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Former Bob Howard Downtown Ford dealership emerges as favored site for OKC convention center

by Steve Lackmeyer Published: April 14, 2011

A site in plans for the Core to Shore development long favored by Mayor Mick Cornett for a convention center is back in contention following the elimination of two other locations.

Populous, hired by the city to guide site selection for the $280 million convention center, had previously agreed with a MAPS 3 committee to eliminate the site south of the Oklahoma City Arena and east of a future central park because of its distance from restaurants and hotels and its isolation from the rest of downtown.

But in kicking off a committee workshop on Wednesday, Todd Voth, a planner with Populous, immediately announced the team had determined the existing Cox Convention Center site and a site along Main Street in Bricktown were no longer considered viable.

“Things change,” Voth said. “Our experience in these projects is that as you get closer to the end the more you get nervous about going over the cliff.”

Voth explained the Cox Convention Center would be too costly and too difficult to dismantle to make it a viable site.

“Fatal flaws” also were cited in quickly killing off another site previously chosen as a finalist — the city-owned surface parking lots along Main Street in north Bricktown. Voth said the site involved extensive removal of utilities, including high-pressure gas lines, has too much restricted access and not enough room for future expansion.

“In our mind, combined with what we believe will be a big building, this may not be the best use of this location,” Voth said.

Skirvin offers plan

Owners of the Skirvin Hilton pitched an elaborate plan last week for the north Bricktown option that called for the addition of a second room tower to make it the conference hotel, with a new gateway entrance that would bridge over E.K. Gaylord Boulevard and the BNSF railway viaduct to connect with Bricktown and the convention center.

Representatives of the Skirvin were present at the meeting but were not given the chance to make their pitch, and instead were advised to meet afterward with Populous.

With those two sites eliminated, Voth then surprised the committee by reviving a site both Populous and the committee unanimously killed at their last meeting — a location south of the Oklahoma City Arena long favored by Mayor Mick Cornett.

In reintroducing the site, Voth said the location would advance development of Core to Shore, a blighted area between the current alignment of Interstate 40 and the future realignment being built a few blocks south.

Voth also cited the site's proximity to the Oklahoma City Arena and a central park being built west of the site.

Committee members rebutted Populous with their previous concerns — that the site is too far away from downtown's restaurants and hotels, it is surrounded by unsightly blighted properties and would be separated from downtown by a wide boulevard comparable to Northwest Expressway.

Not one committee member spoke in favor of the site, but Voth responded he needed to have three finalists for which to draw up full comparisons before selecting a top location.

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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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