Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Common Sense from Paine to Frates

What do the venerable Thomas Paine, author of the 1775-1776 pamphlet, Common Sense, and modern day Oklahoma Citian, lawyer, former Republican legislator, and author, Kent F. Frates have in common?

They both had/have common sense. Read on, concerning the upcoming June 24 primary elections in the state. I promise you, Mr. Frates' observations will literally "leave you rolling on the floor laughing," be you a Republican (as he is) or Democrat (as I am) — as well as being chilled sober, all at the same time. If you are a "modern-day" Republican, as opposed to a Henry Bellmon or a Frank Keating Republican, you will probably not find his opinions so humorous. Latter-day Republicans will probably not like his torpedo salvos of Common Sense into the upcoming elections, even though those salvos hit the mark every time.

About Kent Frates. I've known Kent since I worked in his law firm in the mid-to-late 1970s, back in the day that I was still a registered Republican. In that time, Kent was a Republican member of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, representing the Nichols Hills area, and was once the (then Republican) minority leader in the house. I recall helping post yard signs in that time for his reelection. I recall very well Kent's adroit sense of humor on a daily basis, his keenness of mind, and his willingness to be his own brand of what it meant in that time to be a Republican. That willingness has evidently not changed. He received his undergraduate degree at Stanford and his law degree at the University of Arizona. For his full resume, click here for a PDF file showing the same.

But Kent is much more than what those links and biography show. He is a modern-day Thomas Paine Common Sense kind of guy. If you doubt that, read on to read his June 2014 issue of Common Sense, his periodical newsletter. All boxed highlights are those shown in the original and I have done no editing. In the newsletter, it is stated,
Common Sense is solely published by Kent F. Frates. If you would like to receive or discontinue this publication, or if you have any submissions for or comments about this publication, please write to: Kent F. Frates, P.O. Box 54799, Okla. City, OK 73154. Reproduction in any form of this publication is a violation of copyright law and is prohibited without permission from Kent F. Frates, publisher. Copyright © June 2014.
Mr. Frates has kindly allowed that I reproduce the lead article in the June 2014 Common Sense publication, below.

Letter from the Publisher ...

Dear Friends,

      Oklahoma's 2014 Primary Elections will take place on June 24th. As witnessed by the 2012 election, the state has become overwhelmingly Republican. Not only did Romney carry Oklahoma but, the Republicans swept every statewide office, all of the congressional seats and, dominated the state legislature. Fifty years ago almost every election was decided in the Democratic Primary, now it is the Republican Primary where the real contest occurs.
      It would be nice to analyze the Republican Primaries and, identify candidates that are worthy of support. Unfortunately, the voters in this election are faced with choices that range from weak to disastrous. Often the voter will have to exercise a fool's gambit by choosing between two distinctly undesirable candidates. The situation is reminiscent of an election for Governor in Louisiana between David Duke and the incumbent, Edwin Edwards. Edwards who had been charged with crimes and was later convicted, faced Duke, a proud member of the Klu Klux Klan.
A popular bumper sticker read "Vote for the crook, it's important", and that's what the people of Louisiana did. Although, it may not be quite as dramatic, we have some Republican Primaries where our choices are almost as unpalatable as the Louisiana governor's race. The problem is — that's all we've got. It's not a question of who you would like to have in office but simply a question of which one of these bozos would do the least harm. With that in mind, here is the Common Sense Election Special.
      Senator James Inhofe is too old, too narrow-minded and, too dumb to be reelected but, he will be anyway. He has drawn no serious opposition and the majority of the Oklahoma voters buy into his so called conservatism. He will thus retain his senate seat so that he can roam Washington D.C. like a carnivorous dinosaur, defending the military industrial complex of which he is a proud part.
      Inhofe is a professed fiscal conservative, until it comes to defense, highways and, any pork barrel project he likes. Certainly defense and roads are important and deserve high priority in the spectrum of government spending but, they cannot be held sacrosanct if the federal government is ever to achieve fiscal sanity. Inhofe's love for every new tank, plane or, ship, no matter the cost, can't possibly help balance the budget but, it will fatten the pocket of the defense contractors who love to support his campaign.
      Inhofe is also the self-appointed leader of those that dispute the fact that the manmade emissions of greenhouse gasses affect climate. His opposition is not based on science but, on an inherent prejudice against the scientists who have the temerity to raise this issue and paranoia about a left wing global warming conspiracy. Like many ignorant people, he does not want to be bothered by the facts and chooses instead to belligerently support his views by attacking the messenger. His arguments are laced with biblical references, misinformation and ridicule. What he really fears are some of the proposed solutions to global warming, like cap and trade. So, rather than looking for a better solution, he tries to deny the existence of the problem. Inhofe has four candidates facing him on the Republican ballot — all are obscure unknowns with no financial backing and no campaign. This is a discredit to the Republican Party in Oklahoma. At least, he votes correctly a lot of the time.
      In the race for Tom Coburn's vacated United States Senate seat, there are three significant Republican candidates who are far right, further right and, furthest right. Congressman James Langford is by any measure a conservative on every issue but, he isn't pure enough for T.W. Shannon who also doesn't quite measure up to Tea Party standards, according to Randy Brogdon. Recently, the three candidates took part in a faux debate before a conservative forum. From the looks of the crowd, the gathering was composed almost entirely of older white people. One of the first questions asked was the position of each candidate on the U.N. All three quickly agreed that the U.S. should get out of the UN. Brogdon, in order to distinguish himself as the rightest of the right, also opined that the U.S. should throw the UN out of the country. These guys are living in another century, yet one of them will be your United States Senator, whether you like it or not. It moves me to shed a crocodile tear for Tom Coburn, an intelligent, independent and thoroughly committed public servant who is unfortunately stepping down from the Senate.
      Has the gene pool run out in Oklahoma? What ever happened to leaders like Bob Kerr, Howard Edmonson, Fred Harris, Henry Bellmon, David Boren and Frank Keating? No matter what their politics, these men were all intelligent, informed leaders, willing to address important issues. It is depressing that we have apparently dumbed down our state to the point where candidates like Langford, Shannon and Brogdon are the best we have to offer. But the Legislature wants to be sure we don't make third graders actually learn to read. It might threaten the future of the political class.
      Brogdon seems to have no real chance of being elected. As between Langford and Shannon, however, Langford appears the clear choice. When elected to congress, there were concerns that he lacked the background and experience to serve effectively, given that his life's work had been as an administrator at a Baptist Youth Camp. He was also a Baptist preacher and there was a danger that he would be another aggressive theocrat. In fact, Langford has served, for the most part, effectively. He has proven to be a savvy politician and in some cases, has actually voted for the good of the country, instead of pandering to the extreme right. His position on financial matters is conservatively sound. He is ultra conservative on social issues but does not appear to be obsessed with forcing his views on every citizen through legislation. In most years, Langford would be an extremely poor choice but the level of his opposition makes him look good, in spite of himself.
      Shannon has a reputation for mediocrity, and a penchant for political pandering. As Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, he supported and appeased the extreme social conservatives, while at the same time playing to the Chamber of Commerce crowd. Most recently he advocated making the gross production tax loophole permanent for the benefit of the oil and gas business — a move clearly calculated to help raise funds for his senate race. In spite of being a lawyer, he also tried to pass legislation politicizing the judicial process after the Oklahoma Supreme Court declared one of his pet bills unconstitutional. He also advocates doing away with the E.P.A. If you have any doubt about Shannon's politics, consider that he sought, obtained and, publicizes the endorsement of Sara Palin, the national joke that won't go away.
      Based on recent poles [sic, polls], it appears that Langford and Shannon are running neck and neck and that their race is headed for a runoff. If elected, Shannon may well become a right wing demigod following in the footsteps of Ted Cruz. At least Langford won't embarrass the state of Oklahoma, too much.
      A sidelight to the Senate campaign is the injection of hundreds of thousands of dollars from "dark money" groups backing both Shannon and Langford. These are entities formed under our obviously flawed election laws where contributions may be made totally anonymously. This sets up a situation where these groups can attack a candidate with vicious irresponsibility and the person they are supporting can profess total ignorance. This despicable charade cheapens the election process and avoids accountability.
      The Supreme Court's wrongheaded decision in Citizens United case allows an unlimited flood of corporate money into campaigns, but surely the voters are at least entitled to know where the money is coming from. Maybe if a candidate accused his opponent of taking money from the Russian Mafia, it would force a disclosure of the real source of funds. Congress and the Oklahoma Legislature should act to force a full disclosure of all campaign contributors.
      When it comes to Governor, the outcome looks like a foregone conclusion. Mary Fallin defines mediocrity. Yet she is a master politician, having been elected to the offices of state representative, lieutenant governor, congresswoman and governor. Her success is based on an ability not to commit to anything controversial and to be able to change sides effortlessly, if public opinion demands it. Witness her position on accepting an expansion of Medicare and taking federal funds associated with Obamacare and, then, flopping to the other side when the political wind blew the wrong way. Also, her about face on Common Core. She was for it, until she was against it. She exemplifies that old political saying: "I have friends on both sides and I am sticking with my friends." Although, in a rare instance of independence, she did stand up against the unfortunately successful attempt to effectively destroy Oklahoma's third grade reading test.
      Fallin has also mastered the special interest game which gives her the ability to raise large amounts of campaign funds. She is a cheerleader and errand girl for the Chamber of Commerce and the oil business, as witnessed by her recent push to lower taxes and to perpetuate the tax loophole for the oil and gas business in the gross production tax. Her latest "successful" lowering of the income taxes resulted in a 0.25% reduction so small to the ordinary tax payer as to be insignificant. Her pro-business stance is good for the state but her propensity to dodge controversial issues leaves a leadership void at the top.
      At least, in the governor's race, we have a choice. Chad Moody is a pure Libertarian, running as a Republican. A criminal lawyer who has personally observed the failure of the War on Drugs, Moody is advocating the legalization of marijuana. He also opposes the government's interference in the rights of citizens. As his campaign sign states "Forget faith, family and, freedom (Fallin's Slogan) and vote for God, grass and guns." Common Sense urges you to vote for Chad Moody, our only endorsement in this lackluster primary election.
      In the race for U.S. Congress in the fifth district you can't tell the players without a program. The seat was left open when Langford decided to run for the Senate. There are six Republicans, three Democrats, one Libertarian and one Independent. Four of the Republicans — Shane Jett, Clark Jolley, Steve Russell and, Mike Turner — and one of the Democrats, Al McAffrey, are current or former state senators or representatives. Patrice Douglas serves on the Corporation Commission and was formerly the mayor of Edmond.
      All of the Republicans are pro-life, against gun control, and hate Obamacare. Although none of the candidates seem remarkable, Jolley has been an effective Legislator. Chairman of the Senate of Appropriations Committee, he has considerable clout. He has also authored a number of significant pieces of legislation. He easily wins the web page war by addressing a wide spectrum of issues on a specific basis, something that more candidates ought to try.
      Douglas has been an effective fundraiser and has a sizable war chest. Turner has put $500,000 of his own money into his campaign. Russell touts his military service in Iraq with patriotic ads showing him in uniform. By reputation, Douglas has been a very mediocre Corporation Commissioner. Turner is religious zealot and has been a showboat in the Legislature.
      So far, it has been a low profile campaign and it's hard to get a line on the candidates and differentiate one from the other. It does appear the Jolley may be the most competent.
      I have a personal history with the gross production tax. As a newly elected legislator, I was immediately faced by an attempt to raise the gross production tax from 5% to 7%, led by Populist Governor David Hall and an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. However, the fact that a majority of the legislature was Democratic is deceptive. Many of those Democrats were extremely conservative, particularly in fiscal matters and, the issue was hotly contested.
      Along with the other Republicans and a significant number of Democrats, I fought hard against the purposed increase, which passed by the narrowest of margins. At the time, oil sold for $3.40 per barrel and drilling was moribund. Based on the circumstances, raising the tax was not justified.
      Today, the oil and gas business in Oklahoma is in far different condition. We are experiencing a shale boom fired by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This is, of course, good for the whole state. It does not in any way, however, entitle oil companies to a tax break but, that's what the Legislature gave them.
      A few weeks ago, the leaders of three of Oklahoma's biggest oil companies gave the legislature its orders as to exactly what to do regarding the extension of a tax break from the gross production tax. The Legislature then fell in line like so many sheep, only slightly modifying the industry's mandate and passed a bill permanently installing a tax subsidy. The historic tax rate of 7 percent was changed to 2 percent for the first 36 months of production on all wells. It had been temporarily 1 percent for 48 months on horizontal wells, ostensibly to encourage drilling. The increase from 1 percent to 2 percent is chump change to the oil companies, but means all of us other chumps will have to pick up the difference to pay for government services like the highways the oil business drives their trucks on and the schools their employee's children attend.
      The fallacious argument made in favor of this tax break by the oil companies was that they would drill elsewhere if the tax break was not extended. This is in spite of the fact that they own thousands of acres of valuable leases in Oklahoma. All of these leases have a term, typically three years. There is no way, based on the rate of the gross production tax that the oil companies would let these Oklahoma leases expire without drilling every viable prospect.
      George Kaiser, the straight talking billionaire oilman from Tulsa, put the tax break in its proper perspective by pointing out that the tax is a tiny part of the expense of drilling and producing wells. In Kaiser's opinion not a single well that promised to produce economic quantities of oil and gas would be curtailed if the tax went back to 7 percent. But, I forgot, Kaiser is a Democrat. He even supported Obama so the fact that he is smart, fair and, civic minded must be ignored. To the credit of the oil business, Kaiser's position was supported by a number of independent operators, both Democrats and Republicans. No matter, the Legislature showed who butters their bread or, maybe even furnishes the bread.
      Let's just wait and see how loud the oilies complain when the next subsidy for wind or solar is proposed. Why settle for a level playing field when you control the governor and the majority of the Legislature. Good government be damned.
      In this issue, you will find a preview of book being written by Thom Schott and Robert Sweitzer. Thom and I survived a rap sheet full of stupid antics together at Stanford. On the other hand, Robert, as far as we know, is sane.
      Also, included is an homage to Thomas Paine who inspired the name for this humble journal. He incited a revolution. If only this version of Common Sense could do as well.
                                              Vote early and often.
                                              /s/ Kent

Kent's words have far greater elegance than mine could ever have, and the sad truth is that we — citizens who have or claim to have some measure of sanity — have ourselves at least partially to blame for the ascendency of those who have become leaders in the Republican party today — and the same is true for Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, whoever, that sees a menace encamped on the horizon yet takes no action until the menace-takeover is already accomplished. Like Yoda said, "Blind we are if creation of this clone army we could not see."

Kent closed his piece by saying, "Also, included is homage to Thomas Paine who inspired the name for this humble journal. He incited a revolution. If only this version of Common Sense could do as well."

An unexpected and wonderful thing would that be. Who can say? It might just be that Kent is rather analogous to another famous Star Wars character, identified in this message to him by Princess Leia: "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."
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Friday, February 28, 2014

Invisible Black History Before Statehood

This post honors Black History Month with three stories about Invisible Black History in Oklahoma City before statehood, and largely tracks my presentation to RetroMetro OKC at the downtown library on February 17, 2014. A few additional materials and resources are provided here. This post is still being constructed.

To view the videos below without enlargement, just click on the triangle in each video. To see videos in full-screen mode, click the full-screen icon as shown in the near-right icon (the red rectangle); adjust the volume with the far-right blue rectangled icon; both below:

Part 1: Introduction -- Why Is Pre-statehood Black History Invisible? The video for the Introduction is broken into two parts, for faster loading and quality purposes.

Introduction: Part 1
Introduction: Part 2

Part 2: Bird Gee

Part 3: Sandtown

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Monday, July 08, 2013

We CAN have a convention hotel ... For A Few Dollars More

Was a convention hotel mentioned as a part of the MAPS 3 campaign? Part of the June 11, 2013, City Council discussion focused on that question during a presentation by the Alliance for Oklahoma City Economic Development. A truncated version of the discussion, focusing only on this question, appears below ...

For a few dollars more.

That would be more than the $280 million (now $250 million) that those in charge of the MAPS 3 campaign said that it would cost to fund the convention center element of MAPS 3 ... around $50-$250 million dollars more ... that the city would need to spend for the MAPS 3 convention center project for it to be economically viable. In this context, "city", unfortunately, means the taxpayers of Oklahoma City. You can be sure that the mayor and city council members, as individuals, aren't going to pony up the cost of financing a convention center hotel, right?

The above video only contains relevant portions of the council meeting as to whether a convention hotel was mentioned during the MAPS 3 campaign. The complete discussion between Ms. O'Connor and the City Council is in the 22:43 minute clip below. The main components of the discussion begin at the following time-points ... use the slider to move to particular locations ...

Cathy O'Connor ...0:13Credentials;
Tom Morsch
12:20Pete White ...17:48
Ed Shadid ...4:09;
Meg Salyer ...15:48Larry McAtee &
Jeremy Stone
James Greiner ...11:20Patrick Ryan ...16:53;
Motion & Vote ...21:20

Links Within This Article
Background   Hotel History   Biltmore Hotel
What Would Colcord Do?   Urban Renewal Destruction   Urban Renewal Aftermath
Exiting Hotels   Pre-Maps 3 Chamber Viewpoint   Thunder Interlude
MAPS 3 Begins   The Chamber's Study    Dark City
Hotel Not Mentioned   Why Not?   The Chamber's Hotel Quest
Why Did O'Connor Say What She Did?

BACKGROUND. In this period, it is helpful to understand that a convention center AND a convention hotel were not always linked together as they have evidently come to be linked today. I'll begin with the easiest part, the development of the city's downtown hoteliers.

      A Glimpse At Downtown Hotel History. This by no means traces the history of Oklahoma City's downtown hotels and is only a peek at a part of it. Building and operating hotels involves a good bit of risk taking, and Oklahoma City's downtown hotel experience is abundantly steeped in both sides of that flipped coin, particularly concerning the frailty of downtown hotels when economic times are tough and public assistance in helping them survive was non-existent.

            The Biltmore. Construction of a large downtown hotel finds a precedent with the Biltmore. With construction starts and stops before it was completed, the Biltmore was constructed between 1929 and 1932, it opening in March during that year, a year after the Great Depression finally hit Oklahoma City. It involved a monumental undertaking for private business leaders to get the project completed. A number of city capitalists played key roles in making this hotel a reality, including Charles F. Colcord, Martin Reinhart, Stanley Draper, J.F. Owen, Frank Buttram, Frank P. Johnson, W.E. Hightower, W.T. Hales, and W. R. Ramsey who built the 33-story Ramsey Tower (now City Place).

About Johnson, it was said in a December 18, 1931, Oklahoman article on 1931's "Most Useful Citizen," that:
In nominating Johnson, C. Edgar Honnold, broker, wrote: * * * I believe it has been through his efforts that the First National building has been erected. It is certainly a great credit to any community, institution or individual. I believe it has been mostly through Mr. Johnson's efforts that the Biltmore hotel has actually been constructed and completed. ¶ Charles W. Gunter, chairman of the First National bank and Trust Co. executive committee, and W.R. Ramsey, oil man, also nominated Johnson for similar reasons. ¶ Gunter wrote: "I am convinced the Oklahoma Biltmore never would have been built had it not been for his (Johnson's) untiring efforts and leadership."
In a December 25, 1931, letter to the Oklahoman editor, J. K. Wells nominated Ramsey, noting, among other things,
He was largely responsible for bringing the Biltmore hotel to Oklahoma City and was the first to suggest the idea to the Biltmore interests of New York City.
As to Colcord, a March 6, 1932, Oklahoman reporter T.T. Johnson said,
Seventy-two years old, he is still straight and agile. His brown eyes are clear, his hair snow-white. He has proved his generosity and kindliness many times, and his record forbids that anyone ever should gainsay his qualifications as a forceful leader. During the three-year fight for the Biltmore, he arose early and worked late and vigorously. When the hotel seemed doomed, he snatched it from the brink of failure. He drove, drove, drove, into the pocket books of men who were able to pay. He has given Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the southwest its finest hotel.
The project also involved a community effort. As late as early 1932, money was still needed for an operating fund for the hotel. In February 1932, stock sales were solicited from the public to create a $400,000 operating fund for the hotel.

When done, standing at 26 stories plus two basement levels, it was the 3rd tallest downtown building (although it claimed to be the tallest, perhaps because of its signage) and hosted 619 rooms. The Biltmore was then the largest hotel in the state and was said to be "the finest hotel in the Southwest." From 1932 until its destruction in 1977, no Oklahoma City hotel has matched its size or room capacity, and none have thereafter. To this day, the Biltmore remains as a shining example of what Oklahoma City's business leaders can do if they are willing to take the risk, even if dire economic challenges are presented while doing so.

            In retrospect, what would Charles Colcord do today? One can but wonder what Charles F. Colcord might do if presented with today's challenge of building a convention hotel in Oklahoma City. Would he enlist investment by Oklahoma City's existing capitalists and take on the job of making it happen? Would he engage experts to determine the need? Would he involve the Alliance for Economic Development? Would he ask city taxpayers to share in the expense? Or would he just step up and see that it got done, just like he did with the Biltmore? These days, are any capitalist leaders around in the mold of Charles Colcord, whether he/she be a member of the Chamber or not?

            Urban Renewal Hotel Destruction. Beyond the Biltmore, many of us remember the stark time that the Urban Renewal Authority demolished many downtown hotels in the 1960s-1970s, including the Huckins, Bristol/Threadgill, Kingkade, Egbert, Oklahoma Club/Tivoli Inn, Wells-Roberts, YWCA, and others, including, to be sure, the Biltmore.

            Urban Renewal Aftermath. After those legacies were gone and the 1964-1993 Holiday Inn (last named the Commonwealth) at 520 W. Main closed its doors as a hotel, only the 1976 Sheraton Hotel (then called the Century Center) remained as a downtown hotel. In 1993 it, too, was in dire straits, it owing $167,000 in back property taxes for 1990, 1991 and 1992. As for the Skirvin, it closed its doors in 1988, not to be reopened as the Skirvin Hilton until 2007, 19 years later, and only after a huge effort by the city and private partners was the Skirvin restored to its former glory in 2007.

      The City's Existing Downtown Hotel Stock. As described above, Oklahoma City's downtown hotel status had been abysmal for many years prior to the 2009 MAPS 3 election, even though it had improved by that time. At one point, after the former Holiday Inn (via various iterations) (about 200 rooms, 1964) finally closed as a hotel in 1993, Oklahoma City's downtown included only one hotel, the Sheraton, built in 1977, with 395 rooms. Hotels either completed or in construction as of July 2013 are shown below.

Between 2000 and 2008, six (6) hotels were added: the Marriott Renaissance (2000, 311 rooms); the Courtyard Marriott (2004, 225 rooms); the Colcord (2006, 108 rooms); and, not the least, the Skirvin Hilton (2007, 225 rooms). In Bricktown, the Hampton Inn (2006, 200 rooms) and Marriott Residence Inn (2006, 151 rooms), were also added.

As of this writing in July 2013, four other hotels in Bricktown, Deep Deuce, and/or the Health Sciences area, are under construction and will open in 2013 or 2014: Hilton Inn & Homewood Suites (2013, 255 rooms); Aloft (2013, 130 suites); Holiday Inn Express (2014, 124 rooms); and Embassy Suites (2014, 194 rooms).

Yet another, a 54-room Midtown boutique hotel owned and being developed by Tulsa hotelier Paul Coury's company (which developed the Colcord Hotel in 2006) should be included. This outstanding project is presently converting the historic 1929 Osler physicians building at 1200 N. Walker into an Ambassador Hotel and it is scheduled for opening in December 2013. That date may be a bit ambitious — I'm guessing that an early 2014 opening is more likely.

Still other downtown hotels are in the proposal/approval stage, but I'm not including any of those projects in hotel room count here since doing so would involve some degree of speculation, and that includes a possible convention center hotel. Others not included are possible hotels that have been mentioned but remain speculative: Staybridge Suites (Bricktown, 131); East Bricktown (Bricktown, 150); Springhill Suites (Deep Deuce, 125); Patel's 2 potential projects in Bricktown at Lincoln & Sheridan (125 each).

As it stands today, the downtown stock of hotels, either built or being built, numbers twelve (12) and, unless I've misread something, that amounts to 2,372 downtown hotel rooms or suites which could bear some or a lot of risk should the city decide to finance, partially or completely, a convention hotel — which would compete against them — and remembering that "economic times" are historically cyclical and include both good times and bad.

Abbreviations below are: CBD=Central Business District; BT=Bricktown; DD=Deep Deuce; HSC=Health Sciences Center; MT=Midtown.

#Hotels Done or Under ConstructionRoomsCBDBTDDHSCMT
1Sheraton (1976)395395
2Marriott Renaissance (2000)311311
3Courtyard Marriott (2004)225225
4Colcord (2006)108108
5Marriott Residence Inn (2006)151151
6Skirvin Hilton (2007)225225
7Hampton Inn (2008)200200
8Hilton Inn & Homewood Suites (2013)255255
9Aloft (2013)130130
10Holiday Inn Express (2014)124124
11Embassy Suites (2014)194194
12Ambassador (2014)5454
Total Done or Under Construction2,3721,26473013019454

Several articles by Oklahoman reporter Steve Lackmeyer have documented downtown hotel development. In his December 6, 2005, article, Lackmeyer reported on the appointment of Alan Sims as the convention center sales director. Lackmeyer said, "A decade ago, the Interstate 40/Meridian Avenue hotel corridor dominated the convention business. Since then, the downtown hotel market has recovered, with the number of hotels increasing from just one, the Sheraton, to seven with 1,400 rooms being opened over the next two years."

      The Chamber's Pre-Maps 3 Point of View. Well before the 2009 MAPS 3 campaign and after several downtown hotels had been added (above), the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce had been pushing for a new convention center, AND a new convention center hotel, although not always in tandem. In the December 2005 article referenced above, Lackmeyer said that, "[new convention sales director Alan] Sims said he thinks the city's Metropolitan Area Projects improvements downtown and at the State Fair Park, combined with new hotels, make the city ripe for a move into the second tier of the convention market. He said the city could still use a large convention hotel downtown — but can compete without one."

By Lackmeyer's January 18, 2007, article, "City chamber explores shift to tier two city," he reported,

A large conference hotel and additional meeting space may be the next mission downtown for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber as it explores how to move from a tier three to a tier two convention city. ¶ The effort, announced by chairman Larry Nichols at Wednesday's State of the City address, will start with the chamber hiring a consultant next month.
      "A new 1,000 room convention hotel is something we can certainly dream about," Nichols said. "The convention center is at capacity. If you try to book something in three weeks, won't find anything available." ¶ Nichols said the city has been told repeatedly it needs more than 1,000 hotel rooms to attract large conventions — and the opening of six new hotels over the past few years has put downtown's room count to more than 1,400. He noted more meeting space was added at the Cox Convention Center a decade ago as part of the Metropolitan Area Projects improvements back when downtown only had one hotel.
      "Now we're on the other side, where we have more rooms but less convention space," Nichols said. "We've got to define what a tier two city needs in terms of facilities and hotel capacity. And if you look around, major tier two cities all have major conference hotels — 500 to 1,000 rooms, a convention headquarters — which we don't have."
* * *
      Mayor Mick Cornet endorsed the chamber's study. ¶ A lot of people look at Oklahoma City and say, 'anything is possible.' We need to know if this center can be expanded or do we need to start over someplace else,' Cornett said."

In a January 25, 2008, op-ed piece by Brett Hamm, then President of Downtown OKC Inc., he said,

What tools are needed for Oklahoma City's future? An expanded convention center? A convention hotel? A light rail system? How do residential, retail and Core to Shore fit into tomorrow's picture? And, what will it take to integrate thse new and vibrant districts? ¶ As we collaboratively work to answer these questions, our willingness to consistently assess available tools and implement new tools as needed is paramount. These past 15 years have shown that when we rise to this challenge we not only surprise other cities, but ourselves as well.

Can you say, "These comments were a precursor to the MAPS 3 content?"

      2007-2008: A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to The Forum MAPS 3. MAPS 3 seemed to be on track for a vote sometime in 2008. But, when it developed in December 2007 that Seattle's ambivalence/incompetence/whatever in handling its own affairs made it evident that the SuperSonics could well move to Oklahoma City because of that, should the Oklahoma City voters agree to make improvements occur to the Ford Center and construct a training facility, potential MAPS 3 matters took the sideline. Acting quickly, Mayor Cornett took the lead in December 2007 to be the cheerleader in presenting a vote to the public to undertake the needed items through a "mini-MAPS" project for a penny sales tax for 15 months at a cost of $128 million beginning with the January 1, 2009, expiration of the MAPS For Kids sales tax in the same penny amount. One might call this development the "MAPS With No Name" or "MAPS For NBA." On March 4, 2008, voters eagerly assented to the projects by a vote of 44,849 to 27,564 (62% to 38%). The rest is history and the SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City, were renamed the Thunder, and there you have it — Oklahoma City's National Basketball Association team, right here in River City.

MAPS 3 — 2009. At long last, we arrive in 2009, the year of the MAPS 3 vote. Development of a MAPS 3 plan was sidelined during 2008 due to the Ford Center project, but in spring 2009, things got cookin'. MAPS 3 was ostensibly formulated during spring and summer 2009 — I say, "ostensibly," since it is clear that since at least 2007 a new convention center, as well as a a convention hotel, were projects favored by the Chamber and the Mayor — but not necessarily as parts of MAPS 3, per se. Recall also that Steve Lackmeyer's January 18, 2007, article, reported that the Chamber would hire a consultant the next month, February 2007, to evaluate the city's needs for a convention center, and that in the same article that Chamber president Larry Nichols spoke of the need for a 500 to 1,000 room convention hotel.

      The Chamber's CSL Convention Study. The convention study referenced in Lackmeyer's 2007 article was doubtless the study by Conventions, Sports & Leisure, International, which was first publicly described (as far as I can locate) in Lackmeyer's March 11, 2009, article, "New convention center is priority, study finds." Doubtless, the study funded by the Chamber in February 2007 was completed well before its first public quasi-disclosure in March 2009.

"What do you mean, 'quasi-disclosure,'" you rightly ask? Even though the study was performed by CSL in 2007 and was likely completed during the same year, no mention was made of that study in the Oklahoman or other news sources before March 2009, and it has pretty much been a phantom study as far as the public is concerned. Even to this day, the study has not been released to the general public. It is foolhardy to doubt that it was not seen by the Mayor and at least some council members prior to its quasi-disclosure in March 2009 in an Oklahoman article by Steve Lackmeyer.

Lackmeyer's March 11, 2009, article said, in part:

      Oklahoma City is at a crossroads in its quest to become a second-tier convention market, and a new study commissioned by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber recommends building a $400 million convention center to ensure the city stays competitive.       The study by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, suggests that replacing the 38-year old Cox Convention Center will cost $250 to $400 million.
      Mayor Mick Cornett has suggested for the past two years that any MAPS 3 should include a new convention center as a priority project. That call is being joined by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
      "We believe the convention center plays a vital role in the development of the visitor industry and in the development of downtown," said David Thompson, chamber chairman.
      "This study tells us clearly that our current center is not large enough, nor does it boast the amenities we need to be competitive. It is time for us to make an investment in this industry or recognize that we are slowly going out of business as far as conventions are concerned."

Did reporter Lackmeyer have the full CSL study when writing the above March 11 article? He didn't say. $250 to $400 million for a convention center cuts a pretty wide swath. Was a Phase 1 and Phase 2 mentioned in the study? He didn't say.

One additional item should be mentioned about this March 11, 2009, article. In the article's sidebar, Lackmeyer wrote,
      WHAT'S NEXT? >Consultants recommend construction of a new convention with between 200,000 and 300,000 square feet of exhibit space; between 50,000 and 75,000 square feet of meeting space; and between 30,000 and 50,000 square feet of ballroom space. * * *
* * *       Chamber President Roy Williams predicts planning for a new convention center will be complicated, and an opening would take six years if started today. Ideally, Williams said, a proposal should include a hotelier ready to commit to building a convention hotel as part of the project if approved by voters. Williams added the convention center and hotel should open at the same time. [Emphasis supplied]

A reasonable inference, if not explicit suggestion, of Williams' comments just referenced is that a convention hotel, if one be built, would be not involve taxpayer support, but would instead be paid for by a hotelier ready to commit to building a hotel. At the least, if I've misconstrued Williams' comments, his remarks clearly differentiate between (a) a convention center which would be funded by the public as part of a then potential MAPS 3 proposal and (b) a convention hotel which would not be. At least, that's my reading.

In a separate March 11 Q&A Oklahoman article with the Mayor by Lackmeyer, we get more of a glimpse at, but not yet a complete picture, of the answers:

      Q: The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber released a study Tuesday recommending construction of a $400 million convention center. How do you see this proposal moving forward?
      A: First of all, the $400 million number you mentioned is if we pursued both a phase one and two. I think we are more focused on considering a phase one in the short term, which would cost closer to $250 million. * * * But the vehicle for funding this project would be a MAPS 3, and we as a community still have to decide that we want to proceed towards a MAPS 3 vote at the end of this year. If we do, a new convention center will strongly be considered as a project.

Again, I wonder if Lackmeyer had the full report when writing the pair of March 11 articles.

About the CSL study, the main March 11 article continued by giving Roy Williams' (the chamber's CEO) take on the study:
      Williams said Conventions, Sports & Leisure was chosen because of reputation and prior experience looking at Oklahoma City's convention market. ¶ Williams said the study is ongoing. The first phase included a comparison to cities Oklahoma City competes with for conventions, and a destination market analysis that considers the likelihood that the city can move up to the next tier with a new convention center. ¶ "The destination market analysis looks at other amenities you should have to attract visitors," Williams said. "It looks at the total component of visitor attractions." ¶ Williams quoted the consultants as saying Oklahoma City is assured increased business if it builds a new convention center.

"Phase one" ... "phase two" ... where do those phrases come from? They obviously relate to the CSL study, but, aside from Cathy O'Connor's comments in the June 11, 2013, city council discussion, wherein O'Connor said ...

The convention center hotel project WAS [emphasis hers] mentioned as a part of the MAPS 3 campaign literature and campaign materials as a part of the Phase 1 development of a new convention center.

... we are pretty much left to guess about the parameters of phases one and two in the CSL study and any possible mention of a convention hotel. During the MAPS 3 campaign, the CSL convention study received no mention all from March 11 until December 8, the day of the election itself.

In an un-authored December 8, 2009, "A closer look," article, on the day of the election, the Oklahoman said,

      A study by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber found the Cox Convention Center is too small to serve the city's convention needs in the coming decades.
* * *
      A study commissioned by the chamber estimates the new convention center would triple the economic impact of the Cox Center, bringing nearly $80 million a year and 1,100 jobs to the local economy.

What I've identified above contains the complete public record of any mention of the CSL study between March 11 and December 8, 2009. Other than the passing reference Roy Williams made to a convention hotel in Lackmeyer's March 11 article, no mention is made of a possible convention hotel.

Even after December 8, 2009, until today, the CSL study has received little mention in the press, even though the Oklahoman, or at least its leadership, as well as the Mayor and at least some council members, were obviously privy to it.

      Dark City. This was a very dark period for investigative journalism at the Oklahoman, very dark. Recall these things: the Chamber itself guided the MAPS 3 campaign; the campaign was led by David Thompson, then the Chamber President; Thompson was also president of the OPUBCO Communications Group. Thompson or his staff held close reigns on what Oklahoman reporters were allowed to write about during the MAPS 3 campaign and, on at least one occasion that I am privy to, even changed a reporter's submitted MAPS 3 story to render it more MAPS 3 friendly than the article he originally wrote for publication.

During Thompson's regime as head of the MAPS 3 campaign, that Oklahoman reporter privately communicated with me by e-mail. The reporter, no longer with the Oklahoman, told me that a MAPS 3 article that he'd submitted for publication was substantially changed by his editor to make it more MAPS 3 friendly and that the changes were made without his knowledge or consent and even though the reported story continued to bear his byline.

In short, the Chamber, which had commissioned the study in February 2007, was fully aware of the study's content after its completion, probably in late 2007 but certainly by early 2008, and that the Chamber via David Thompson controlled what was said about the convention center, including the CSL study, during the entirety of the MAPS 3 campaign.

      Hotel Not Mentioned. The Chamber's "Breaking Through" presentations/luncheons in October and November 2009 did not mention the study or a convention hotel. The city's website for MAPS 3 did not mention that a convention hotel would or might be needed for the convention center's viability.

Why then did the CSL study which was relied upon by the Chamber and the Mayor as being so important as a touchstone rationale as to why a convention center should be included in MAPS 3 receive absolutely no attention during the MAPS 3 campaign itself?

As of this writing, the Oklahoman has still not presented an article comprehensively describing the content of the CSL study. Fortunately, the city has a weekly newspaper, the Oklahoma Gazette, which sometimes fills in some of the gaps.

In a lengthy December 5, 2012, Oklahoma Gazette article by Clifton Adcock, some, but not all, of the CSL missing pieces were filled in. About the study, Adcock wrote,

      The CS&L study almost has the air of legend to it — often referred to, but few have actually seen it.
      Completed in February 2009, it details why the city needs more convention center space. Although it holds critical implications for public policy and the spending of taxpayer money, the report itself is not a public record.
      Instead, it is kept by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. The chamber recently provided Oklahoma Gazette with access to the study. A reporter was allowed to read it under supervision and take notes, but not to copy or photograph any of the materials.

That is a step in the right direction, at least. The article says that the report was completed in February 2009, notwithstanding that the Chamber engaged CSL to perform the study in February 2007. That fact leads one to wonder if an earlier CSL study also existed, or if the report was merely delayed to be in sync with the MAPS 3 campaign. Be that as it may, Adcock's report continues ...

      "The rationale behind the study was we have a 40-year-old convention center that is not built to industry standards. If we're going to grow our convention business, what do we have to do?" said Roy Williams, president of the city chamber.
      The report concluded that while the "practical maximum capacity" occupancy rate — the amount of sellable space being occupied per year — is around 70 percent, the Cox Convention Center had an average of only 26 percent occupancy between 2003 and 2009. ¶ The current usable space is too small and not high-quality enough to attract many large-scale conventions, according to the study. CS&L recommended a center with at least 285,000 square feet of usable space to better compete with peer cities.
      This part of the study is often cited by officials and boosters as justification for a new convention center. ¶ But another reason for the low occupancy levels, the study continues, is the fact that management of the Cox Convention Center is shared by two companies: SMG, which manages and leases out arena and event space; and Renaissance Hotel, which manages and leases out the center’s ballroom and meeting rooms.
      In the late 1990s, city leaders had used management of some convention center space to help entice the Renaissance to locate downtown. ¶ But that bifurcated management situation "is highly unusual in the industry and likely impacts overall ability to book events" at the convention center, the CS&L report says. "For any future hotel development, we strongly recommend that a hotel operator not be given rights to book or operate space in the convention center."

That's all good, but several unanswered questions remain:
  1. Did CSL do one, or more than one, convention studies for the Chamber?
  2. If only one, since the Chamber commissioned the CSL study in February 2007, why was its "release" (a euphemism, I think) not made until March 2009?
  3. Exactly what does "phase one" and "phase two" mean?
  4. Was ANY mention made of a convention hotel during the MAPS 3 campaign?
  5. When, if ever, will the Chamber come out of the closet and let the public see the study or studies?
  6. Did ANY study by the Chamber make mention of the need for a convention hotel?
The bottom line is that the public does not know the answers to the first 3 questions. Neither do I.

As to the fourth, we know that the answer is, "No. A convention hotel was not mentioned during the MAPS 3 campaign." Notwithstanding Cathy O'Connor's statements to the City Council on June 11, 2013, neither during the Chamber's "Breaking Through" luncheons, through other campaign publicity, or otherwise in the media was a convention hotel ever mentioned, as council members Shadid and Greiner said on June 11, 2013. O'Connor was flat wrong.

Council member McAtee was also wrong in suggesting that Shadid and Greiner had "slanted" their comments, if "slanted" means not being truthful. If any council member can rightly be charged with being untruthful in the June 11 discussion, it is Larry McAtee and not the other two guys.

      Why wasn't a convention hotel mentioned in the MAPS 3 campaign? My answer and opinion is that David Thompson, who chaired the campaign and the other campaign cheerleaders, including the Mayor, didn't want it to be. See Dark City, above. Most probably, given the unpopularity of the MAPS 3 project, those leaders feared that its mention might doom the MAPS 3 vote, should the public become aware that yet another city taxpayer expense might become involved with the convention center than was involved in the MAPS 3 tax, itself.

My opinion is that Thompson, the Chamber, the Mayor, and all those privy to the CSL study, deliberately concealed from the public that a convention hotel would also be needed for the success of the MAPS 3 convention center. With publicity about the possible need for a convention hotel, and the potential of additional public funding beyond MAPS 3's amounts, MAPS 3 might well have been doomed to failure. As it was, without that information being available to the public, MAPS 3 passed by a vote of 54% to 46%. Would disclosure of the potential hotel expense have mattered in the vote tally? My guess is that, probably, it would, since the convention center was popular with the Chamber but not by the voters.

As to question 5, who can say? Maybe the Chamber will discontinue its peek-a-boo position concerning the CSL study (studies) and will at long last step out of the closet.

As to the 6th, we don't know the answer to that question with certainty, but we do have considerable information which indicates what the Chamber wanted.

      The Chamber's Quest For A Convention Hotel. At least by January 18, 2007, we know that the Chamber made its views known in a Lackmeyer article of the same date. In that article, "City chamber explores shift to tier two city," he reported,

      A large conference hotel and additional meeting space may be the next mission downtown for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber as it explores how to move from a tier three to a tier two convention city. ¶ The effort, announced by chairman Larry Nichols at Wednesday's State of the City address, will start with the chamber hiring a consultant next month.
      "A new 1,000 room convention hotel is something we can certainly dream about," Nichols said. "The convention center is at capacity. If you try to book something in three weeks, won't find anything available." ¶ Nichols said the city has been told repeatedly it needs more than 1,000 hotel rooms to attract large conventions — and the opening of six new hotels over the past few years has put downtown's room count to more than 1,400. He noted more meeting space was added at the Cox Convention Center a decade ago as part of the Metropolitan Area Projects improvements back when downtown only had one hotel.
      "Now we're on the other side, where we have more rooms but less convention space," Nichols said. "We've got to define what a tier two city needs in terms of facilities and hotel capacity. And if you look around, major tier two cities all have major conference hotels — 500 to 1,000 rooms, a convention headquarters — which we don't have." [Emphasis supplied]

Hey, wait a minute! This article, mentioning the Chamber's wish list for a 1,000 (or 500-1,000) room convention hotel, was written on the eve of the Chamber's commissioning of the CSL study, the Chamber firing its salvos favoring a convention hotel. Put this info into your pipe and smoke it as the CSL study was about to begin.

However, like Ron Popeil says, "BUT WAIT!" so lets hold up on that smoke for a moment. Another article, a January 25, 2008, op-ed piece published in the Oklahoman written by Brett Hamm, President of Downtown OKC Inc. (a component of the Chamber), Hamm said,

      What tools are needed for Oklahoma City's future? An expanded convention center? A convention hotel? * * * [Emphasis supplied]

By the time the January 2008 op-ed piece by Hamm was written, the CSL study commissioned by the Chamber in February 2007 would presumably have been done.

Now, finally, put the above into your pipe, also, and then proceed to smoke. It is difficult to doubt that a Chamber priority since at least 2007 has been the building of a convention hotel in downtown Oklahoma City. It is just as difficult to doubt that the CSL study which the Chamber initiated with CSL in 2007 did not mention a convention hotel.

      Why Did O'Connor Say What She Did? This one's a bit hard to figure. If Ed Shadid had wanted or needed a foil who would present, as the antagonist to the protagonist, a springboard to his more substantive comments about a convention hotel, it would be hard to imagine a better one than O'Connor presented with her opening remarks on June 11, 2013.

Why would O'Connor have made such a huge blunder? Perhaps it was because in her own mind she had melded and blurred the content of the MAPS 3 campaign, September 2009-December 2009, with the content of the CSL study, finished between 2007-2009, when she made her remarks on June 11, 2013, 3½ years after the MAPS 3 vote ...

       The convention center hotel project WAS [emphasis hers] mentioned as a part of the MAPS 3 campaign literature and campaign materials as a part of the Phase 1 development of a new convention center.

O'Connor's completely inaccurate and false misrepresentation of history is perhaps due to (1) her ignorance or forgetfulness of what publicly transpired during the MAPS 3 campaign, and/or (2) her familiarity as an insider who was privy to the Chamber's CLS study (or studies). She may have simply confused the public campaign with the Chamber's private study and made no distinction between the two. Doubtless it was not her intention to be Shadid's foil in making the inaccurate statement that she made. Regardless, in her public words on June 11, she made a wholly historical blunder, and one which rather nicely played into the hands of and setting up Ed Shadid's rejoinder and his other comments, which followed her own presentation. Hearing O'Connor's remarks, Shadid may have been thinking to himself and inwardly rolling his eyeballs upward while sitting on the City Council's horseshoe, saying, "Thank you, god."

This post is nearly done but more will shortly follow.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

This haunting tune by George Harrison strikes me as particularly poignant this week in the Oklahoma City metro, as the city of Moore and other metro communities experienced yet again the horrors that Mother Nature can bring. Some (Westoro Baptist Church, Kansas) submit that the tornadic devastation represents the wrath of god. Others count god's blessings for those who survived, but (by inconsistent logic, I'm thinking) don't mention god's wrath upon those who didn't or were otherwise devastated. Others submit that Mother Nature just is what she is, not invoking a deity one way or another. See this CNN Wolf Blitzer video about that. Count me in the latter group. You are, of course, free to take your pick.

Regardless of your religious inclination, this week has been bad, very very bad, in Oklahoma City. It has been yet another week that Oklahoma City has gently weeped.

Above, While My Guitar Gently Weeps was performed at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in which George Harrison, Prince, Jackson Browne, The Dells, Bob Seger, Traffic, and ZZ Top were inductees. In the above tribute to George Harrison by Tom Petty, Dhani Harrison (George Harrison's son, to the right of Tom Petty), Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, and Prince (in the red hat), the melancholy tune was beautifully performed.

Our deepest thoughts, grief, sadness, and yes for those who are religiously inclined to claim either god's damnation or the salvation of those who did or not die or otherwise suffer devastation, our prayers, are shared around the world.

By this time, you've already seen images of the massive destruction in Oklahoma City's sister-city, Moore, earlier this week, and no need exists to repeat those images here. There is really nothing more to say or to see, other than to say that my best thoughts and prayers are out there, too, for whatever they may be worth.

May God bless and mend all those whose hearts are broken and may the dead amongst us have everlasting love and peace.

This is an unbeliever's hope and wish ... or maybe not quite an unbeliever ... that, and that you might like to listen to and see J.S. Bach's While Sheep May Safely Graze ...

... and conclude that not all is wrong with the world, notwithstanding our present and most desperate and lamenting grief.

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Monday, March 11, 2013

John Lampton Belt, 1936-2013

It came as a shock to me to read in Steve Lackmeyer's Oklahoman article that John Lampton Belt died Sunday morning, at the age of 76. Steve's article was published on-line on the same day, March 10, and it appeared in the print version of the Oklahoman on March 11.
Why is John Belt significant to Oklahoma City history? The answer is simple. John Belt is/was a person who found his comfortable place in preserving and enhancing a historic neighborhood in Oklahoma City, and he singularly established the Paseo District into what it has become today.

Steve Lackmeyer's Articles. After Steve's initial article on March 10-11, he wrote another for the March 12 Oklahoman, and both will tell you things about John Belt and his many contributions to our city, and no need exists for complete repetition here, except to note some snippets:
        Belt may be best known for his efforts over three decades to revive Spanish Village, a faded commercial corridor, into Paseo, an arts district that is home to 20 galleries and working studios. The district, located between NW 28, NW 30, Walker and Dewey Avenues, also is home to gift and clothing shops, an event center, live theater, restaurants and bars.
        Belt’s efforts to revive Paseo started in 1976 when he was dismayed to learn a favorite sandwich shop where he often ate lunch was about to be closed by a neighbor who planned to buy the building and use it for storage.
        In a quick cash upfront deal, Belt did the deal instead, and the restaurant stayed put. More deals followed. As Belt renovated one building after another in the former Spanish Village, artists opened up galleries and the neighborhood enjoyed a slow but steady rise from blight.
        In 2010 the Paseo was named one of the Top Ten Greatest Neighborhoods in America by the American Planning Association, one of America’s Top Revitalized Neighborhoods by Forbes Magazine and in 2011, the BBC listed Paseo as one of the Most Beautiful Neighborhoods in the United States.

The above snippets are from Steve's first article. In the second, discussing the property which will be shortly shown below, he said,

        At one of our many visits at the restaurant now known as Picasso's, I stared across the street at the forlorn former home of the Spaghetti Factory. The building was a stark white blank canvass in the middle of an otherwise colorful mix of pastels and tile roofs. The building also was the largest on Paseo Drive, and a reminder of what the rest of the strip looked like before Belt's first building purchase in 1976.
        The owners were known to be tough negotiators when it came to striking a deal. This would not be a cheap buy for anyone — especially someone like Belt, whose heart was worn on his sleeve.
        A couple months later, Belt called me back. Life is short, he explained, and he decided it was indeed time to get the building (once the Paseo Plunge) and bring it back to life after 20 years of dormancy.
        Belt then moved quickly to turn the nondescript building into his next artistic masterpiece. I was amused as he had to submit the building designs to the Downtown Design Review Committee, which had been set up just a few years earlier.
        How, I wondered, could this group really tell Belt what was and wasn't an appropriate fit for the area when he was the master planner of it all for more than 30 years?
        Belt never used that card on the committee members — he respectfully but firmly haggled with the group over their proposed changes. And the project went forward, even without a firm plan on the building's ultimate use.
        The building wasn't an easy renovation project. It was huge, without a lot of windows, and built so solidly it would likely withstand a 7.0 earthquake.
        We talked about this dilemma a few times. He pondered setting up musical practice studios in the virtually soundproof basement. He considered a balcony coffee shop or restaurant. An arts center, retail complex or community gathering spot all were on the list.
        As noted by his friends, John Belt almost always wore a suit and tie amid the more casually dressed “funky” folks who populate the Paseo. Yes, he was an attorney tied to pretty powerful interests in this town. But at heart, he was still the song-and-dance man who thrilled audiences in college, community theater, and briefly, in New York City. He was an artist at heart. And the Paseo, with all its colorful buildings, artists, attractions and events, is the masterpiece that John Belt, the artist, has given Oklahoma City to enjoy for generations to come.

In addition to Steve's articles published in the Oklahoman, in one of his OkcCentral blog posts, he presents a very fine 10 minute video published by OPUBCO, much of it featuring Mr. Belt's overview of the Spanish Village and its transition into the Paseo Distict, complete with the 1960s-early 1970s hippies period and its transformation after that to the modern Paseo District. I've shamelessly embedded that video here, below.

With respect to Mr. Belt, the Paseo Plunge was not the only place for the general public to swim in the 1950s-1960s. For example, Springlake Amusement Park had a fantastic swimming pool area and I think there were a few others as well. But, he can be forgiven for that minor error.

My Personal Privilege. Lots and lots of people have known John Belt far longer than I have but I regard it as a high privilege that I came to know him when I did. My first contact with him occurred by phone when at the JRB At The Elms art gallery back in 2006 or 2007 when I was doing research on the history of the Paseo area, originally called "Spanish Village," the construction of which began in 1929 by G.A. Nichols. While at the gallery with my wife, I spoke with John's wife, Joy Reed Belt, and I inquired about the basis for the Paseo's claim to be "the first commercial shopping district north of downtown Oklahoma City," as was stated in one of the Paseo's websites. She assured me that it was (notwithstanding my observation that Plaza Court at 1100 Classen Drive, built in 1927, was Oklahoma City's first suburban shopping center) and she suggested that I might want to speak with her husband. I said that would be great, she got him on the phone, and we spoke with each other for the first time.

Truth is, I don't remember much about that conversation ... I just remember that it happened. My first blog post about the Paseo occurred shortly thereafter, in early May 2007. It was followed by my second post later in the month about the 2007 Paseo Arts Festival.

Some time passing, in the pre-organization days of RetroMetro OKC, probably in 2009, Mr. Belt was the guest speaker at a brown-bag lunch at the Oklahoma City downtown library, and his presentation was fascinating. I was pleased that he recognized me and gave me kudos for my Paseo research. Enter ego bump number 1 for Doug Dawg.

More time passed. Sometime in 2011, October I think, John contacted me and wondered if I might do some updating on my prior Paseo posts and I said that I would if he would help, and he quickly volunteered. We had lunch at Picasso's and then he gave me a private tour of the former Paseo Plunge property that he had purchased; later, we had another meeting at his law office at NW 50th & Western ... the latter being perhaps more like an Oklahoma City museum than a law office. A very nice friendship was formed during this time and (unless my memory has totally failed me) I understand from my wife that John's wife said to her that John had referred to me as his "new best friend," which, of course, pumped up Doug Dawgz ego several more notches, whether deserved or not. I mean and let's get real, John Belt was a person who was making Oklahoma City history ... I was merely an observer who was writing about it.

Then, on November 7, 2011, John hosted a meeting of RetroMetro OKC and made a splendid presentation at the formerly decrepit property that he had purchased and was completely reinventing at great personal expense, the old Paseo Plunge, and I took a number of photos of John and the re-purposed property. My original intention was to publish these photos more than a year ago, but I never did. It is fitting that I finally share those photos with you now as a tribute to John Lampton Belt, even if tardily done.

The Paseo Plunge. I've given some description of this property and its history in a May 2007 article. It is and was located at 3010 Paseo. First, I posted a few pics of what it looked like in early May 2007, one of which is shown below:

In a nutshell, the Spanish Village Bathing Pool opened in 1933 and was not originally within a closed building, and by 1934 it was named the "Spanish Village Plunge." By May 1944, it was renamed the Paseo Plunge. The pool closed by the early 1950s apparently in response to the 1949-1952 or so polio scare which resulted in the closing of swimming pools around the country. In the video above, Mr. Belt said that the polio scare was in 1957, but I think that he was mistaken about that. In any event, in July 1954, the revamped property reopened and became the Jamboree Surf Club, a private member club operated by Mike Samara. By that time the pool was surrounded on all sides by high walls to assure privacy but was still open-air at the top. A July 11, 1954, Oklahoman article said, "On the first floor of the main building are lockers and dressing rooms. On the second floor, on the same level as the sun deck, is a snack bar and lounge." A May 22, 1955, Oklahoman article said, "The Jamboree Surf club, rebuilt and enlarged from the old Spanish Village plunge, is one of the finest of its kind in the southwest. The concrete apron surrounding the large pool is divided into sunlit and shaded area. A spacious, elevated sun deck borders the pool on two sides." In May 1956, ads appeared in the Oklahoman again naming the pool the Paseo Plunge, open to the public, and those ads continued into 1960. The terminal date of the Paseo Plunge as a swimming pool has thus far eluded me.

By summer 1968, Sussy's Snack and Pizza Bar had opened at 3010 Paseo, and I am guessing that to be the time that the pool and property became totally enclosed, as well as re-purposed. A September 12, 1968, Oklahoman ad announced that "Sussy's Frozen Spaghetti with sauce" was available at that location.

In December 1977, the Spaghetti Factory grand opening occurred at the same location. At the time, one could have "dinner & disco" – spaghetti, pizza, and disco by the Wolfman." The Spaghetti Factory continued through 1989. A July 27, 1979, Oklahoman article described it: "Nestled in Oklahoma City's Paseo district, the Spaghetti Factory's long white exterior camouflages an inside decor which can best described as 'early nondescript.' ¶ A diner who walks through the front door is suddenly confronted with odd electronic devices on the wall, and what they are is anyone's guess."

By the time that I took the photo shown above in May 2009, the property had been unused for many years (Steve's 2nd article says for 20 years) and was on the market for sale. It was an eyesore and a huge blemish on the Paseo District that Belt had been earnestly developing for several years.

In that May 2009 article, I said,
At the moment, this former "pool" property has got to be one large negative to The Paseo today. It is large, it is empty, it is in disrepair, and it will take significant investment to change all of that.
The significant investment came from none other than John Lampton Belt who purchased the property under the name of Paseo Village on December 11, 2009. Lackmeyer's 2nd article gives some description of Belt's intention for the property.

The New Paseo Plunge. By November 7, 2011, the Paseo Plunge had a new look:

Mr. Belt invited RetroMetro OKC to meet at the work-in-progress of the Paseo Plunge on November 7 and have a gander at what occurred thus far and to see and hear him make a presentation of The Paseo's history. His investment and vision for this once decrepit property were staggering. More images from that meeting are shown below.

1 - Looking north from Plunge

2 - Looking south

3 - Looking west from Plunge

4 - Looking south at Plunge

5 - Looking east at Plunge

6 - Plunge Entrance

7 - Closer look at 2nd floor
Inside view of the lighted window is shown in #12, below

8 - Art window above entrance

9 - Closer look at the art

10 - Old fashioned freight elevator

11 - Part of spacious 2nd floor

12 - Window looking west
13 - Preparing for meeting

14 - Preparing for meeting

15 - RetroMetro starts to assemble

16 - RetroMetro meeting starts to assemble

17 - John Belt explains how he became involved with the Paseo - to save Hiram's, his favorite sandwich shop

18 - Hiram's sandwich shop

19 - Hiram's location

20 - Photos of John Belt during his presentation





25 - After presentation

26 - In basement
Photos 26-34 show the Plunge's basement, where the bottom of the pool originally was. Probably, during Sussy's Snack and Pizza Bar's tenure (1968- ?), much of this space was converted to large freezers to store frozen pizza for marketing outside the property and around the state. In photo 29, "pass through" windows between freezer rooms can be seen whereby pizzas would be passed from one room to the next. At great expense and difficulty, the floor had been leveled-out and solidified. As will be observed, much work remained to be done, e.g., old pipes and pumps.






32 - sump pump



35 - Leaving the meeting and looking north at artwork on a building on the Plunge's north side, symbolic of Belt's influence in the Paseo District

I've not returned to the Plunge since the November 2011 meeting so I cannot report on changes since that time. A graphic rendering appears at, shown below, the text simply reading, "The Paseo Plunge is currently under renovation in the beautiful and renowned Paseo Arts District in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma."

Hopefully, John Belt's survivors will do what they can to see that his vision for this property continues and that it becomes a reality and a fitting testament to his dreams and vision.

Oklahoma City will forever be in your debt, John Lampton Belt, for all that you dreamed and did. I'm not particularly a religious person, but, still, I say, "Thank you, John Belt, and may God bless you and look fondly upon your soul," just as we do here amongst the living.

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