For the past few years, civic leaders have debated the location of a new convention center. It's a discussion that predated voters' approval of the MAPS 3 ballot that provided $280 million (later revised to $250 million) for the project, and also preceded the first public unveiling of plans for Devon Energy Center and the downtown beautification effort known as Project 180.
The matter was thought to have been settled last year when the MAPS 3 citizens convention center subcommittee chose the former longtime home of Fred Jones Ford, south of the Myriad Gardens, a choice approved by the Oklahoma City Council.
City staff and the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority were then tasked with acquiring the land from a partnership that consists of Bob Howard and Fred Hall. The first public hint of a challenge to this process emerged last month when planning commissioners refused to approve an amendment to Urban Renewal's acquisition plan for the area that would allow for the purchase of the dealership site.
In delaying consideration again last week, Planning Commissioner Bob Bright argued he was unaware of the deliberations that led to the site choice and was too unfamiliar with the process to give his approval. Another planning commissioner, John Yoeckel, asked that more time be given to allow for recently hired consultants to look at how the convention center site, future park site and a new streetcar system would all fit together to ensure the proper locations were chosen.
City Manager Jim Couch, meanwhile, responds that property acquisition is moving forward as planned, that there is no effort to reopen the convention center site consideration.
But will that statement hold? The one common complaint I've heard about the site chosen is that it would be built between the Myriad Gardens and the future MAPS 3 park, and would disrupt the potential for a great connection between the two venues.
Behind the scenes, several prominent players in the downtown business and development community have discussed whether the site chosen was indeed the best choice. They are revisiting the merits of the second-ranked site — one in southeast Bricktown on the site of the Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark parking lot, the Bricktown Event Center and part of the Stewart Metal Fabricators site.
Downtown is changing rapidly, and factors weighed into site selection just a year ago are looking very different. Consider that in Bricktown alone, the hotel room count is looking to go up exponentially. I've reported that four additional hotels are formally announced for development this next year. I'm tracking at least two more yet to be announced. By most accounts, Bricktown's room count may very well top that of the central business district by the time any new convention center is built.
Ideas on development prospects around the future park also are in flux, with far more interest being expressed for new residential projects rather than the commercial and office activity predicted during planning for the area a few years ago.
A third site that could be reconsidered is currently an Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co. substation south of the Chesapeake Energy Arena that was unanimously rejected by the MAPS 3 subcommittee, but once heavily pushed by Mayor Mick Cornett.
Don't be surprised if this discussion goes public at a meeting of the MAPS 3 convention center subcommittee that convenes at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at 420 W Main. With some of the world's most respected park, transit and convention center planners being hired by the city, and dynamic changes continuing throughout downtown, reopening discussion of a site for the most expensive of all the MAPS 3 projects may prove inevitable.