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Bringing fresh eyes to huge downtown Oklahoma City project

BY STEVE LACKMEYER Published: February 28, 2010
For the third time in city history, the Urban Land Institute is sending a squad of experts to review a potentially game-changing plan for the urban core.

In 1992 the institute arrived as the city was pursuing launching the Metropolitan Area Projects initiative — a group of projects that has since spurred more than $2 billion of investment downtown.

The institute sent another group of experts to help devise a plan to rebuild north downtown following the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

Ron Frantz, an architect who worked with the second group, remembers its mission very well.

"It involved some pretty big names,” Frantz said. "I thought, ‘Wow this is a big collection of people.’ When they got here, they quickly realized what the atmosphere was and they adjusted their approach to things. They could read the crowd very well, and they really listened. They didn’t just come with their own ideas — they saw the mood of the group and only after listening did they make recommendations.”

Kirk Humphreys, who leads the local district council and co-organized this week’s return, is hoping discussions about Core to Shore will be conducted in the same spirit observed by Frantz.

As with MAPS and the bombing recovery, Core to Shore envisions a complete makeover of a section of the urban core — one that spans from the Oklahoma River to the current alignment of Interstate 40.

Humphreys said everyone agreed a return could be helpful. But while the panel members donate their time, the cost of lodging, staff support and other needs is daunting at a time when the city budget is stressed by the recession.

The city agreed to pay half the $120,000 needed if the local Urban Land Institute chapter could raise the remaining funds. Some of the city’s leading corporations helped fill the gap.

"That says a lot about Oklahoma City and about our business community,” Humphreys said. "I also take my hat off to the city manager and the mayor, and the city’s planning department.”

Months of work have gone into preparations, Humphreys said, with civic leaders Dave Lopez and Ira Schlezinger coordinating a group of 25 individuals in drawing up a scope of work.

Essential questions
Six major questions will be posed to the national panel, which will arrive in town today.

• What are the most effective means of bringing about high-quality development consistent with the public objectives of the Core to Shore plan to support and not compete with the momentum started in other parts of downtown?

• What should the land uses be along the east and west sides of the park?

• In what sequence should major components of the Core to Shore plan be implemented?

• What is the best way to make mixed-use development work, especially along the boulevard?

• How can Oklahoma City interface with the river to best activate it and make the most of that natural asset?

• Where should Promenade Park be located?

The panel will visit with up to 100 people selected to represent the different views of Core to Shore and how it can best be implemented, Humphreys said.

"Downtown is a pretty complex organism with a lot of different pieces,” he said.


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