Architects and planners tasked with designing a new Oklahoma City convention center are pitching a new concept that would extend exhibit halls underneath Hudson Avenue to address concerns that the complex and a new conference hotel would create too big a barrier between the Myriad Gardens and future MAPS 3 Core to Shore park.
The block bordered by Robinson, Hudson and Reno Avenues and the future downtown boulevard, along with another block to the west for future expansion, was designated as the convention center site last year by the Oklahoma City Council.
Consultants with Populous pitched three site plans last month, none of which received much enthusiasm from the MAPS 3 citizens subcommittee overseeing the project. Concerns included the need to build three stories above ground if the convention center and envisioned 500- to 600-room conference hotel were built on the same block.
Another concept to raze the exhibit halls at the current Cox Convention Center to make way for a hotel was seen as jeopardizing existing convention business, while a third option to build a hotel south of the Chesapeake Energy Arena was seen as potentially less attractive to hotel developers because of its proximity to still vacant and blighted land.
Michael Lockwood, project architect with Populous, said that a study of cities that compete with Oklahoma City for convention business shows most of them do not have hotels attached to the conference centers.
But he warned against creating a site plan that would place the $250 million convention center along Robinson Avenue, essentially creating a “dead zone” when not booked with events.
Lockwood said after receiving a tepid response to the previous concepts, his team sought to create a site plan where the hotel would be most immediate to Bricktown, the arena, the parks and downtown.
“This is about finding a way to create a unique destination in Oklahoma City,” Lockwood said. “There is something very unique about this site, and we want to create a building that takes advantage of these conditions.”
By extending the exhibit hall space under Hudson Avenue, Lockwood said the team was free to place the hotel on the east half of the block, with green space along Robinson Avenue, a plaza between the hotel and convention center, and more green space along Hudson Avenue.
The scheme also allows the convention center to drop back down to two stories and potentially lowers the height of the hotel from 20 to 17 stories, creating less of a barrier.
“By putting a hotel on Robinson, it provides a 24-hour-a-day activity zone along Robinson,” Lockwood said.
Todd Voth, senior principal with Populous, said the plan comes with just one disadvantage — the requirement that a hotel deal be secured in a timely manner so that the convention center isn't surrounded for long by dead space.
Cathy O'Connor, director of the Oklahoma City Urban Renewal Authority and the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City, said a consultant should be hired soon to evaluate the market for a large conference hotel and assist in proposing possible financing. O'Connor also said she expect a purchase offer to be made to property's owners — Bob Howard and Fred Hall — within the next 60 days.
Voth said he's confident an extension under Hudson Avenue is viable and won't be subject to risks of flooding and sound vibrations. He said his firm designed a convention center in Phoenix with a similar design.
“I'd be a little less confident if we hadn't done it, but we've done it and it works very well,” Voth said. “This gives us the best of both worlds.”
Committee members Roy Williams, Larry Nichols, Michael Carrier, and John D. Williams all gave the plan high marks for addressing most if not all of their prior concerns.
“I like how it creates three walkways connecting the Myriad Gardens with the new park,” said Nichols, executive chairman of Devon Energy. “With the other options, we were looking at this block being more of a barrier.”