O’Connor: Festival casts OKC in star role
By Cathy O’Connor
The Journal Record
Next week, thousands of people will head downtown to participate in the deadCenter Film Festival. The event is Oklahoma’s largest film festival and listed as one of the 20 Coolest Film Festivals in the World, according to MovieMaker magazine.
During the three-day event, more than 30,000 people will attend film screenings at different venues in and surrounding the Film Exchange District, also known as Film Row. Many of those will spend their dollars eating at nearby restaurants, staying overnight in hotels and enjoying other activities on Film Row, generating more than $4 million for our city.
This is quite a transformation from the area 30 years ago. After Film Row’s star role as a film distribution office for Hollywood’s major studios, such as Paramount Pictures and MGM, it was abandoned for new distribution technologies and changes in the economy. By the 1980s, the area was devoid of economic activity and buildings were boarded up. It wasn’t until 20 years later, when developer Chip Fudge, designer David Wanzer and city leaders began to reinvest in the area that Film Row began its second act.
Today Film Row is home to a mix of artistic businesses, apartments, retail space, locally owned restaurants and event venues. Most of these are in renovated, historic buildings, such as the 21c Museum Hotel in the historic Fred Jones Manufacturing building, the Paramount, Main Street Arcade and Sunshine Laundry building. The developers were willing to invest because they saw the possibility of bringing Film Row back to life, and because there were economic tools available, like tax increment financing and historic tax credits, that made it possible to offset the steep renovation costs of historic spaces.
Film Row is also home to deadCenter, the nonprofit that created the film festival 16 years ago. The event will bring in filmmakers and film fans from around the world to view exciting new movies – from short films to documentaries. In return, Oklahoma City is the star of the show, revitalizing a part of its history, gaining a more interesting and diverse landscape and benefiting from economic revitalization that spurs more development and investment in the area.
Cathy O’Connor is the president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.