Consultants overseeing master planning for MAPS 3 have completed a report that calls into question several aspects of the Core to Shore plan, including original assumptions that the area will attract retail and residential development.
Mike Mize, who is leading the Architectural Design Group in creating schedules and scopes for the various projects, delivered a report this week to the MAPS 3 convention center and park citizens' advisory groups that also called into question plans for a boulevard to replace the recently abandoned alignment of Interstate 40 south of downtown.
Mize said the report, co-authored with the original Core to Shore park planning firm Hargreaves and Associates and the urban planning firm Jonathan Rose Companies, was based on interviews with stakeholders in downtown and Core to Shore — an area extending between the old alignment of Interstate 40, the Oklahoma River, Bricktown and Walker Avenue.
“Since the adoption of the Core to Shore plan, several developments have taken place in Oklahoma City that will have a significant impact, including Devon tower, Project 180 — a makeover of downtown streets and parks — and the renovation of the Myriad Gardens, MAPS 3, I-40 relocation, the new boulevard and the SkyDance bridge,” Mize said.
The study, he added, has direct implications on planning for three of the biggest MAPS 3 projects — the convention center, Core to Shore park and a streetcar system.
“Perhaps the most important thing to come out of this is the Core to Shore plan did not look carefully enough at linkages beyond the new boulevard to the city core, Bricktown, the Arts District, MidTown and Automobile Alley,” Mize said.
Stakeholders were divided on ideas about the site south of the Myriad Gardens chosen for the new convention center. The original Core to Shore plan called for the convention center to be located further south: either south of the Chesapeake Energy Arena or south of Lower Bricktown.
“Some expressed concern that the selected site might create a southern boundary for downtown and may preclude the success of the (Core to Shore) park,” Mize said. “Some expressed that rather than hinder development to the south, the convention center might serve to create a more intimate atmosphere for the Myriad Gardens while defining the northern edge of the (Core to Shore) park.”
Mize advised that architects for the convention center should take those comments into consideration, look for opportunities to strengthen pedestrian links, and weigh the feasibility of adding residential and hotel development to the project mix.
Mize said stakeholders were “unified” in wanting the new boulevard designed to support pedestrians and that the width should be limited to four lanes, and not six as originally proposed by state highway engineers during the original Core to Shore study. The new report urges engineers to consider transitioning the boulevard alignment to the street grid at Walker Avenue and merging into Reno Avenue.
The new report also warns that to successfully launch a park in Core to Shore, the city will need “an aggressive strategy for development of the adjacent blocks (that) will require significant participation by both the public and private sector.”
Reprogramming and restoring Union Station, located just north of the new I-40 and immediately west of the SkyDance bridge, could add an attraction on the south portion of the Core to Shore park. The study notes that the former train depot could also provide a place for a destination restaurant, though it doesn't mention the ongoing struggle to find a tenant for a similar restaurant built in the Myriad Gardens.
Stakeholders were again divided about proceeding with construction of the Core to Shore park in an area surrounded by blight. The original Core to Shore study suggested the area would see retail, office and residential development with construction of a boulevard, new convention center and park.
Those conclusions were later rejected by a national panel of experts convened by the Urban Land Institute. City planners, meanwhile, discovered this past year that developers were not ready to pursue housing in Core to Shore even the offer of a $4.5 million federal grant.
“There are some concerns about building a park with nothing around it, that there would be no eyes on the park, resulting in safety concerns,” Mize said. “There was some support for the ‘If you build it, they will come' strategy, with the understanding that parks can be catalysts for private development.”
Another early assumption — that $30 million should be spent from MAPS 3 to acquire and relocate an electric substation that is east of the proposed Core to Shore park — also was rejected by stakeholders interviewed by the new report's
Study isn't final word
Members of the MAPS 3 convention center citizens' oversight committee applauded much of the report. Larry Nichols, executive chairman of Devon Energy, and former Mayor Kirk Humphreys further questioned planning for a new boulevard.
The report noted Broadway and Robinson both show equal promise as potentially “great streets” or boulevards — a suggestion reiterated by Nichols.
Public Works Director Eric Wenger, meanwhile, assured the committee “everything is on the table,” including planning for the new boulevard. But he added a new boulevard may still be needed with increased closure of Reno Avenue for special events.
Mize said the study will not be the final word on any project.
“This is a guideline of potential issues for architects and engineers to consider as they design these three MAPS projects,” Mize said. “The fact of the matter is it provides a broad based matter that needs to be considered.”
Committee pushes for earlier start
Engineers overseeing planning for a new convention center say they're willing to look at hiring a designer for the project earlier than the current schedule of 2014 after continued criticism of the timeline by Mike Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Carrier, a member of the MAPS 3 convention center citizens' oversight committee, has repeatedly warned city staff that by delaying design they are risking the convention center staying relatively empty when its set to open in 2019.
Carrier said meeting planners schedule convention several years in advance and without even a schematic design in hand, he has nothing to sell or book.
Fellow members of the convention center committee were equally insistent that a designer be hired as soon as possible.
Those requests were echoed Wednesday by members of the MAPS 3 citizens group overseeing design of a Core to Shore park, who noted they cannot recommend programming or a design for the park without knowing the layout and plans for the convention center, which will be built immediately north of the park.