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Developer breathes new life into old structures

By M. Scott Carter
Dolan Media Newswires

Oklahoma City — For developer Steve Mason, history pays.

Speaking recently at a dedication ceremony for his newly refurbished building on North Broadway Avenue in Oklahoma City, Mason said he decided to redevelop the former Cadillac dealership because he likes the feel of historic urban buildings.

“This is a prettier building than a new one in the suburbs,” he said. “My wife and I, we travel, and we have our favorite urban streets in Chicago, San Francisco, New Orleans and Austin.”

And the historic structure on North Broadway, he said, should be a prominent part of Oklahoma City.

Mason has invested heavily to keep that sense of history alive.

About four years ago, he bought the building for $416,000. After that, he spent $4.2 million more renovating it. Since then, Mason said he has spent more than $8 million to redevelop historic buildings in the downtown area.

“It’s a lot more fun being down here,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun building things down here.”
State historian Bob Blackburn agreed.

Blackburn, director of the Oklahoma History Center, said the North Broadway building reflects its time.

“The building reflects a sense of optimism,” he said. “The brick, the size, the shape, the dimensions, the structure all reflect the time. And that sense of history needs to be preserved.”

Blackburn said the building was constructed more than 100 years ago to house Oklahoma City’s Cadillac dealership. The building’s unusually large size was necessary because cars were considered too high-tech to be stored at home.

After buying cars, he said, owners would store them at the dealership. When owners wanted to drive their vehicles, the cars were delivered to their homes and after use returned to the dealer to be stored and maintained.

Later, as more cars were moved to their owners’ homes, the upper floors of the building were converted for other uses, including housing the Oklahoma National Guard Medical Unit that was shipped out to serve in France during World War I.

Additionally, the top floor of the building later housed the city’s first air-conditioned skating rink.

“Historic guidelines required the skating rink floor be restored with beechwood in an elaborate mitered-end style of installation,” Mason said. “It was a project where the deeper you went, the more there was to do.”

Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the structure is one of only a handful of downtown buildings to be renovated using federal tax credits designed to make the renovation of historic buildings feasible.

Other buildings that used federal tax credits include the Skirvin Hilton Hotel and the still-under-construction Sieber Hotel.

“If I built a new building, it would be $150 a square foot,” Mason said. “Buying and renovating this building was $150 a square foot. But with a 40 percent tax credit, that takes my cost to about $100 a square foot and that pays.”

That type of partnership is also helping reclaim large portions of downtown Oklahoma City.
Mason said his company has acquired and is revitalizing more than a dozen commercial properties on the north end of Automobile Alley, a neighborhood along North Broadway that contains many historic buildings.

He said the North Broadway building has a 100 percent occupancy rate and is the foundation of an extensive renovation project.

“It’s beautiful,” he said. “It brings together a community and gives us a sense of history.”

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