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One of those hip, cool, urban churches may ruin the bar scene on NW 23rd…

okc community church

The cool kids pictured above who look like they just had a nice meal at Red Lobster before going to a Jars of Clay concert are the folks behind Community Church. It's one of the 5,000,000 non-denominational churches in Oklahoma City where people go to pray and sing and hold hands and untuck their dress shirts while wearing a tie and all that other silly stuff.

According to a recent article in The Oklahoman, the church is about to buy and move into an empty space next to the Tower Theatre along NW 23rd. As a result, future development in the area is in jeopardy. Apparently, Oklahoma's ridiculous alcohol and zoning laws would prevent new bars from opening within 300 feet of the church, thus destroying the whimsical hopes and dreams of locals who envision NW 23rd becoming Oklahoma City's version of Austin's Congress Ave.

Well, at least that's what Steve Lackmeyer had to say in this week's column. He took a break from lecturing people on social media to tell us all about it.

The string of empty store fronts at 421 NW 23 is once again being targeted for conversion into a large venue, but instead of a music site with alcohol sales, the latest deal could turn the property into a church.

Neighbors protested the prior plan to convert the property immediately east of Tower Theater into a music hall, noting the business would have no parking and that patrons could end up parking on nearby residential streets.

The latest deal for a 223-seat church likely will not renew fears of intoxicated patrons wandering into neighborhoods late at night. But other ramifications are quietly being discussed behind the scenes along the increasingly popular Uptown 23rd Street corridor.

Tim Mannin, pastor at OKC Community Church, and the owners of the Tower Theater were not agreeable to doing interviews on the church’s pending purchase of the property. But the church’s opening would, by state law, prevent any new bars or venues (like Grandad’s nearby) from obtaining an ABC-3 alcohol zoning within 300 feet of 421 NW 23.

Wait a second? If they create this church it means we won't have any more bars like Grandad's opening on 23rd? Hallelujah! Amen! Sign me up and baptize me like I'm Daniel Plainview! Let's get that church going.

Okay, I'm just kind of kidding. Grandad's is a nice little bar if you like loud music or literally want to feel like you're drinking alone in your grandpa's garage. Basically, it's a good bar for readers of the Oklahoma Gazette.

Here are more details:

For Ian McDermid, owner of the recently opened Pump Bar, and Greg Seal, owner of Grandad’s, such a zoning complication could dampen their dreams of turning Uptown into an Oklahoma City version of Austin’s Congress Avenue. And while the new owners of the Tower Theater aren’t commenting about the risk associated with the zoning, their redevelopment plans also could be impacted.

In an email, Mannin promised his congregation wants to keep its presence along NW 23 “positive” and not prompt a limit on area development.

David Wanzer, co-owner of the Tower Theater, released a statement confirming that he and his partners are aware of the church’s plans, and that despite an application filed with the city, the church does not have permission to use a parking lot attached to the theater on the south side of the street.

A call to a representative of the Uptown Association, meanwhile, indicates the organization had little information about the church, which is currently meeting at the Civic Center Music Hall.

I'll be honest with you, I got pretty fired up when I first read this story. Do we really need an urban Life Church for hipsters? That's what Catholicism is for. But then it occurred to me that you could basically say the same thing about the north Oklahoma City bar scene. Seriously, do we really need another urban hipster bar in North OKC? Within 5 minutes of each other, we have Midtown, Uptown, Plaza District, Paseo, Western Ave. and Classen Curve. I think we have plenty of places to drink craft beer and eat grilled cheese sandwiches. We'll be okay.

Plus, the church will only prevent ABC-3 zoning. Steve explained what that means in a Q&A:

Q: What is ABC-3 zoning?

A: ABC-3 zoning is required when an establishment's primary sales consist of alcohol, and food sales are less than 51 percent of what is sold. Grandad's sells no food, and is a classic example of a bar that requires ABC-3 zoning.

Q: Can't the city council grant an exception?

A: No. ABC-3 zoning is ultimately controlled by ABLE, the state agency that won the attention of urban core folks a few years ago when its agents shut down the first H&8th festival and rushed into the adjoining Ludevine during its Friday night dinner hour with guns and badges on what was a routine inspection.

Q: Can the church seek a change to the law?

A: Sure it can. Let's talk about the odds of lawmakers acting on such a request while we shop for wine at Whole Foods or visit Byron's Liquors on Sunday.

Basically, the church would prevent bars and clubs like Coyote Ugly from opening on 23, but most bar / restaurants would be exempt. I guess that works.

The only questionable / worrisome thing has to do with the Tower Theatre. The owners plan on it being an ABC-3 venue. For them to be grandfathered in, they will need to get their liquor license and renovations completed before Community Church holds its first service. According to Moles, the Tower is at least a couple of months away. The church is apparently aware of that, and is willing to wait, but you never really know what will happen. It seems like The Tower Theatre has been a couple of months from opening for about five years now. Hopefully, the folks who run Community Church have more patience with the Tower than they do their wardrobes. They should really tuck in those shirts.

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