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“For now, Brune is one of a small but growing number of Tulsans who are living ahead of thetimes, finding obscure corners of downtown to convert into private homes.”

– The Tulsa World

Downtown reshapes with space to live in
MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
10 April 2006

 

It’s a simple question, really. How big is the apartment? How many square feet? But Ken Brune takes a long pause, thinking it over.

“Well,” he says, “that depends.”

It’s hard to say exactly where the apartment ends and the law office begins. Take, for example, that room with a long table and six or eight chairs.

Call it a dining room and Brune’s apartment measures about 1,500 square feet. But call it a conference room and the apartment shrinks to 1,300 square feet.

“We use it for both,” he says. “That’s what you get when you live and work in the same place.”

The place where Brune both lives and works is called the Reunion Center, a 10-story office tower at Fourth and Main streets. He’s the one and only resident.

His bedroom is maybe 10 steps from the receptionist's desk; his gourmet kitchen just around the corner from the waiting room.

“It’s an unusual place to live right now,” Brune says. “But I think five, 10 years from now it will seem very normal.”

By then, if all goes according to the Vision 2025 plan, much of downtown’s old vacant office space will be converted to mixed use, with people living, working and shopping within the same few blocks, if not in some cases within the same building.

For now, Brune is one of a small but growing number of Tulsans who are living ahead of the times, finding obscure corners of downtown to convert into private homes.

Of course, you have the major residential projects, too. The Tribune Lofts, the Philtower Lofts, Central Park condominiums. But people like Brune are making their own little niches in unexpected places.

On the ninth floor of the Reunion Center, a long hallway leads from the elevators to his law firm. What isn’t immediately obvious is that it also leads to his private apartment – a door in the reception area slides open to reveal a dining room and beyond that the kitchen and cozy living room.

“Living downtown is itself a unique experience,” Brune said. “Personally, now I can’t imagine living anywhere else.”

In vacant office buildings, above empty storefronts and often with do-it-yourself renovations, people aren’t waiting for high- profile, well-financed Vision 2025 projects.

These downtown outposts are mostly scattered,with a few in the Brady District and even fewer in the central business core along Main Street and Boston Avenue.

But a cluster seems to be forming near Third Street and Kenosha Avenue, a mix of dilapidated and freshly renovated old buildings.

Micha Alexander calls it “in the shadow of downtown,” and that’s where he wants it to stay.

“We can be over here out of the way and do our own thing,” said Alexander, who launched the area’s revitalization with the 2003 renovation of the Virginia Lofts. “I want to be a real arts district, not for tourists but for artists.”

Ten or 12 people – most, if not all, of them “artsy and creative” people by Alexander’s description – live in the neighborhood right now, with more trickling in gradually.

But he hopes to break ground later this year on a project that would at least double the population of the neighborhood. And yet the new construction would hardly make it mainstream. If anything, the project would make the neighborhood even more offbeat.

Alexander wants to build condos out of prefabricated metal “pods,” stacked on top of each other not unlike Lego blocks. Each apartment would be about 1,200 square feet and would sell for around $150,000.

Some might think the architecture resembles agiant air-conditioning unit, but Alexander likes the modernist abstraction.Sitting next-door to the existing old brick buildings around Kenosha, it would give the downtown streets a nuanced texture, he said.

“It’s art to me. Downtown needs the old and the new.”

Alexander applied for Vision 2025 funding, but officials rejected his proposal. Maybe that’s just as well because now he can follow his own Bohemian dream without any outside influence, he said.

“If anything,” he said, “it makes me a lot more determined to do it and not look back.”

Meanwhile, a few blocks from Kenosha, construction workers are painting and renovating an 1,800-square-foot spacewith floor-to-ceiling windows that look out over the Performing Arts Center and the Williams Green.

Outside the front door, residents will find plenty of covered parking. The apartment sits on one of the upper floors of a parking garage.

“There's nothing else like it in Tulsa,” said George Shaffer, president of American Parking, the company that owns both the KC Auto Hotel and the one apartment inside it.

The space itself dates back to at least the 1960s. In the 1980s, it was known as the “Sky Cave.”

But with a resurgence in downtown, the apartment now enjoys unprecedented popularity. Shaffer has a waiting list of would-berenters.

“We don’t have to advertise,” he said. “People can’t find enough places to live downtown right now.”

 

THE REUNION CENTER
900 ReunionCenter · Nine East Fourth Street · Tulsa, OK 74103
(t) 918.578.9080
(f) 918.599.8673

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