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The Road to The Hamlin

The Northeast 23rd Street corridor’s EastPoint development is entering phase three, and this time, a 77-room boutique hotel with retail micro bays is in the works, with the intention of stimulating more activity and development on Oklahoma City’s northeast side.

In 2016, a somewhat new-to-the scene development team, Pivot Project, was approached by the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City about developing on the east side, particularly the Northeast 23rd corridor.

Former lender turned Pivot Project co-founder and CEO Jonathan Dodson knew that to do it right, they couldn’t assume they knew what was right for the community.

That started with asking friend and long-time community development leader Sandino Thompson to help steer the endeavor as a strategist and thought partner – with an equity stake in the project. Thompson and Dodson met years prior, when serving on the Bricktown Urban Design Committee and MAPS neighborhood initiatives, and the topic of east-side development intentions had come up in the course of their growing friendship.

“A lot of times if you’re from the east side, you get called to be a Black face for some white developer who doesn’t really care what you think, care what you want, but just wants to be able to say, ‘we’ve got diversity’,” Dodson said. “We actually wanted it to be the opposite. If we’re going to go into his community and develop, he should be able to make decisions.”

In addition to Thompson’s stake, EastPoint tenants were offered 15 percent equity stakes – something rarely seen in projects of its kind.

With his northeast side upbringing and familial ties to the area, Thompson’s interest in the project was also spurred by great conviction to see the Northeast 23rd corridor thrive after a long history of redlining and disinvestment in the area.

If Oklahoma City was experiencing a renaissance – the northeast side needed to be a part of it.

Thompson felt con dent that the EastPoint development could be a catalyst for creating a sense of place, and he had been working and community organizing with Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis Jr. on the Northeast Renaissance Redevelopment Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District project.

“Oklahoma City has experienced this renaissance over the last 20-30 years, but it hadn’t reached the east side. When these opportunities came up with Pivot, it meant that there were groups of stakeholders and others who I could talk to, ”Thompson said. “Here’s an opportunity, and I think it’s the right kind of developer – to partner with folks on the east side – and work with us in the community to do some- thing that could be transformational.”

Getting moving had its hurdles. Particularly in the financial realm.

Phase one – which involved redeveloping the spaces now occupied by anchor tenant Centennial Health, a community primary care clinic, and later The Market at EastPoint, a community-led grocery store working to create food access on the northeast side – took a while to get underway. Despite having support from civic leaders, the city and tax increment financing, a still-prevalent history of redlining made it difficult to secure the additional funding needed to push forward. After being turned down by approximately 30 banks – and in several instances being told that they would not lend to ‘that side of town’ – Citizens Bank of Edmond came through. With two loans added to the docket, Centennial, which had nearly pulled out of their lease during the lull time of finding a loan, was back on board.

By summer 2018, Centennial Health opened and began seeing patients. Its phase one partner, The Market at EastPoint, celebrated its much-awaited arrival later, in spring 2021. Phase two, comprising 13 retail units, began filling spaces mid 2020.

Monique Short, Jabee Williams, Candace Baitz, Jonathan Dodson, Sandino Thompson and Greg Johnson. Photo by Logan Walcher.

Keeping the Momentum Going Toward Phase 3: The Hamlin Hotel

In spite of rocky beginnings, including the challenges of phase two coming to fruition while a pandemic was kicking into gear, one thing remains clear: EastPoint’s strength has been its foundation of collaboration and relationship building.

That remains true with its third and largest phase, The Hamlin Hotel, a four-story, 77-room boutique hotel, which will be situated across the street from phases one and two, in the 1700 block of NE 23rd St.

In addition to Pivot and Thompson, The Hamlin Hotel team includes some familiar EastPoint partners, in addition to some newcomers. Sisters Erica Emery and Monique Short, co-founders of Monarch Properties, which they run out of their EastPoint location, are handling the build-out. Emmy-Award winning rapper, activist and EastPoint business owner Jabee Williams is taking on a community engagement, art and culture role, while helping source future tenants.

They will also be joined by Cordell Love, EastPoint business owner and real estate developer, and hospitality experts and educators David Davis and Dar Yasseri. Gardner architecture studio, which partnered in the design of phases one and two, will help bring the vision of The Hamlin to life.

Together, they are bringing intention and heart to every decision surrounding the project, right down to the name – which was inspired by A.C. Hamlin, Oklahoma’s first Black legislator.

“If we wanted to be stewards of keeping the momentum going, then we had to figure out what we were going to do to complete the development, versus just leaving a vacant lot across the street,” Thompson said.

For Thompson and the development team, phase three had some must-have planning boxes that needed to be checked: the next phase would need to complement the work they’d already done, create opportunity, be a place for people to gather, and not only serve the community and nearby residents, but also drive traffic to the businesses at EastPoint and the northeast corridor.

Hospitality was the answer.

“There’s not really anywhere to stay unless you go downtown, or you have to go far north of 1-35 and Second street,” Short said.

The Hamlin will be the closest hotel to the Adventure District – with hopes of drawing in guests of the Oklahoma City Zoo and Science Museum, Remington Park, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum and other popular attractions. But they knew hospitality alone wouldn’t accomplish their goals; they needed a way to drive density and stimulate more economic growth in the area.

That’s how they landed on a hospitality approach with a heavy dose of retail. The ground floor of the hotel will feature seven ready-made retail spaces averaging 600 square feet.

“The key for us was to do micro bays, where we could create access that didn’t exist in EastPoint already,” Thompson said. “Because 20 percent of businesses will fail in the first year – even a higher percentage for food and beverage operations – it’ll give them the opportunity to fail, and then be able to get back up and try the next thing.”

Breaking down barriers – a common goal from phases one and two – is something the team is still stewarding in The Hamlin project, along with cultivating a sense of belonging for community members.

“Giving people the opportunity to have smaller spaces to start their business in, or to continue to grow a business that they may be in — a co-work- ing space, a shared kitchen or working out of their home — just having that entry level, it’s not as high of a barrier,” Short said. “Our goal is that the feel that you have at EastPoint bleeds across the street.”

For the team, the accessibility factor also comes down to pricing – ensuring that everything from the hotel rates and amenities to the types of retail options available don’t exclude those living nearby.

“Hotels are changing in a way where they need to serve not just the guests that are in them, but the surrounding community,” said Candace Baitz, Pivot Project partner and vice president of acquisitions and development.

Hamlin certainly intends to do so.

In addition to the micro retail units, the hotel will feature a pool, two bar spaces and an event space that will serve up to 150 people. The pool will o er day passes for non-guests.

“It’s multifaceted. It also gives us another place to gather. Kindred has done a really good job of bringing the community together,” said Short, who pointed out that the spaces in EastPoint’s phase two don’t necessarily have the capacity for entertainment and gathering that The Hamlin will provide. “Having the event space, having the two bars, having the pool, gives us more places to gather in this area that are obviously needed by the amount of business they’re able to attract.”

The Hamlin project received approval for $3,888,000 in tax increment financing as of August 2022 and the group plans to break ground late fall. As design and buildout proceed, the team will be working with the community to secure tenants for the retail spaces.

Williams, who will once again be playing a strong role in that department, sees the potential for The Hamlin and continued growth of EastPoint to be a beacon for the neighborhood and other businesses.

“Not only what’s possible for other people, but what’s possible for us. This community. People who live here, people who grew up here, people who look like me. We’ve seen these kinds of things happen in other parts of the city, but not just for us – never for us,” said Williams. “There were other places in the city that were flourishing Black districts or parts of town, flourishing Black areas, and now, there’s not even a trace of any of us. No way to even know we were ever even there.”

For Williams, and the Pivot team, The Hamlin is about perseverance, hope and future looking.

“I want 15-20 years from now, no matter what it looks like, people to know this was Black people,” Williams said. “For it to have Black ownership – Black partners, is an example of how we can buy back the block, and really help other entrepreneurs. And be an example in a real way of the right way to develop a community.”

Photo by Logan Walcher

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