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Downtown park makeover is opposed by Oklahoma City Council members

A redesign of the Civic Center park, also known as Bicentennial Park, is opposed by half the Oklahoma City Council. Those members say they are hearing unanimous opposition to the makeover by their constituents.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: February 15, 2012

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 construction.

City Manager Jim Couch responded the makeover is required as part of the Project 180 implementation agreement with Devon Energy Corp., which is funding the improvements through a tax increment financing district established with construction of its new $750 million headquarters downtown.

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 altogether.

“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.”

Finding priorities

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 correct,” Ryan said. “Whatever we do there needs to be thought out very carefully.”

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 Administration.

“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.”

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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