Downtown living attracts families

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

by Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

Richard McKown feels no pressure to advertise his newly opened Level Urban Apartments at NE 2 and Walnut Avenue. He doesn't have to; the complex was fully leased when it opened last month.

Down the street, also along NE 2, construction plans are being readied for the next phase of "for sale" housing at The Hill after the once slow-selling units were grabbed up by a mix of empty nesters and young professionals.

Families, long missing from the equation, also are now in the mix.

McKown and other developers say they're seeing a shift in the downtown population as housing picks up steam with the upcoming opening of Native Roots Market, down town's first grocery, and planning for a charter elementary school and streetcar system.

New residents include the owners of Native Roots, Matt and Sara Runkle, who along with their infant daughter, Stella, live full time in an apartment over the grocery. Two blocks to the north, Kurt and Charla Gwartney and their 12-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, are looking forward to when they can walk to get their groceries from their home at the Block 42 condominiums.

Similar aspirations are shared by Kyle and Kate Jones, who along with their 10-month-old daughter, Ramsey, are living at The Hill.

"The sense of community that is downtown is stronger than anything I've ever seen in any of the suburban communities I have worked in," McKown said. "The opportunities are so tangible and real, and the housing choices are growing."

Those housing choices were key to Kate Jones agreeing to move downtown a move she admits she only contemplated after her husband bribed her with a new car.

She was worried about what opportunities would be lost for their daughter.

"Where is she going to learn to ride her bike?" Kate Jones recalled worrying. "Where will there be other children for her to play with? I wasn't even willing to give it a chance."

'Homey' location
With the offer of a new car, the soon-to-be mom searched online. She rejected the first two for-sale housing projects she found because they were multilevel with living areas on the second floor. But she quickly warmed up to The Hill, which she said "felt homey," and had amenities, including a two-car garage, to which she was accustomed.

When the couple bought their home on Russell Perry Avenue in Deep Deuce in 2011, it was the seventh one sold. Now all 32 units built at The Hill have sold, and developer Bill Canfield is moving forward with further development of what will ultimately be a neighborhood with 157 homes overlooking Bricktown and the downtown skyline.

Kyle and Kate Jones say they are happy to have the option of enrolling their daughter at the future John Rex Elementary, which will be built at Sheridan and Walker Avenues. Kyle Jones also is excited about the prospect of someday traveling to work via a streetcar system that is set to link Deep Deuce and MidTown.

Kate Jones admits her entire attitude about living downtown has shifted. She sees children enrolled in activities daily at Boathouse Row along the Oklahoma River, playing in Myriad Gardens, and frequenting other downtown venues. The couple routinely enjoys walking to the park, restaurants, shops and to Thunder games at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

"I was very judgmental of downtown living," Kate Jones said. "But I will never move back to Edmond. The traffic is terrible there. And I love where we are. I'm very glad he talked me into moving here."

Friends who once mocked their choice of leaving the suburbs, Kyle Jones added, are now envious of their decision after visiting their new home.

The Gwartneys had a longer transition that started with buying a condominium at Block 42 as an investment while they lived at a parsonage provided to Charla Gwartney while she worked in Choctaw. When her job was moved to a church in Edmond without a parsonage, the family decided to make Block 42 their fulltime residence.

McKown, meanwhile, is set on developing more housing just to the east of Level Urban Apartments along Oklahoma Avenue.

"I think we're going to see a lot more people wanting to put down roots in downtown Oklahoma City," McKown said. "I'm very optimistic and I think it's a watershed moment for this generation."