Construction will move forward on a makeover of downtown's Civic Center park despite a contentious Oklahoma City Council vote and debate over whether council members were properly informed about the project's timing and scope.
The council voted 7-2 to allow construction to proceed on the $3 million park project, which will include the removal of decades-old trees and displacement of all historical markers assembled on the property in the past 40 years.
The council also voted, with “no” votes cast in both instances by Ed Shadid and Pete White, to pay an additional $162,000 to the previously awarded $425,000 in design fees going to architect Rand Elliott and Tulsa-based landscape architectural firm PDG, Inc.
Shadid noted much of the $162,000 was being requested for work the council did not ask for.
“If we ask someone to design spinner tops and things that we want, that we approved, we signed off on, and don't use, I understand that,” Shadid said. “But to pay for things that were universally rejected, I don't understand why we're paying that. It's an enormous percentage of the project.”
City staff responded some of the improvements covered by the additional design fee — two marquee signs and pavilions — will be funded through private donations. Public works director Eric Wenger reported all of the additional work was requested by a stakeholders group that oversaw the park design.
At meetings covered by The Oklahoman, the signs and pavilions were discussed by committee members, who were told by city staff such additions might need to be paid for through private donations. However, the spinning towers and arch were not brought into the project until after the committee members quit meeting.
No mention was made at the committee meetings of the need to pay the architects extra design fees for the work.
Shadid said the city was being “fleeced” with the vote for the $162,000 additional design fees sought by Elliott and PDG.
Former critics give OK
Councilman Gary Marrs, who two weeks ago was the first to blast city staff for how development of the park makeover was rushed, stayed quiet in Tuesday's debate. He previously said his patience was “wearing thin” with being repeatedly told projects can't be thoroughly deliberated and subjected to scrutiny and change due to decisions made by committees or events being staged by outside parties.
Pat Ryan, another councilman who had been critical of the project, said Tuesday most of his constituents supported the makeover after previously reporting they were unhappy with the project.
Park vs. streets
White questioned whether the council was being forthright in its concerns about the park and the city's overall implementation of Project 180, the $141 million makeover of downtown streets, sidewalks and parks funded through a tax increment financing district established with construction of Devon Energy Center.
White complained city staff never informed the council they were choosing to proceed with the park makeover, set to be completed by September, over street projects including reconstruction of E.K. Gaylord Boulevard and the completed two-way conversion of Hudson Avenue.
“We've all had reservations about it, but we're being rolled over,” White said. “By putting this project ahead, we are going to finish the streets we have now, and then we'll go back later because we changed the priority. It makes no sense.”