On Chesapeake's Campus With The Big Man On Campus

Thursday, March 3rd 2011, 10:49 pm
By: News 9

Alex Cameron, Oklahoma Impact Team

OKLAHOMA CITY -- It doesn't stand out quite the same way that the 50-story Devon Tower soon will, but the headquarters of rival Chesapeake Energy is just as much a curiosity, and contributes -- in a big way -- to the local economy.

In an exclusive interview last week with the Oklahoma Impact Team, Chesapeake Chairman and CEO Aubrey McClendon talked about his eye-catching campus and its origins.

"When I started out, I was looking for a place that I felt like I could expand a little bit," McClendon said. "So, with that in mind, I bought the building that I'm in today, which is a two-story, 6,000 square foot building, in a place that used to be called Three Chopt Square."

From such humble beginnings, the company's Oklahoma City footprint has multiplied an astonishing 450 times. The Chesapeake campus now measures 2.7 million square feet. Employees work in 24 buildings, and there's another half million square feet of office space under construction.

"It started right there," mused architect Rand Elliott.

Rand Elliott is the person McClendon credits for making the campus what it is today. The two Oklahoma City natives met 22 years ago, shortly after McClendon had purchased the small office building.

Elliott remembers McClendon asking him if he would be willing to put together a concept drawing for him, so he could get a sense for his talents.

"My first thought was, 'Is this guy just trying to get something for free, or is he sincere about it?'" Elliott recalled. "And I made a split-second decision and said, 'You know what, I think you're going someplace, and I would love to do that, and I'm going to prove that we can do something fabulous.'"

McClendon said he hasn't been let down.

"None of this would have happened without Rand Elliott and his ability to take just a couple of ideas that I had and expand them into something that I think has helped define the company."

Indeed, the defining feature of the campus is its signature, five-story, red brick, Georgian office buildings. McClendon, a 1981 graduate of Duke University and avid Duke alumnus, chuckled at the suggestion that the Chesapeake campus is modeled after his alma mater.

"Part of Duke is Georgian," McClendon smiled, "most of it is Gothic, so it's a little bit of a tie."

But it's certainly no exaggeration the CEO said that the campus does, very generally, resembles a college campus -- he said that's intentional.

"I think that helps employees -- particularly younger employees -- acclimate from a campus environment," McClendon said, "to a corporate environment."

He said the goal is to make the campus environment as friendly as possible. And, with a state-of-the-art fitness center, three restaurants, and a subterranean theater called "The Blue Room," McClendon appears to be succeeding.

Elliott said, from an architectural standpoint, these features are like little hidden jewels.

"If you go inside those buildings," Elliott explained, "and you see the Blue Room or you see [the restaurant] Fuel or you see the other restaurants, they're very modern spaces, very interesting things within this Georgian wrapper."

Still, both Elliott and McClendon agree they've reached their limit with the traditional Georgian buildings.

"We have 13 or so buildings that are going to be Georgian," said McClendon, "You can't have 22 or 23. You have to mix it up, so that's where the modern comes in."

As the campus extends east across Classen Boulevard and west across Western Avenue -- away from the core -- traditional gives way to non-traditional. A new parking garage, IT office building, and the Classen Curve shopping center all sport far more modern looks.

"They're of a similar vocabulary -- steel and glass, and really beautiful proportions," Elliott pointed out. "But they're also resultant of the people that are occupying them."

Classen Curve and the much-anticipated Whole Foods grocery (expected to open in late Fall 2011) have both been developed by Chesapeake Land Company, a subsidiary of the Chesapeake Energy. Their presence adjacent to the campus is also intentional -- McClendon sees the area of NW 63rd street and Western Avenue is becoming a true hub of commerce.

"We do believe that it's important for our employees to work in an area that has retail amenities for them," McClendon said, "and probably someday will have housing amenities."

The expansion of Chesapeake's campus began, in earnest, just over ten years ago, and, in that time, the company has pumped millions upon millions of dollars into the local economy. Company officials shy away from saying just how much they've spent on the campus, just as they shy away from putting any boundaries on the campus. The truth is, with the company currently hiring, on average, 25 new employees in Oklahoma City per week, no one's ready to say that the expansion is over.

"Never say never, I think, would be a fair statement," laughed Elliott.

McClendon said, ultimately, he hopes the Chesapeake campus is something both employees and residents can take pride in. He also hopes it achieves an iconic status.

"Certainly Devon's building is going to be iconic," McClendon observed. "When Tom (Ward) finishes at SandRidge, that's going to be iconic, and I think ours, in a different way, is, as well."

"We're really fortunate," Elliott stated "to have a number of CEO's in this community, including Aubrey certainly, who believe that architecture is a powerful statement, and an important one for our community and for their businesses, as well."

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