Shortly before midnight on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2016, the Ardmore Fire Department respond to a call in downtown Ardmore. Upon arrival, firefighters found the partially collapsed remains of the JC Yeatts Furniture and Appliance building.
For months prior to the collapse, construction had been underway to create a new pocket park in the empty lot flanking the Yeatts building.
Out of the rubble grew new plans for the plot of land and a new direction for downtown, plans that no longer include a pocket park.
“There is a property owner that has an interest in developing the area,” JD Spohn, Ardmore city manager, said. “He has worked with the Main Street Authority and we have some preliminary renditions of what may go there. He is working with the other property owners to either buy all the property or to form a group so they would all benefit from the new development. I’m not sure what stage those discussions are currently in.”
Spohn said the property owner, originally from Ardmore, currently lives and works in Russia, but plans to retire soon and return to the area to spearhead the project.
Plans for the development have not been finalized, but could potentially include both commercial and residential building units along with additional dedicated parking.
“The plan for the park has changed,” Spohn said, “Noble Energy is now looking at other areas of the city where they can make a difference and help the citizens.”
Spohn said the development could help the ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown area in correlation with the streetscape project and the Depot District development.
“The city welcomes any development that creates usable space and creates some kind of retail that brings in sales tax revenues,” Spohn said. “We are very supportive of anything that brings people to the downtown area.”
Spohn said plans are also in the works to create several retail, dining and nightlife options in the Depot District, including restaurants and bars that provide open air dining and live music venues throughout the week, similar to midsize cities throughout the country.
“If you go to downtown Denton, it’s really a neat area,” Spohn said. “Its got the restaurants and bars and things to do. The kind of stuff that attracts people. I’ve scoped some of them out and I have a vision for what I’d like to see Ardmore develop.”
Spohn’s vision for a walkable downtown mirrors that of areas like Denton and Norman where consumers can spend the afternoon shopping before moving on to nearby restaurants and bars, spending more time and money, while also creating a point of interest for the surrounding area and nearby cities. Spohn said the restaurant and bar additions would be unique, community-owned businesses and not national chains and fast food restaurants.
“If you have something that initially attracts people, they will automatically take advantage of anything else in that area,” Spohn said.
The transformation of downtown will also include a roundabout — currently being planned — for the Broadway and Main Street intersection while also rerouting Highway 199 away from Main Street to remove truck traffic to free up the city to incorporate west Main Street into further development plans.
Spohn said the efforts could provide additional added benefits to area industries and businesses that operate outside of the downtown area by providing the local nightlife and entertainment options that currently attracts Ardmore’s existing workforce to nearby cities and often entices skilled workers to relocate for the nightlife.
“If we can offer well-paying jobs and affordable housing, along with the entertainment and quality of life they are looking for, then they have no reason to leave,” Spohn said. “That is why we want to make the area more attractive. We want to keep our graduates, our talent here.”
The workforce issue is currently being addressed by the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce through a comprehensive work study. Though still in its early stages, the study is expected to provide a course of action for the city in recruiting, training and retaining its skilled workers.
“Anything we do to enhance our downtown area makes it more attractive in recruiting and maintaining that talent,” Mita Bates, President and CEO of the Ardmore Chamber of Commerce, said.
The timeline for the development is still unknown, but the overall efforts are trending toward similar paths other cities have used for similar purposes.
“There is a lot of interest in downtown living,” Jeff DiMiceli, Ardmore Main Street Authority general manager, said. “We anticipate that the development will add to what we currently have — 60-70 downtown lofts — most of which stay full at all times. People are looking for that downtown feeling, that hometown feeling, a place where they will feel safe.”
DiMiceli said the parcel of land previously earmarked for the pocket park would likely be incorporated into the ongoing development efforts.
“The options are open,” DiMiceli said. “The space isn’t very big, we just want it to be productive and possibly bring in more tax revenues for the city.”
Part of the development process will include a marketing initiative for the city to improve Ardmore’s reputation as a safe community.
“It’s a perception thing, not the reality. It’s sad that that perception is still out there, our police department has worked hard and the crime rate has gone down,” Spohn said. “We are proud of that, the police department has done an excellent job. We are not stopping, we are going to continue to improve those numbers and we are going to brag about it.”