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Ferris wheel, private school could appear in Wheeler District

A weeklong series of planning sessions produced scores of ideas for development of the former Downtown Airpark on the south bank of the Oklahoma River.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: July 17, 2014

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Intimate residential streets are envisioned as part of the future Wheeler neighborhood being developed at the former Downtown Airpark along the Oklahoma River.
Intimate residential streets are envisioned as part of the future Wheeler neighborhood being developed at the former Downtown Airpark along the Oklahoma River. Dover-Kohl

A Ferris wheel and a private school are both likely to be among the first developments in the new Wheeler neighborhood emerging from a week-long planning charrette that ended Wednesday night.

Dozens of people once again packed The Grill on the Hill, 324 SW 25 in Capitol Hill, to hear the results of a week of planning sessions for development of the former Downtown Airpark, 1701 S Western. A week earlier more than 300 people showed up and submitted ideas for the project – a turnout lead planner Victor Dover called unprecedented in his experience.

“We’ve done this hundreds of times in many different towns all over the country,” said Dover, a principal in Miami, Fla.-based Dover-Kohl. “In this town there is a robust participation that other communities crave. Your peer towns have a much harder time of getting the crucial group that is age 25 to 35 that typically don’t come to public meetings or meetings about community planning.”

The planning team, consisting of an economist, geographer, planners and engineers, joined with local consultants assembled by developer and urban planner Blair Humphreys and cranked out an elaborate proposal for the former Downtown Airpark and dozens of acres located to the east. Those expressing interest in the project included a grocer, restaurateurs, retailers and aspiring homeowners.

Plans, which will be further tweaked and then submitted to the city to begin a discussion of zoning changes, infrastructure and street designs, show roundabouts book-ending the north and south entries along Western Avenue just south of the Oklahoma River.

The plan also shows former runways will be turned into a tree-lined avenue with paths connecting the existing river path to the south end of the project. Other new streets will create new east-west connections extending SW 15 and creating a corridor to Walker Avenue and Capitol Hill, and Shartel Avenue and Mount St. Mary’s High School.

“The roundabouts will help distribute traffic on three north-south corridors,” Humphreys said. “We will be maintaining capacity for commuters while calming speeds to promote pedestrian activity.”

The charrette showed participants wanted a Ferris wheel along the river and a roundabout on Western Avenue — ideas incorporated into the plan. The team, however, was unable to find a feasible way to include another popular idea — inclusion of a canal.

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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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