A planned redesign of the Civic Center park was roundly criticized Tuesday by the Oklahoma City Council, with not one voice in support of the project as members questioned city staff as to why they were being rushed to move forward with
City Manager Jim Couch responded the
Controversy over the designs by architect Rand Elliott and Tulsa-based PDG Inc. is coinciding with a request by the Civic Center Foundation to have the park, also known as Bicentennial Park, renamed Larry Nichols Park after Devon Energy's executive chairman.
Councilman Ed Shadid was among those questioning whether the $3 million project should be redesigned or scrapped
“We've given the architect a blank slate,” Shadid said.
“We're ripping out the monuments; we're ripping out the oldest, biggest trees and replacing them with sticks. This is how this architect (Elliott) has worked with Chesapeake (Energy Corp.); they just give him a blank slate. Why the city has to give him a blank slate, I don't understand.”
Shadid urged city staff and fellow city council members to put the project on hold and to give greater priority to other Project 180 improvements previously delayed due to a shortfall in funding, specifically the reconstruction of E.K. Gaylord Boulevard and the conversion of Hudson Avenue to two-way traffic.
Shadid and council members Pete White, Pat Ryan and Gary Marrs all reported they had been contacted by constituents who opposed the park's makeover either because of anticipated removal of decades-old trees and historical monuments, or its modern design.
“This is enough of an inquiry and concern to slow down and make sure what we're doing is
Marrs said the redesign is too modern for a park that is situated between two Art Deco landmarks — City Hall and the Civic Center Music Hall — that were built as part of the 1930s Works Progress
“This is not a place to put a modernistic park,” Marrs said.
“It's not. … I'd be very hard-pressed to vote ‘yes' on something for this park if it's something that has a modernistic look to it. There are parts of this town that need to remain historical and need to have that perspective, and this is one of them.”
Council members also asked Couch to explain why construction bids were already sought and received for the project without going through the Downtown Design Review Committee and the Oklahoma City Economic
Couch said the project's schedule was being driven by a desire to be ready for a 75th anniversary celebration of the adjoining Civic Center Music Hall this year.
Couch said the contractor can withdraw its bid next week, 45 days from when it was submitted.
Such explanations failed to sway the council opponents, with White saying “simply because people say something is an emergency doesn't make it an emergency.” Marrs added that his patience was “wearing thin” with being repeatedly told projects can't be thoroughly deliberated and subjected to scrutiny and change due to decisions made by committees or events being staged by outside parties.
The 75th anniversary of the Civic Center Music Hall, Marrs said, is not cause to approve a park makeover that has little public support and will be regretted afterward.
The park's makeover will be submitted again to the Downtown Design Review Committee on Thursday, which refused repeated pleas by the city's public works department for quick approval.
The application being heard Thursday no longer includes an archway and “spinner towers” included previously, but it still has granite fountains, rows of risers and other features deemed by critics as
In response to questioning by Councilman Larry McAtee that the city council vote set for next Tuesday was “reverse” of normal scheduling, Couch after the meeting set the park's makeover as a presentation only for the council on Tuesday, followed by a review and vote the next day by the Oklahoma City Economic
Shadid said after the discussion he hopes those concerned with the project will continue to speak up and that the project be shelved to reallocate the money to more pressing Project 180 improvements that were put on hold under funding shortfalls.
“Incomplete infrastructure concerns, which are critical to economic development, should take priority over additional park projects, especially when they don't have public backing,” Shadid said.
“We have studies which have concluded there is an urgent need to address pedestrian concerns at E.K. Gaylord and Sheridan (one of the shelved projects). It should be obvious that we also have more serious concerns with two-way, one-way, two-way street constructs.”