Developer Gary Brooks and his partner, Charlie Nicholas, are ready to begin work on the First National Center in downtown Oklahoma City on Robinson between Main and Park Avenue.

It’s a big building that has not been maintained properly for years. There’s plenty of room for error and Brooks knows that.

“We don’t want to make a mistake. You only have one shot,” Brooks told Free Press Friday.

He said he and his partner are determined to hire the right people with the right expertise to help them reach their goals.

Open house

Brooks opened the main banking hall and the underground vault area for the public Friday and Saturday, June 16 – 17. (See gallery below.)

Excited visitors, some who remembered banking there years ago, lined up to talk with Brooks about the project.

Many thanked him for his efforts even at this point. Many OKC residents are pinning a lot of hope on the developers.

And they know the magnitude of what they are attempting.

Conversion

The partners want to convert the 33-story structure built for banking and offices into a hotel and premium apartments.

It’s one of the last big, troubled properties in downtown, having changed hands several times since First National Bank and Trust Company left it years ago.

Eventually it came down to the utilities getting shut off and the last of the few tenants fleeing what had become a business mess.

But anyone could see that it still had great bones and baked in beauty.

In 1931, right at the end of the first big oil boom in Oklahoma, First National Bank spared no expense in building the Deco structure.

Custom forged artistic grillwork on the inside and out added to the lush marble in the three-story banking hall meant that hardly anyone in the city wanted anything else except to see it put to good use again.

If only someone could find the right developers.

Enter Brooks and Nicholas.

Experience

As Brooks said in the video interview, this is a unique project for them. But Brooks has a history of doing good things with very bad real estate situations.

He is the one who has been developing the “Steelyard” project in east Bricktown.

It was the site of the heaviest industrial use of the whole district and had the most environmental problems.

It’s new building, but the surprises were in the ground.

Brooks said they had to clean up old oil field machinery and oil as well as dealing with industrial contaminants.

Some heavy equipment is still around from the railroad yard that serviced the district.

They found a train engine buried 20 feet below the surface, another surprise problem a developer wouldn’t imagine having to solve.

It’s a good warmup for the inevitable surprises they will find as they start to dig into the 76-year-old First National Center.


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