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What locals think of the proposal to build U.S.'s tallest building in Oklahoma City

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Towers in New York and Chicago dominate the list of America's tallest buildings. But a proposed skyscraper in Oklahoma City would loom not just over the prairie, but over every other building in the country. Graycen Wheeler with member station KOSU checked in with residents about the idea.

GRAYCEN WHEELER, BYLINE: I'm standing in a huge, half-empty parking lot in Oklahoma City. These four acres of asphalt aren't really a hotbed of activity right now. But in a few years, this could be the site of the tallest building in the United States - the sixth tallest in the world. Shane Cooley teaches yoga nearby. He's still weighing whether the proposed skyscraper is a good idea.

SHANE COOLEY: What's the benefit of that? I mean, sure, you can put a restaurant or, you know, some kind of spa in there and bring people in. But you need tenants all the way up, and that's a lot of tenants.

WHEELER: But California developer Scot Matteson says the skyscraper is happening - and soon.

SCOT MATTESON: We have our financing in place. So that's our goal - is to finish up our construction drawings and start construction, like I said, in the summer or in the fall.

WHEELER: He says inspiration hit when he first came to the city for a medical visit.

MATTESON: I wouldn't say that I - that the project idea came - dragged me to Oklahoma City. But once I got there, I saw the amazing opportunities to do something exciting and new.

WHEELER: But some Oklahoma City residents are skeptical the building will happen. Shannon Burke lives just a few blocks away from the potential skyscraper.

SHANNON BURKE: I feel like it's kind of a PR stunt of, like, hey, let's just make something really funny and unrealistic and talk about it. But I think people are kind of serious about it.

WHEELER: Oklahoma City's Planning Commission moved the proposal forward in April, although they nixed the electronic displays that would span the entire height of the tower. Here's Commissioner Mike Privett.

MIKE PRIVETT: We're not New York or Las Vegas, I don't think, but - not yet, anyway.

WHEELER: The project is slated for Bricktown, one of Oklahoma City's oldest neighborhoods. Today, it's full of restaurants, bars and museums that used to be warehouses. Bricktown's buildings, streets and walkways heavily feature - you guessed it - bricks. The new tower won't blend in. Lead architect Rob Budetti says Matteson isn't drawing inspiration from the neighborhood.

ROB BUDETTI: They just felt like that wasn't the right vibe - you know what I mean? - that he was trying to create, and he was, you know, trying to kind of elevate Oklahoma City.

WHEELER: And what does that elevation look like to California-based developers and architects?

BUDETTI: It's definitely more in the modern - you know, a lot of glass.

WHEELER: The glass tower would be 1,907 feet high to commemorate the year Oklahoma became a state. It's both an homage and a one-up to the country's current tallest building, One World Trade, which stands at 1,776 feet high. Burke doesn't like that the new building would stand twice as tall as any other in the Oklahoma City skyline.

BURKE: I think it would be a big eyesore. But if it gets people talking and bringing them to Oklahoma to go see this crazy skyscraper, then it could help the economy.

WHEELER: Think roadside novelty. Move over world's largest ball of twine in Kansas. Here comes America's tallest building.

BURKE: I kind of see it something like that. It's just something to look at.

WHEELER: The tower still needs a final stamp of approval from the Oklahoma City Council. That vote is expected to take place in June.

For NPR News, I'm Graycen Wheeler in Oklahoma City.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMON SONG, "THEY SAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Graycen Wheeler
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