Cathy O'Connor, founder of Coalign Group, has more than 30 years of economic development experience, having worked on initiatives and incentives to bring to life some of the largest, most impactful public and public-private developments in Oklahoma City over 4 decades. Today, she helps developers, municipalities, and investors to facilitate and accelerate development projects. Learn More!
From Closing Deals to Building Families
Why Oklahoma City could benefit from converting empty office space to residential units.
The Metropolitan Oklahoma City population has grown approximately 3% since 2020 according to MacroTrends.net. At the same time, there is nearly a 25% vacancy in office spaces in Oklahoma City (the Oklahoman). This paradox has opened the city up to an idea that has been sweeping the post-pandemic nation. With an increasing number of offices forgoing their commercial space and letting employees work remotely, there are many commercial spaces left empty. To repurpose square footage, many construction companies and interior designers have started to transform these vacant spaces into areas equipped for affordable residential use.
Coalign Group Founder and CEO Cathy O’Connor is interested to see how this model could be implemented in Oklahoma City. In fact, the company is already involved in a project of transforming an old Holiday Inn into apartment units. The project – called the Pulse – will transform the downtown building to 204 efficiency apartments with extensive amenities available to residents. Cathy’s diverse history with the city gives her a unique perspective on how feasible this process would be in her hometown. She served as Oklahoma City’s Assistant City Manager for ten years and was the president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City for 11 years.
“Coalign Group has transitioned to a totally remote workforce,” O’Connor stated about her own company’s choice to follow the trend. “It has brought a new level of flexibility to our culture. It also widens our geographic scope for clientele and staff to more of our state and region. It was a bit of an adjustment, but it gives us first-hand experience about how the workplace is changing. I would love to see more vacant commercial spaces used to their potential. If the best option for a building is to serve as a residential space, then I support that. I think this repurposing of space can open new opportunities for our entire city.”
O’Connor is dedicated to the progress and betterment of Oklahoma City. As a professional and volunteer, she has given her talents to many different components of economic and civic development. Her current endeavor with Coalign Group is aimed at helping developers navigate the various city incentive programs. Her motivation for this was to streamline processes for people who are trying to help expand the city and those who monitor these efforts’ progression. Considering her affinity and respect for developers, it was important to hear about these professionals’ experiences with the specific transformation of commercial spaces to residential units.
Some of the biggest tips for converting these spaces are to use the unique features of the building and to capitalize on the natural light available. Things like windows that offer natural light are more important in a residential space than in commercial spaces, so developers need to be aware of that. In addition, developers must know the need is there for living space – ensuring that the best financial decision is to repurpose the building, rather than tearing it down.
“I definitely see a need for this kind of conversion in our city,” O’Connor said. “While rural Oklahoma may be struggling, which is a conversation for a different day, metropolitan Oklahoma City is booming. We need to have spaces for these people to live and live affordably. I think it’s important to not price ourselves out of an emerging market. Our economy relies on young people moving her to start their careers and families.”
Although there is no way to promise success for a project, O’Connor thinks that trying to repurpose some commercial spaces would be a worthwhile investment for parts of Oklahoma City.