Braum’s, Urbanism, and Strong Towns

Braum’s is causing quite the social media stir for its proposal to demolish an acre and a half of old buildings, and cause the businesses therein to move or close, in order to build a big parking lot and a new Braum’s. Being a Strong Towns advocate, I was curious about the fiscal and urban impacts of such a decision.

First, the fiscal impact. A project like this would likely receive no funding from OKC, and would probably have to pay some impact fees, so there’s not government love-lost there. I looked at the collective area on the wonderful Oklahoma County Assessor site, and found that the parcels in this block (1.5589 acres) were taxed a collective $7,306.37 in 2016. A relatively new Braum’s location at NW 164th St & N Pennsylvania Ave. in far north OKC was taxed $19,517.55 in 2016. As far as Oklahoma County is concerned, the Braum’s will be a better tax generator.

I do not have access to sales tax collection data, so this analysis is tougher. However, for Oklahoma City’s sake, I would guess that the difference between the collective current occupants and the proposed Braum’s is a wash. Classen Grill is generally open 7 am to 2 pm (changes slightly near weekends), HiLo Club is open 12 pm – 2 am daily, and Drunken Fry is open 4 pm – 2 am daily. Classen Grill generates sales tax for OKC and the state, while HiLo and Drunken Fry generate sales tax for OKC and the state and alcohol tax for the state and county. Charlie’s Jazz, Rhythm, and Blues produces sales tax as well. Braum’s would be open 6:30 am – 10:45 pm (ish) and generate sales tax all day.

Second, the urban impact. The current buildings are generally on or close to the right of way, with on-street parking and a relatively good street presence. The proposed Braum’s, however, is set far back from Classen Circle, with a very large parking lot taking up the space where multiple buildings now stand.

Personally, since I’ve never been inside any of the businesses that would be disrupted, I can only make claim to the urban argument. The proposed Braum’s as antithetical to the desired urban experience inside the urban core of Oklahoma City. Should the PUD rezoning move forward, I would much prefer a site plan that integrates the structure and parking into an urban footprint. I know it can be done. Look at the McDonald’s in Bricktown for an OKC example (if one must have a drive through).

Third, a word about historic preservation. Without a professional architectural and historical survey, I am hard-pressed to say anything here would, or should, be considered historic. Things are certainly historical, being over 40 years old (a general National Register of Historic Places threshold), but more detail is required before making a real determination. Many people have an attachment to the businesses inside, not necessarily the structures themselves. The HiLo Club is, to me, the most architecturally unique structure here, by far.

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