Published: Sun, April 5, 2020 1:06 AM | THE OKLAHOMAN
The two-story showroom windows at the former Walter Allen Chrysler dealership will be restored as part of redevelopment starting this spring. [Rendering by Gardner Studio]
After spending a year looking for a new home to consolidate his architecture studio and construction shop, Jeremy Gardner found what he believed would be a perfect home.
Originally home to the Walter Allen Chrysler dealership, the long-forlorn building at NW 13 and Harvey Avenue had everything Gardner was looking for - large garage doors and ample space for a shop, a prominent Midtown address for the studio and adjacent parking.
In February, a deal was inked with the Pivot Project, the partnership that bought the building last year. Not long after, the pandemic hit and the economy started to plunge.
Both Gardner and Pivot Project partner Jonathan Dodson agreed to move forward.
"We believe in the long term viability of this project," said Dodson, whose partners are Ben Sellers and David Wanzer. "We don't think Jeremy is going anywhere. There are obvious short term concerns as to when all this will pass, where we can see each other and be around each other again. But his firm has been expanding and he's the guy we want to work with."
Gardner Studio got its start in 2015 and has since built up a design portfolio of projects that include restoration of the historic Pioneer Telephone building and the Main Street Arcade, the new 701 Hudson condominiums and with the sprawling Lincoln Plaza redevelopment among ongoing projects.
The firm also received the Grand Prize for the 2019 American Institute of Architects National Film Challenge for the documentary on their work with Pivot Project in revitalizing a retail stretch along NE 23.
The firm is currently located at 323 NW 9 but has long outgrown that space with 19 employed in the studio and 12 working in the field and at a separate shop location.
"The last couple of years we expanded into a design build and fabrication company," Gardner said. "We found that some of our clients are needing some smaller tenant finishes. That led us to ask why aren't we building some of this ourselves."
Recent such jobs - ones Gardner says are difficult to hire a general contractor - include a $55,000 build out of a chiropractic house. The firm also built out the Kitchen at Commonplace and expansion of Midtown Optical in Midtown and Woodshed Coffee at May Avenue and Grand Boulevard.
The Pivot Project purchased the former dealership, last home to Able Rents for the past 30 years, in August. The west service garage half of the building was sold separately five years ago and renovated into offices.
Gardner Studio, meanwhile, had split into three spaces, with the original shop space a couple of addresses north of the studio turned into meeting space when the shop space had to be moved to a larger location west of downtown.
"We've been in talks for the past few months," Gardner said. "I've been talking about find a place for the past year where we can have a shop and studio space together - and that's hard to find in Midtown."
Gardner's firm and shop will front Harvey Avenue where large garage doors and a chance to reopen windows and storefronts will allow his firm to have the right mix of studio and shop space.
"It matches up," Gardner said. "And it's in Midtown, where a lot of our clients are located. And our employees like being in Midtown.
The garage doors are located far enough away from the street so trucks loading up materials to the shop won't block traffic. The firm also has an agreement with nearby St. Luke's United Methodist Church to lease spaces in an adjacent parking lot.
Gardner is an equity partner in the project and his firm is doing design and build-out. While some jobs are ongoing, others have been delayed, which he notes will allow his firm to work on its future home without taking resources away from clients.
Plans, which will be presented this month to the Downtown Design Review Commission via teleconference, call for pebble stone concrete panels added to the facade years ago to be removed from the former showroom, allowing for restoration of the two-story window facade. Windows closed years ago on the NW 13 and Harvey sides of the building also will be reopened.
Gardner, who along with brother Nathan have worked extensively in metals, have designed the building to include a black metallic accent atop the restored two-story showroom window and at the base of the NW 13 facade.
Gardner expects work to begin within a few weeks with completion by December. Dodson, meanwhile, said talks are underway with a potential long-term tenant for the showroom space.
Both men say they're moving forward believing Oklahoma City will keep moving forward once the pandemic ends. Gardner said while some of his clients' upcoming projects are delayed, none are so far canceled.
"I'm definitely encouraged that things will continue," Gardner said. "When, I don't know. But we will be positioned to continue to serve our clients the best way we can. And if we were to ever have availability for us to focus on our project, this is the time."