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Group plans to demolish theater for new high rise

Sean Murphy, Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- An Oklahoma City-based investment company said Friday it plans to buy an historic downtown theater complex facing the Myriad Botanical Gardens for nearly $4.3 million, destroy it and build a high-rise office building and parking garage.

Kestrel Investments, Inc. will purchase the vacant Stage Center building, which was originally built in 1970 as Mummers Theater by noted architect John Johanson, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. The Kirkpatrick Center Affiliated Fund of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation is selling the property for $4.275 million.

"We are very excited to announce our plans for this property, which we think has tremendous potential," Kestrel President Rainey Williams said in a release. "The proximity of the site to the Oklahoma City Arts Festival is one of the primary reasons we were attracted to the property. Further, we see the engagement of the arts community being a vital part of this new development."

The Stage Center theater complex, which has been closed since massive flooding in 2010, is a modern sculptural building designed to look like a circuit board with two separate theaters, a lobby and a lounge connected by tubes for pedestrians and an outdoor deck centered among the three concrete structures.

The building's unique design prompted an effort, spearheaded by a local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, to save it, and earlier this year it was determined eligible for the National Historic Register program, said Lynda Ozan, the National Register program coordinator at the Oklahoma Historical Society.

"It was denoted as nationally significant," Ozan said. "I think it's because it's a unique singular work of a specific architect, and it's a very unusual design."

The architect died in October 2012.

Williams, an Oklahoma City native, acknowledged the significance of the building, but said the group plans to submit an application for its removal.

"Unfortunately, it's just not a useable space," he said. "Removal of the Stage Center is simply the next logical step in the evolution of making this property usable again."

Ozan noted that even if the building is ultimately destroyed, the effort to have the building listed on the National Register was not in vain.

"The reality of it is we got the National Register nomination, complete photographic documentation and we have some of his drawings related to the building," she said. "In the best case scenario, we've at least got the building fully documented before it's destroyed."


Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy