A future of 24/7 pedestrian activity in downtown Oklahoma City sounds like music to Eddie Walker’s ears.
“In Bricktown, I’ll admit, my chin still falls open when on a Sunday afternoon when there’s no Thunder game, there’s nothing going on, but you go down to see a movie and you come out and there’s just people everywhere,” said Walker, the executive director of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic.
“It’s like, ‘Wow, pinch me.’ And I think ... that’s going to take over all of downtown. I have hopes that Core to Shore is going to happen as it’s envisioned. So I think you’re going to see that from Walker/Lee on the west all the way to Bricktown. I hope that we see it from the (Oklahoma) River and certainly up to 13th as ... the Midtown area develops. I think you’re going to feel that throughout the greater downtown core.”
Twenty years from now — in 2033 — Oklahoma City will mark the 40th anniversary of its community-altering Metropolitan Area Projects, even as the last incarnation — MAPS 3 — comes to an end.
Among the MAPS 3 projects is a proposed 70-acre park situated between the Central Business District and the Oklahoma River, the area the city has dubbed Core to Shore.
MAPS 3 also includes plans for an intermodal transit hub intended to include access for the MAPS 3 streetcar, Metro Transit buses, national and regional bus lines, Amtrak, pedestrians and cyclists, along with possible expansion to accommodate high-speed or light rail.
“With the light rail, with the fill-in of businesses and services, I think we’re just going to have a great pedestrian feel, which it’s been far too long since Oklahoma City’s had that,” Walker said in an interview from his downtown office in the McAlpine Center.
“I see residential (options) expanding in downtown, and I think that’s what’s going to support this new pedestrian lifestyle, this new community of people who live, work, eat, play without their car as a necessity.”
Walker anticipates that many young professionals now moving into downtown will opt to stay and raise their families there, particularly once the new downtown elementary school opens and more businesses settle in the burgeoning area.
“I think you’re going to see people who grow up here and stay and want to live downtown, but you’re also going to see a lot of people moving into Oklahoma City from out of state,” he said.
“I think people will choose to live downtown because of so much that’s at their doorstep ... and I hope that we see kind of an arts campus where organizations have their administrative offices but you also have gallery spaces and education spaces and little performance spaces.”
Taking arts to the people
He is optimistic that the planned $130 million Core to Shore park, currently set to include a cafe, lake, gardens, fountains and a grand lawn, will give the Philharmonic and other organizations the chance to build on programs like the Arts Council of Oklahoma City’s Art Moves, which offers free lunchtime concerts, dance performances and art demonstrations Monday through Friday at various downtown locations.
“I know what has happened in downtown Dallas with their park by the arts district ... and that place is busy all the time,” Walker said. “We can program for all those people who are going to be down here (like) ensembles playing for lunches. In the evening, as people are walking to grab a sandwich at a little restaurant before they go to Civic Center or Chesapeake Arena, there’s live music happening. Shakespeare in the Park could be doing scenes.”
He believes taking the arts into downtown denizens’ everyday lives will encourage them to seek out formal “night-out” performances, too.
“People often ask me, ‘Hey, has the Phil seen a big upswing in ticket sales because of downtown’s growth?’ And the answer is ‘not yet.’ I think we will, but I think it’s going to take another 15 or 20 years for all of this to happen,” Walker said.
“Then, I think we’re going to see people go, ‘Oh, I’ll get tickets to the symphony or to the ballet or to Lyric (Theatre), and I’ll walk there from my apartment and we’ll have dinner on the way’ ... so that the arts are incorporated into this vibrancy that is downtown.”
To learn more
For more information about the Oklahoma City Philharmonic, call 842-5387 or go to www.okcphilharmonic.org.