Classen Curve angles to twist the retail experience into something fresh 

Think about your last foray into a big-box retailer. Did the mere thought of the huge parking lot, oblivious pedestrians and acres of merchandise feel overwhelming, like you needed to steel yourself behind your cart and charge through the fluorescent-lit aisles as fast as possible to get out of there?

Thought so.

Some folks in Oklahoma City say we deserve better and have set out to reinvent the shopping experience we have come to adopt as routine. Classen Curve, situated slightly southwest of the Chesapeake Energy corporate campus, is the antithesis of the big-box experience.

Intimate relationship
Architectural statement
At the Curve

"The Classen Curve is definitely going to add a new twist to the element of the Western Avenue corridor, and we're very excited about it," said Heather Griswold, Western Avenue Association coordinator. "We're thrilled to have that develop in our area."

Designed by Rand Elliott and his architectural firm, Elliott + Associates, this unprecedented retail area is quite the departure from other small-scale shopping districts, otherwise known as strip shopping malls.

"We have become immune to the fact that most retail centers are just flat boring," Elliott said. "The scale is wrong, the parking lot with cars shooting across at all angles is too far away from the store, there is absolutely no landscaping, and going there is just an unpleasant experience."

Intimate relationshipIntimacy, according to his way of thinking, is what has been missing in our shopping lives. Thus, the concepts of small-scale buildings, pedestrian walkways, canopies, sitting areas and a landscaped, one-way grand boulevard exist among the many details of Classen Curve.

"When I was a kid in the late '50s and early '60s, my mother and my aunts worked downtown. We would go to lunch on Sundays all dressed up, and we would window-shop," Elliott said. "It was so much fun "¦ a really special thing. It was an event. Right now, we have the opportunity to bring this back, to add a certain intimacy to shopping, to make it fun and interesting."

The size and distance from each building at Classen Curve make it easy to create that intimacy he remembers and finds lacking today. People don't linger, because they aren't given the chance or provided an environment that encourages that, he said.

He and his team tackled routine problems " think ugly garbage bins sitting out in plain sight, building facades riddled with holes from numerous signs following tenant changes, and uncovered cars baking in the summer heat.   

"Traditions sometimes make no sense whatsoever, so we questioned every bit of this project," Elliott said. "We set out to reinvent what the retail environment was about, what it was like. Not just attacking all of the typical problems that retail centers have, but literally trying to reinvent it from the inside out: 'What are the problems, and how can we solve them?'"

Steel portals on each storefront will hold signs so they are not screwed on to the building, leaving holes from rotating tenants. Mechanical systems are concealed in white boxes that nearly disappear on store rooftops. Canopies offer shade from the blazing sun. Even a drainage ditch that could not be removed has been turned into a sustainable, self-filtering water feature filled with plants and stones.

Attention was paid to Classen Curve's back, which faces the street, as well. There sit the trash bins all businesses need. You just can't see them.

"Anybody else would have ignored this. It is the back side, the street side, where nobody cares, but the team thought differently," Elliott said.

Architectural statementAt the southern entrance to Classen Curve will be the new 17,000-square-foot, two-story home for Balliet's, which will relocate this fall from 50 Penn Place.

"We have a very limited site size here, so there is a parking/building ratio that we have to be very careful of to make sure we can accommodate that," Elliott explained. "There was a lot of push and pull to maximize the amount of parking required with the building. That was an important piece of the puzzle."

Electronic displays in the store's 12-foot square windows will feature live-streaming video and images. Customers can conceivably watch a live runway show from Paris as they shop.

On the second floor will be the shop's famed cosmetics department, complete with a private elevator and a spa deck. A covered courtyard and breezeway will lead to Café 501, which also is opening in the fall. The courtyard will serve as a central axis that can host runway shows and other events.

Since the location is rather hidden, and the Classen Curve buildings are small and low, Elliott said he felt it was important to add vertical elements and landmarks. Towers bearing the name Classen Curve became an important part of the design.

"The strong leasing activity at the Classen Curve is a testament to the uniqueness of this center and its location in the heart of what has become the most desirable area in Oklahoma City to live, play and work," said Tom Blanton, president of Blanton Property Company and the development and leasing consultant for the center, in a statement. "We have leased over 65 percent of the available space, and we have many active lease prospects under way at this time.  Given the tough retail environment, we are extremely pleased and encouraged."

Two years in the making, Classen Curve is an architectural statement about retail. It is part of the long-term vision Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon has for the property surrounding the corporate campus.

"Often, strip centers are done as an income producer, and architecture is not important," Elliott said. "This may be an argumentative point, but here it is equally important." "Susan Grossman |Additional reporting by Pamela A. Grady
At the CurveThese stores and restaurants have opened or plan to open soon at Classen Curve.
Café 501: The popular Edmond restaurant will open its second location in August.Upper Crust: The wood-fired pizzeria concept is slated to open in the coming months.Republic Gastropub: This reinvention of the neighborhood pub features upscale pub food and more than 325 varieties of imported and domestic beers. Uptown Kids: An upscale children's apparel retailer will open later in the year.Red Coyote Running and Fitness: The running specialty store focuses on footwear, apparel and accessories. Metro Shoes: This specialty shoe retailer will offer high-end women's and men's footwear, along with more casual offerings. Balliet's: The renowned, upscale women's store is slated to open this fall.105 Degrees: The first tenant to open in Classen Curve, 105 is a restaurant and culinary institute that features natural, raw ingredients.In addition, national retailer Whole Foods Market, an organic and natural supermarket, has announced plans to build a 35,000-square-foot store across the street from the Classen Curve development. "Susan Grossman

photo above Classen Curve. photo/Shannon Cornman
photo below The running specialty store Red Coyote Running and Fitness focuses on footwear, apparel and accessories. photo/Shannon Cornman

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Susan Grossman

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