Oklahoma City is one of the nation's most spread-out urban areas, with 621 square miles of sprawling western development. Among its signature attractions is a densely built downtown featuring loft condos, live jazz, water taxis, and other flavors of an East Coast compact-city lifestyle.

It's a big change from a few decades ago. As in many urban areas, Oklahoma City was losing market share to the suburbs. Finally, in 1993, voters approved an ambitious plan, funded by a temporary sales tax, to build a stadium, a convention center, and other public facilities to jump-start development.

Then came the explosion on April 19, 1995, which destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killed 168 people, and damaged more than 300 buildings. The city rallied, helped by tens of millions of federal rebuilding dollars. The city's tourist attractions now include a museum commemorating the event and a national memorial with rows of empty chairs to symbolize the lost lives.

A small but growing number of people are lining up to live amid the revived downtown. Two projects have opened since 2001, the 294-unit Deep Deuce apartments and the 56-unit Montgomery loft apartments that are now being converted into for-sale units.

More than 1,700 condominium or apartment units are scheduled to be built within the next three years, according to Darren Currin, vice president and research director of OKC Property Research. More than two-thirds of those are condos. Construction already is underway, or will be shortly, on about 700 units, he says.

Condominiums will overlook a canal, lofts will face Main Street, and a poured-concrete office building is being converted to residential use. The trend has been toward more for-sale units and away from the rental buildings that came in first.

Early publicity about downtown and common wisdom about in-town living focuses on its appeal to single, young professionals or empty-nest couples whose children have grown up. But Oklahoma City's market also has gone in another direction, according to Currin.

“The initial demand for downtown housing has been strong,” Currin says. And while this first wave of buyers includes a few singles and empty-nesters, his company is finding that current Oklahoma City residents are purchasing the most of the downtown condos as second residences, especially upscale projects, such as the Centennial in Bricktown, where every unit will include a balcony and prices start at $305,000.

Some units are being purchased by businesses to entertain or house clients, opening up what Currin describes as “an entirely new but limited market for downtown housing sales.”

A study last year on residential housing downtown projected a modestly increasing demand. It is surprising that a survey of downtown residents found that most work elsewhere but live there for the lifestyle.

Also nearby are the 12,000-seat SBC Bricktown Ballpark, home to the minor-league Oklahoma Redhawks; the Cox Business Services Convention Center; the renovated Civic Center Music Hall; and a 12,000-square-foot library and learning center. The 20,000-seat Ford Center hosts hot-ticket concerts from Tim McGraw and Faith Hill to the Rolling Stones and can accommodate major sporting events, such as next year's Big 12 Men's Basketball Tournament.

A seven-mile stretch of the North Canadian River has been transformed into a recreational area with trails, landscaped segments, and boat ramps. The Bricktown Canal was built to link downtown, the Bricktown entertainment district, and the river.