The Bricktown Canal, at first ridiculed as the most frivolous of the nine Metropolitan Area Projects approved by voters in 1993, is now a top tourist draw that has spurred more than $109 million in development since it opened a decade ago.
With Bricktown set to celebrate the canal’s 10th anniversary on Thursday, those involved with the project say it has fallen short of expectations in terms of development even as it has become a source of civic pride.
The project required excavation of California Avenue between the BNSF Railway viaduct and Walnut Avenue, and creation of a waterway that would flow to just south of Interstate 40.
"I couldn’t envision it,” said Kirk Humphreys, who began a six-year tenure as mayor just as construction of the waterway began in 1998. "I didn’t have a clear picture of how it would be as cool as it is.”
Humphreys wasn’t alone. Jim Cowan, then owner of the Bricktown Brewery and now director of the Bricktown Association, watched as the waterway transformed the city’s self-image.
"It just blew my mind to think that what I knew to be a city street would become a waterway,” Cowan said. "When it opened, we operated satellite locations along the canal because Chelino’s was the only restaurant open. And I was blown away by the comments I heard — people instantly had a sense of pride I didn’t hear before whenever speaking of living in Oklahoma City.”
The $109 million represents just the development along the waterway. But Cowan argues that other major developments — the Bricktown Hampton Inn, the American Banjo Museum, various projects along Sheridan and Main Street — can all be indirectly linked to the canal.
Add those numbers into the mix, Cowan says, and the development attributable to the canal hits at least $140 million — the spin-off originally predicted for all of the MAPS projects.
"I think the canal has influenced development throughout Bricktown, and not just along canal,” Cowan said. The canal opening, he said, boosted business for everybody.
"There were just so many people coming to Bricktown to try it out,” Cowan said. "We saw a 30 percent increase in business in those months after the opening.”
Some disputes arise
The canal’s 10-year lifespan hasn’t been without controversy and disappointment.