Kennedy Calls Museum Plan Beneficial

Article excerpt

The rekindled beacon atop the First National Center may be the most visible sign of the new life breathed into the historic property by its new owners, but a proposal for its most stunning asset could outshine that light.

Finding sources for about $8 million in public and private funds could turn the landmark building's "Great Banking Room" on the second floor into the Oklahoma City Art Museum's new home.

John Kennedy, who along with Mike Samis purchased the building in July, said turning the marbled lobby into a museum would provide great benefits for the city as well as the Oklahoma City Art Museum and the building.

"If they can put in $7 million into what is already a $20 million facility, Oklahoma City would be the beneficiary of a $27 million museum. And the museum would still save a lot from what was contemplated."

He referred to a $20 million museum construction plan which was part of the original Metropolitan Area Projects package but that got bumped into a second stage to be funded by money left over from first-phase projects.

"It's a matter of money _ not between us and them but of them obtaining outside capital from public and private sources," Kennedy told the Tuesday meeting of the civic group Downtown Now.

"We will do everything we can to make it happen for them. We think it's such a perfect match. They are very committed and have worked very hard to make it happen, but pulling resources together always takes time."

The center has offered the art museum about 71,000 square feet of space on a 50-year lease, which Kennedy said gives the museum the "essence of ownership."

Finding a public use for the landmark lobby is a high priority of new the owners, and having the art museum in its key space would accomplish that goal.

Kennedy said he wants to preserve the beauty and history of the building in such a way that "30 years from now people will say, `I can't believe this was ever a bank building.' "

Kennedy and Samis, boyhood friends who have been partners for years, bought the 1-million-square-foot, 33-story complex from First Oklahoma Corp. and the 30 financial institutions that held interests in it.

Kennedy said the number and interests of investors made the sale the "strangest" he and Samis have encountered in their 17 years of partnership.

He noted that purchasing the Baptist Children's Home, and dealing with 50 board members from across the state, was much more simple because those members had a unified purpose.

"This group of 30 financial institutions was a very disparate group. They had different interests, leaders, boards and ideas about what to do with this asset none of them wanted to own."

Kennedy said the purchase of the building required more than 20 contract drafts.

"It was a process of consensus building among the owners."

The building became the primary asset of First Oklahoma after the failure of the First National Bank and Trust Co. …