Inspire • Equip • Restore

Developing Thriving Downtown Communities

I've been fortunate to play a roll in the renovation of dozens of buildings. I've restored some because they needed it. I've restored some with business partners and some that the public requested we restore. I've restored some because I was hired to do it with my expertise and design style. I even restored one because it caught on fire, was my favorite, and it even housed my corporate headquarters. I literally cried the day after the fire when I walked through it, because I cared so much about the history that was lost. I cared because it was the most preserved building in downtown Siloam Springs. You're probably wondering, "Why is he mentioning this when talking about the Mac??" It's simple, I met a couple that love their building even more than my love for buildings...

Rob and Margaret Hess live in small town Okmulgee, Oklahoma because they choose to. They decided to come home to raise their family and be involved in their community. Little did they know that they would be the start of a movement called Okmulgee Rising. In 2014 they decided to step out on a limb and add the historic McBrayer building to their inventory of rental properties throughout Okmulgee. They had never renovated a historic building before, but were excited about the challenge! Problem is, this building is big, and full of a lot of nasty things that inhabit a building that has sat empty for a number of years. Quickly the feeling of the overwhelming challenge started to sink in. They didn't know what to do next. They didn't know who would rent such a large building? How do we begin? The following is taken from Margaret's blog, Bring Back the Mac...

"I curled up under my electric blanket with a snoring bulldog at my feet and a snoring husband at my side and I began to read……Chapter 1….Chapter 2…..Chapter 3……wait a minute……what town is this book about? Chapter 4, Chapter 5………it can’t be about Siloam Springs…..Chapter 6, Chapter 7……….good golly…..this guy has to be writing this about Okmulgee. “Rob…..wake up……you’ve got to listen to this……….Rob…..”.

The next morning I thrust the book at Rob with the , “you have got to read this book”. I got the standard “ok” and then he set off for the day’s activities. So I texted Rusty, “have you read this book?” to which I got the usual “I’ve started it and I need to finish it”. That earned him the scream via text “GO GET IT RIGHT NOW AND START READING SO I’LL HAVE SOMEONE TO DISCUSS IT WITH!”. A week later, with no one having read it and having no one to discuss it with, I pushed it all to the back of my mind…….or at least I tried...

Several weeks passed and I finally just let the book go……obviously none of my contemporaries were readers. Then I got the call from Heather, our new Main Street director. “Guess what? Ron Drake….the book guy is going to be presenting in Sapulpa next week and I’ve gotten us an invite to come hear him! Are you in?” “Well, yeh…..”

Well, the presentation did not disappoint any of us that attended. Even my non-reading pals were intrigued now. The message was clear and straightforward; your downtown is not the only downtown that is not thriving. You have to embrace the businesses that are located on the highway as they are an important part of your town. Downtown is a different niche. Take a good look at your downtown spaces in a different way. Imagine if the 2nd story spaces were loft apartments. If you get people living downtown then they will bring life to downtown. They will want cafes, coffee shops, book stores, art galleries, cool shops to frequent. So the next day, at any given time, you could spy us walking around Downtown Okmulgee, looking up, seeing what had been right in front of our faces for the past 100 years and imagining things in a whole new perspective. By days end, Okmulgee Main Street had contacted Ron and hired him to come over and consult."

As a consultant I'm blessed to work with building owners that are passionate about restoration, but I've never met anyone like Rob and Margaret. From my first days in Okmulgee I worked with them on floor plan design, construction planning and gave as many tips as possible. Margaret loves to show the building off to whomever she can, and she knows as much about the history of the building than any historian, In fact, she has had the McBrayer family come tour the building, and she has soaked up their stories! Rob is now a "Practical Preservation" expert (he did eventually read the book), and they have re-purposed more items from that building than I ever had in a project. Rob even quit his job, owning a successful insurance agency to restore the Mac with his own hands! Now the building will have 8 cool loft apartments upstairs, and a completely renovated downstairs that will have multiple uses. The McBrayer building is alive again! thought I loved buildings...The Hess family showed me what it really means to love a building, and their town.

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