Before the 2013-14 season, the Thunder played ­preseason games in Istanbul and Manchester, England. “There were Kevin Durant and Thunder jerseys everywhere,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks says. “I couldn’t believe it. That really says a lot about Oklahoma City.”

To be a big league city, however, it takes more than a sports team. “You have to have a lot of nice things,” Norick says. “We think we have them.”

Bartender Michael Stockford practices his craft at Mickey Mantle’s Steakhouse.

Indeed, the city offers a variety of indoor and outdoor activities. Many embrace the proud Western heritage of the state — as evidenced by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and the American Quarter Horse Association World Championship Show, which will be in OKC for the 39th consecutive year from Nov. 7 to 22.

Other attractions, however, are unexpected. Oklahoma City is the home of the U.S. Olympic Canoe/Kayak team, which trains at the OKC National High Perform­ance Center on the Oklahoma River. “It’s hard to imagine rowing in Oklahoma City,” Carrier admits, “but we’ve got arguably the finest rowing venue in the country.”

The city is also proud of the diversity of its museums, which range from Science Museum Oklahoma to the Amateur Softball Association National Softball Hall of Fame and Museum to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. But the museum that symbolizes the city’s character is the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum that is dedicated to “those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever,” by the bombing. It is built on the same site where the bombing occurred.

“It’s the heart and soul of Oklahoma City,” says Kari Watkins, executive director of the museum. “It’s one of the largest attractions for visitors in this state.”

The Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum pays tribute to those who perished and those who survived the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

While the bombing was a tragedy of monumental proportions, the response by the citizenry was heroic and is captured in the museum, which comprises three floors of visual and interactive exhibits. It’s a powerful experience to go through the museum with feelings that range from outrage at the crime, to horror at the death and devastation, to admiration at the response of the residents.

It is equally moving that Thunder management recommends that all new players visit the museum to understand what the city went through and how people who are season ticket holders and neighbors responded. NBA and college teams also often take tours. The story resonates with everyone who goes to the museum.

“We have visitors every month from all 50 states, and we’ve never had less than 30 countries represented here during a month,” Watkins says. “We have 96 or 97 countries every year. They may be in Oklahoma City for another reason: a game, an event or a horse show. But they want to stop here and go through the museum.”

Skydance Footbridge towers above the city.

Since the implementation of MAPs in the ’90s, Oklahoma City has created many reasons for tourists to visit. Besides sports, museums and a thriving Bricktown area (which can be experienced nicely on a 45-minute sightseeing cruise on the water canal), visitors can enjoy the 119-acre, 2,000-animal Oklahoma City Zoo, the 17-acre Myriad Botanical Gardens, Frontier City amusement park and horse racing and gambling at Remington Park.

For those who want the authentic Western experience, on Mondays and Tuesdays there is a live cattle auction in the Stockyards. Only a couple of blocks away from where cattle are sold is their final destination — the venerable Cattlemen’s Steakhouse, where beef has been expertly cooked since 1910.

For a more modern experience, the Boathouse District features the SandRidge Sky Zip, which sends thrill seekers 700 feet across the Oklahoma River. Those who survive that with their stomach still calm can head 3 miles north to the S&B Burger Joint, which features “The King” — a burger with bacon and peanut butter.

“It became obvious to me that before we could talk to anyone about coming to town and building a plant, we had to make it a place where they would want to live and where they would want their employees to live.”

For first-time or would-be visitors, the diversity of Oklahoma City might be surprising. Yes, it is home to a variety of events involving cowboys and horses. But it is also home to the Flaming Lips, an alternative rock band whose frontman, Wayne Coyne, sometimes sits courtside at Thunder games. The Civic Center Music Hall has featured productions of Beauty and the Beast and Les ­Misérables this year. Every summer, there is a well-attended Reggae Festival in Bricktown. And the Thunder is such a draw now that at one game last season, rapper and business mogul Jay Z (who is also Durant’s agent) and his wife Beyoncé, the Grammy Award-­winning singer, attended a game.

The MAPs program is now more than two decades old, and the decision of Oklahoma City citizens to invest in themselves continues to pay dividends.

“I knew we were doing the right thing,” Norick says, “but could I have projected all of this? Of course not. I knew it would be successful, but to be at the level it is now is amazing.”

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