Construction has begun on the latest round of recreational and economic development in Oklahoma City's Boathouse District.
A fresh trench marks the planned extension of the Bricktown Canal nearly all the way to the Oklahoma River, holes in the ground indicate the location of new riverside light posts, and a crane has begun putting up a massive new ropes course.
City spokesman Kristy Yager said the projects mark the next phase in long-range development of the Boathouse District, an area which has been a focal point of the city's since the river and canal were opened in 1999 and 2004, respectively.
“The fact that we have a river near downtown is a huge benefit to the city, and we would really like to capitalize on that resource,” Yager said.
Boaters, rowing crews, kayakers and other users of the Oklahoma River are currently bound to a seven-mile stretch between Meridian Avenue and the district's boathouse. Though the canal expansion project won't link the river to the Bricktown Canal, it will bring them within 400 feet, Yager said.
Visitors staying in hotels in the Meridian Avenue area will for the first time be able to make it to shopping, restaurants and events in Bricktown using an entirely aquatic route, she said.
“Right now you can get to this end of the river — the east end of the river — but there's no real connection to downtown, so you have to call and get a taxi or walk a long way,” Yager said. “Now, when this extension opens, all you have to do is walk a few feet.”
The $2.8 million project — including a dock, plaza and pedestrian bridge — is financed with a bond issue approved by voters in 2007. It's scheduled for completion next summer.
The river lighting project is the first of several MAPS 3 projects dedicated to development of the district. MAPS 3 plans are funded with a penny sales tax approved by city voters in 2009.
A dozen stadium-style light posts will be installed along the Oklahoma River between the Lincoln Boulevard and Interstate 35 bridges. The lights will allow for nighttime rowing and other events on the river, Yager said.
That project will be completed in May, she said.
Several new recreational facilities currently being built on-site will be completed sooner, though.
A new playground, including a children's ropes course, is being built by BlueCross BlueShield of Oklahoma, and a ropes course for adults — 80 feet tall, with six levels of challenges and a 72-foot slide — is being set up by SandRidge Energy.
A portable zip line, climbing wall, and several other activities currently set up in the district for Downtown in December will remain long after Christmas is gone, and a permanent 700-foot zip line will soon span the Oklahoma River, Yager said.
She said the urban renewal projects together mark another step in the continued push for new attractions and activities in the downtown area for both local residents and visitors.
“The Boathouse District is the future of Oklahoma City — it's where families are going to go,” she said. “It's a really busy time on the Oklahoma River.”
Elizabeth Laurent, marketing director for the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, the nonprofit that oversees facility operations on the river and in the district, said the current projects are part of a long string of developments there going back more than a decade.
In recent years, private dollars have funded the construction of the Devon and Chesapeake boathouses, training grounds for the U.S. Olympic rowing team and several collegiate programs, and the Chesapeake Finish Line Tower.
Starter gates were installed just last month for the crews that race along the river, and plans call for a white-water racing course in 2015, Laurent said.
“You don't have to be an Olympic athlete to come down here and have a good time,” she said. “We have activities for kids as young as three or four years old and have people as old as 80 come down and enjoy the river.”