Angry neighbors and fans of businesses in the Donnay and Classen Grill buildings near the intersection of Classen Boulevard and NW Expressway met with Braums representatives Monday night.
After several hours it was no clearer than at the start whether the neighbors would have any sway in the process of Braums taking over the site and demolishing the buildings to turn it into a large Braums Fresh Market store.
And Ward 2 Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid warned the crowd that unless they got organized and hired legal counsel, it wasn’t likely that they would win the fight.
“You need to leave us the hell alone and go across the street!”
That was one of several angry responses Braums representatives heard from a meeting with neighbors Monday night about the future of the Donnay Building near the intersection of Classen Boulevard and the NW Expressway.
Lauren Riepl was also angry about the potential for Braums to move in and tear down the old buildings.
“I don’t want a Braums in my neighborhood,” said Riepl. “We don’t want it! We don’t need it!”
Others expressed concern about the added traffic to the already busy traffic patterns during the day and especially in the mornings when a Braums is busiest with breakfast customers.
Yet, others were upset to lose what they consider to be core locally-owned businesses in the deal, especially the Hi-Lo Club.
In the 1980s the club became known in all circles as a “gay club” where LGBTQ people could come for a drink and conversation.
Charlie’s Jazz-Rhythm & Blues Records is another popular tenant in the building.
Braums owns residential lots that adjoin the property and have contingency contracts on the Donnay building and Classen Grill if they can get zoning changed on the residential lots.
If that happens, then the Donnay Building and Classen Grill building next to it will be torn down.
It their place Braums will build a large “Fresh Market” and ice cream store.
In order to achieve that, Braums has to get the zoning changed.
“They have filed to rezone 0.48 acres which is all the properties bound by Classen, NW 50th and Military Avenue and documents show plans to raze all existing buildings and construct a new Braum’s,” reported OKCTalk in August.
That story set off a series of protests from people who have grown to love the quirky buildings with their popular tenents.
According to a story on the Okie Mod Squad blog, the Classen Grill building was built in 1929 and the Donnay building was built by architect and builder Matt Donnay in phases starting in 1948 and ending in its current form by the mid-1950s.
For decades the Patio Restaurant was a popular destination. The Drunken Fry is now in that spot.
The Hi-Lo Club started in 1956 and has gone through several iterations.
About halfway through the meeting, Councilman Ed Shadid was asked to come up and address the crowd on the matter.
He was present this summer for the protests on the property in question.
Shadid’s ward includes the buildings and popular restaurants along Western between NW 36th Street and NW 50th S.
He warned the concerned residents that they would need to hire legal counsel to counter the legal strategy of Braums.
Braums has hired David Box, an attorney used by many real estate developers for complex acquisitions in the urban core of Oklahoma City.
“So, we can talk about the Donnay Building and the Hi-Lo and all the things that mean so much to us,” said Shadid. “We’re all in agreement. I’m there with you.”
But then he talked about what it might take to achieve their goal of saving the buildings and the businesses in them.
If you want to fight, you want to win. And … this is a legal issue that has a very narrow question and it doesn’t have anything to do with the historic nature of the Hi-Lo Club. It does to us, right? But it’s a legal issue that can only be decided in the courts.
He said “that playbook is being used over and over and over” along Western Avenue where residential houses are bought, torn down and then the business owners who buy them approach the city with a request to turn the empty lot into a parking lot.
Shadid is concerned about the precedent that is being set of the city allowing businesses and a church to buy neighborhood houses, tear them down and build parking lots.
After all of the passion and the desire to stop the real estate deal that would bring a Braums in to replace the popular businesses, protesters at the meeting didn’t show much open desire to organize further and start raising money for an attorney.
However, we saw some giving their contact numbers to Lynne Rostochil who runs the Okie Mod Squad website and has been a key organizer of the protests.
She told Free Press that they were going to try and get an attorney and ask for a traffic study from the city which Shadid had recommended.
And Topher Copeland, bar manager for the Hi-Lo Club, told us that they have contingency plans of their own to open in another location if they lose the fight against Braums.