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Living with character

Downtown developers hope to foster community with a thoughtfully planned residential component.

Kelley Chambers July 18th, 2012

Few things could bring life to a stretch of road in an otherwise sleepy corner of downtown like a new apartment complex housing hundreds of residents. With construction on Level near completion, Richard McKown, the project’s developer, is finding that with 125 residents moved in and more on the way, N.E. Second Street is starting to wake up at night.

“This is where people are going to be hanging out in the evenings,” he said.

No one would mistake Oklahoma City for the city that never sleeps, but until recently the area around Level was quiet with all the action to the south and west. McKown envisioned a lively community where residents could leave their cars in the garage.

“This community is really designed for people who see the value in being able to walk everywhere,” he said.

But he didn’t want people to have to stray too far to find things to eat and drink. In one corner of the building, construction is underway on a branch of Norman-based Native Roots Market, and in another ground-floor retail space he is negotiating for a restaurant operator. On the other side of N.E. Second, developer James Thompson is bringing in an Aloft hotel franchise. Set for completion in mid-2013, it will include restaurant and bar space on the first floor with outdoor seating.

McKown walked around Level like a proud father. He pointed out things like a planting bed that, when fully grown, will surround the swimming pool with a wall of bamboo. On the other side of the 228-unit apartment complex he pointed to an area designed after a garden he visited in Paris. In a model unit, he lovingly ran his hand over black granite countertops in spacious kitchens. On a south-facing balcony with the sun high in the afternoon sky, he marveled at the cutbacks in the design that allow an unobstructed view of the skyline while sitting in the shade.

When looking at the option of building condominiums versus apartments, he said the choice was simple.

“Rental is where it’s at today,” he said. “I wanted to do owneroccupied downtown, but right now there is no condo market.”

Oklahoma City experienced a mini condo boom that quickly soured when the national economy went south in 2008. In today’s market, Cathy O’Connor, president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, agreed that in the foreseeable future, most residential projects downtown will be rental.

“The downtown market is still focused on rental projects,” she said. “Those are the kinds of projects developers are able to get financing for right now.”

With the apartments nearing completion, McKown said he is focused on quality of life for his tenants.

“Our goal is to keep you three to five years,” he said. “We want to take great care of you and when it’s time to renew your lease, we want you to stay and help us build this community.”

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