Downtown Tulsa continues to develop amid pandemic

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Posted at 6:39 PM, May 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-04 23:38:21-04

TULSA, Okla. — If you’ve been to downtown Tulsa recently, it’s hard to miss buildings going up, and cranes dot the skyline despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Fresh, organic, cold-pressed juice comes to downtown Tulsa with Inheritance Juicery. It’s one of 20 restaurants and bars opening downtown amid the pandemic. The new location is an important goal of the juicery, which was to expand from its smaller shop in south Tulsa.

"Just getting in this central location where we can now reach north Tulsa, and east, and west," said Ashley Weber, assistant general manager at Inheritance Juicery. "Like, I think this is just hitting that kind of hub spot where everyone has access to it.”

Getting the doors open took nearly a year and a half and some pandemic delays. Now, nearly two months in, it’s busy with customers filling the seats.

“Create that environment where people just want to be here," Weber said. "And we do, we have people sit here, I mean, you can see now we have people working that have been here for hours.”

But, as Brian Kurtz, executive director for the Tulsa Downtown Coordinating Council said, this hasn’t always been the case for downtown businesses over the past year.

“One of the many unfortunate parts of the pandemic is we were finally at a point that downtown was achieving levels of visitors, levels of traffic, that hadn’t seen in a decade maybe more and that really ended overnight with the beginning of the pandemic," Kurtz said.

While restaurants closed their dining rooms and people began working from home construction downtown continued.

Including on one of the biggest projects, the 11-story building that was supposed to be the WPX Energy headquarters, until that company merged with Devon Energy in Oklahoma City. The building is scheduled to be finished by the end of the year and they’re now looking for tenants to fill it.

Just a few blocks away from there and across from ONEOK Field is a new apartment building with about 200 units and retail space is going up.

“We need a larger residential population," Kurtz said. "We need a larger daytime population. And we need more things that are going to support visitors coming down.”

The Greenwood District is doing just that.

“You come down here on weekends and people are traveling here, spending their weekend here, flying in, driving in just to walk Greenwood and see the plaques in the sidewalk where businesses used to be and homes used to be and what was there many many years ago," said Phil Armstrong, project director for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.

Perhaps the biggest attraction in Greenwood is getting ready to open. Greenwood Rising, the museum commemorating the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, is set to open June 2, coinciding with the race massacre centennial. Armstrong said it will elevate the area even more.

“People will be able to come here and spend the entire day and just walk this historic area, learn, be educated, understand how horrific that tragedy was, but understand that there’s a hope, a vibrant future coming for the greenwood community and Tulsa as a whole," Armstrong said.

The construction continues across downtown in the arts district. The new OKPOP museum is taking shape with plans to open in the fall of next year. It will host space for singers and songwriters while paying homage to Oklahoma arts and artists.

“We hope people come in from Tulsa and from, you know, all over the country to really be impressed by the amount of creatives in film and tv and music that have come out of this state," Charron said.

As for the future of downtown, when it comes to the Greenwood District, Armstrong said they plan to work with the Tulsa Development Authority, which owns some of the land north of I-244, to continue bringing greenwood back.

“To look at, what does it mean to see those areas redeveloped for black-owned homes, black-owned businesses, to try to capture what used to be here and work with the city, work with private developers to make sure and ensure that happens," Armstrong said.

Plans are also in the works for the annex project which will include a grocery store near the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, turning downtown into a place with something for everyone.

“As we approach the recovery we’re experiencing now and in the next couple of years, really seeing downtown as a place where people are going to continue gravitating and just a strong market for us to have here in the Tulsa area," Kurtz said.

“It’s incredible, the amount of things that you can come down here and do," Charron said. "Not just visit the different museums, but check out all the cute little boutiques and restaurants that are here. This is really like a one-stop destination.”

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