Sometimes people have to agree to disagree.
Even in the Brady Arts District, that granola-loving, free-thinking hipster haven where, one would think, a warm hug and a cold frosty could resolve any disagreement.
Not always, it turns out.
Some folks aren’t happy about plans to build upscale lofts next to the Soundpony bar at 409 N. Main Street.
And “next to” is the key issue.
The owners of the bar fear the proximity of the lofts will cramp patrons’ styles — especially late at night — and that inevitably they’ll get a call from one of their new neighbors asking them to calm things down.
“You could go out in the middle of the street at 1:30 in the morning and yell and scream and spin in circles and nobody gives a shit because nobody lives here,” said Josh Gifford, one of the owners of the Soundpony. “This is the whole reason we opened this bar: because no one lives here and you can do whatever you want to do. You can play music as loud as you want at 1:30 in the morning.
“The noise ordinance would take effect at 11 (p.m.), so if someone living in (the lofts), one person, complains, we can get tickets. It would change the dynamic of this place.”
Then there is the patio out back. It’s not much. A few tables and chairs, a couple of benches, graffiti here and there.
But look up and the view is devastating — the city skyline lit in all its glory.
That view will go away when the Davenport Urban Lofts go up.
“They (customers) will just be staring at somebody’s patio, or inside of a living room,” Gifford said.
Listening and learning
Jeff and Kathy Weaver and Lori and Doug Schram didn’t move downtown planning to build high-end lofts. And they certainly didn’t decide to build high-end lofts to create controversy, or to hurt anyone’s business.
“We see a positive economic opportunity for all neighborhood businesses and their employees when permanent residents join the living mix,” said Lori Schram, adding, “I think if there is any one element that we all four agree on is that we do see this as co-existence.”
If only saying it made it so.
The Schrams and the Weavers don’t just have the owners of the Soundpony worried, they’ve prompted the creation of an online petition hell-bent on stopping the development before one shovel-full of soil is turned.
“Herein lies the fear of the undersigned,” the petition by Stop Davenport reads, “that it (the Davenport) will become a retirement village, effectively stifling the atmosphere that makes the Brady Arts District an important destination for the others amongst us who can’t afford one of the Davenport’s $450,000 residential units.”
The Schrams and the Weavers say they felt blindsided by the petition but aren’t dwelling on it.
They’re listening instead.
The doors to the Davenport Urban Lofts showroom on North Main Street opened in May. At the time, preliminary project plans called for it to include 18 units starting at $450,000 a piece.
Now plans are to have 28 units, including many that will be 1,200 square-feet and sell for less than $450,000. Retail space has been added to the ground floor.
“I think what we have learned from our early research here in our showroom and from talking to people is that there is a demand for a broader size of units,” Lori Schram said. “Now the mix will be from 1,200 square feet to 2,700 square feet.”
With the 1,200-square-foot units, “we’re going to get a different demographic, and that is what we like,” said Kathy Weaver.
By different, she means younger people looking to invest in a home.
“Some will be less expensive from a monthly standpoint than renting,” said Jeff Weaver.
Why the ageism, bro?
City Councilor Blake Ewing, who represents the Brady Arts District, is a bit befuddled by the controversy surrounding the project.
“What I think some of the protesters don’t realize is that if we want businesses down here to continue and be successful, this has to be a true neighborhood in the sense that people live here and go out to eat on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday nights,” Ewing said. “We do fine on weekends.”
The fact that many of the people who signed the petition are likely creative urbanites who pride themselves on being open-minded and forward-thinking makes what they have to say about the Davenport all the more shocking, Ewing said.
“It seems almost classist and ageist,” he said. “I think if they were speaking about any other group of people the way they were speaking about the people who will live in these condos, it would have been considered widely offensive.
“Because the people that they were talking about were older, have more money and are Caucasian, they gave themselves license to say things about them they never would have said about minorities.”
Jim “Doc” Rodgers can’t understand what the hullabaloo is all about, either. Rodgers is the owner of the Cain’s Ballroom, which his sons operate.
Rodgers and David Sharp, who owns the property on which the Soundpony sits, sold the Schrams and Weavers the land on which the lofts will be built.
Rodgers even has the first right of refusal to purchase one.
“Yes, I want to see what’s available,” he said. “(Maybe) I can buy one for an investment.”
Rodgers said he thought of building something similar to the Davenport, perhaps with an outdoor restaurant, when he owned the property but that the project never took off. So he sees the potential of the land and believes there is no reason for people to be upset.
“No one should be mad,” he said. “There is nothing I know about the project that would not be acceptable to the Cain’s.”
The clientele at the Soundpony may not be the type of people to buy a loft, Rodgers added, “but that doesn’t mean we can’t all get along.”
For the record
The Brady Arts District’s small area plan reads as follows:
“While the Brady has a minimal population at present, it is expected that its development as an Arts District will attract artisans and artists, downtown workforce, downsizing empty nesters, etc., to the area.”
Small area plans are part of the city’s comprehensive development plan and are created with input and direction from the residents who live within the plan area. They are mission statements of a sort.
Clearly, Brady Arts District residents envisioned folks like the Schrams and the Weavers becoming part of the community.
They have the right to build their project, city officials say, because the Brady Arts District is within the city’s Central Business District. That is a zoning designation that covers most of downtown and allows for pretty much any type of construction one could think up.
Gifford and one of his business partners, Mike Wozniak, tended bar around town for years before opening the Soundpony nearly a decade ago. Luckily for them, their customers followed.
It hasn’t been easy. For the first couple of years, it was Gifford and Wozniak swinging drinks day and night. Night after night after night.
They still get behind the bar, but not like they used to. They don’t have to.
The business has done well enough for them to hire staff, about 15 people in all.
Gifford wonders what will happen to his employees when the Davenport goes up.
“We feel threatened because if the dynamic of this place changes it affects 15 people’s lives,” he said.
The Soundpony has already changed Gifford’s and Wozniak’s lives for the better.
The bartenders have made it as businessmen. They’re respected, and with that respect — and a few dollars— they’ve been able to do some good things for the community.
They sponsor a nationally-recognized cycling team, Team Soundpony, and the cycling theme is everywhere in the bar, from bike frames hanging overhead to handle bars serving as foot rests.
The place is famous for its funkiness and live music. And not just Tulsa famous.
National Geographic Explorer, Southern Living and Spin, to name a few publications, have written about the Soundpony.
Wozniak, meanwhile, started a cycling program last year at Emerson Elementary School that is expected to expand.
“That is all just us working hard with this bar that has created a platform for us to go out and help the community,” Gifford said. “It legitimizes other things that we do.”
Gifford, 43, credits cycling — and, by extension, the bar — for saving his and Wozniak’s lives.
“We just got reinvigorated,” Gifford said of their decision to start cycling again. “We were fat, out of shape. We smoked. Then we realized we needed to make a change when we hit 30 and so we did and the bike really, kind of, honestly, saved our lives because we were not in good shape.”
So he worries these days about the future.
“It sucks that we even have to have the conversation about the possibility of us having troubles because they are building condos,” Gifford said.
Fun ‘Old Fogies’
About 500 feet south of the Soundpony on North Main Street, on the wall of The Davenport Lofts showroom, is a black-and-white picture of 10 people dressed exactly like Tom Cruise in “Risky Business” when he slid across a wood floor wearing sunglasses, a long-sleeve shirt and little else.
Look close and you’ll see the four newbie developers behind the Davenport Urban Lofts.
The picture is part of long photo montage that extends across nearly the entire north wall of the showroom. The montage also includes pictures of Oklahoma Joe’s, ONOEK Field, Tulsa Symphony and a Team Soundpony cyclist.
The images are on the wall for a reason — to highlight the fun and excitement of the Brady Arts District. It’s that energy that drew the Weavers and the Schrams out of their suburban homes and into the Metro at Brady, where they rent.
And have parties — and not just with AARP members.
Their social circle in the Brady District includes a diverse mix of races, sexual orientation and even ages — some couples in their 70s, and even people in their 30s and 40s, Doug Schram said.
Last year, the quartet put on a neighborhood disco party.
The whole point, Lori Schram said, “is we engage in the community.”
Yes, the Schrams and the Weavers are “older” and “empty nesters” and they do believe a market exists for others like them who may want to downsize and move downtown.
But, Kathy Weaver is quick to add: “This project is open to anyone. Anyone. Period.”
Doug Schram is a nephrologist who now works as a medical director for a health plan. Lori Schram is a small business owner. Kathy and Jeff Weaver are lifelong Tulsans.
The closest thing to a builder in the group is Jeff Weaver, whose company manufacturers modular buildings for Walmart, Sonic and other businesses.
Now they are ready to plant roots again in what would be the first for-sale dwellings in the Brady Arts District.
“The only reason we want to sell them is because we want people, like us, to have skin in the game that will take care of the units,” Jeff Weaver said.
This project is not being developed by some outside who wants to build cheap, sell expensive and then get out of town, he said.
Plans are progressing. Within the next few months, potential buyers will be offered non-binding priority reservation agreements. The responses the developers get will inform the final layout of the project.
In the meantime, visitors to the Davenport showroom can check out a gizmo that may make this whole mess moot.
It’s called a sound-attenuation box. It’s made of the same Acoustiblok soundproofing material, or a similar product, that will line the walls of the Davenport Urban Lofts.
Lift the tall, circular lid and a speaker blasts music loud enough to shake your insides. Replace the lid and the room goes silent.
Kathy Weaver says you can turn a chainsaw on, place it inside the box, close the lid and the noise will disappear.
If only the rest of the issues surrounding Davenport could be resolved so simply.