I always remember being in the backseat of my parents car as a child driving past downtown. There was no movie theater, and Spaghetti Warehouse was about the only restaurant. Really, there wasn’t much to look at except for some of the then-crumbling brick buildings. What was always fascinating, though, was the old Producers Cooperative Cotton Mill. I honestly never knew what the building was for- or what it was called, for that matter, until this week. For some reason, I assumed it had something to do with processing concrete, which goes to show how much I know about industrial manufacturing.
So, we’d drive past the building in my dad’s beat-up maroon Jeep Cherokee, heading westward from Midwest City, and these giant metal pyramid structures would rise from the horizon. There was a series of them, stories tall, surrounded by ramshackle outer buildings. I was obsessed with ancient Egypt back then, so it reminded me of the Giza pyramid complex, and I would fantasize about what happened inside those buildings on our bumpy travels down Reno or I-40.
And yeah, for whatever reason, I always just figured that the building had something to do with processing rocks or gravel or concrete or something along those lines. Apparently, it was a massive cotton mill. Do we have a huge cotton industry in Oklahoma? I guess it would make sense, but I never thought about it. Nowhere in the Rodgers and Hammerstein song do they mention waving field of cotton, so it never crossed my mind.
Last week, the Batman of Old Buildings, Steve Lackmeyer, broke the news about the future of that site:
Sooner Investment, one of central Oklahoma’s largest commercial and retail developers, is working with broker Don Hayes on plans to convert the Producers Cooperative Cotton Mill south of Bricktown into a mix of housing, retail and offices.
Plans were filed this week with the Oklahoma City Planning Department to clear the 37-acre former cotton mill which has been a part of downtown since statehood. Redevelopment, meanwhile, could include extension of the Bricktown Canal.
“We are putting a master plan together, and we are planning to put it out in September,” Hayes said. “We will likely break it up into major pieces for development.”
The sprawling complex formerly housed the Cooperative’s cottonseed processing operations dating to the early 1900s before the operations were relocated to Altus in 2015.
Austin Rose, CEO of the cotton cooperative, called the demolition application a “logical next step.”
Although the site had a certain allure to me as a child, it still seemed like this big dirty smudge. Back in those days, the rest of downtown, and pretty much everything in the metro, seemed like a pit of despair. Now, downtown is rapidly filling up with bars & restaurants, entertainment, and even luxury apartments, which was unthinkable back in the 80’s.
With the demolition of the Cooperative, it signals the true end to an era of Oklahoma City’s downtown. With it being a space that was producing cotton since before Oklahoma was a state, it’s a good time to reflect at how much has changed in our 110-year history. Will this upwards trajectory that the city is seeing remain sustainable, or will the inevitable condominiums and dining options that replace it become antiquated even faster?
It’s impossible to tell, and while I wish our city the best, I remain cautious when it comes to the rapid development of expensive housing around the downtown area. It seems unsustainable in the long run, unless we can manage to diversify our economy, and also maybe elect politicians that aren’t total wing-nut shitbags hellbent on legislating the morality of every man-wumun-child ‘neath Jesus’ bless’d good green earth, say his name and amen!
The Cooperative complex was honestly a major eyesore, and now that it’s abandoned, tear that motherfucker down and raze the land. I believe in progress. Maybe our community would benefit better by turning the space into a garden, but that’s not progress to the fat-cheeked and soft-handed daddy’s boys who finance things around here. A part of the city has died, and we can only pray that its gravesite isn’t another chintzy and wholly useless monument to the boom-and-bust economics that we’ve convinced ourselves is normal.