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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

The south Core to Shore site remains ranked a distant third behind two other surviving finalists. One site, east of the Bricktown ballpark along Reno Avenue, was praised for having ample area, potential as anchor for the district, access and proximity to restaurants and hotels.

Populous cited disadvantages as being the site's distance to hotels in the Central Business District, loss of the Coca Cola Event Center, visual appeal of the surrounding area and a less prominent address for civic image.

Highest-rated option

The site rated highest by Populous — and winning the most praise from the committee — was the former location of Bob Howard Downtown Ford, south of the Myriad Gardens.

Voth listed more favorable factors, and fewer disadvantages, than with any of the other sites. Favorable considerations include a prominent civic location, an address along the boulevard and across from the future central park, proximity to hotels, parking and the arena, easy access, room for growth, no business displacement and compatible land use.

The only negative factors listed were that it will require a subgrade or upper-level exhibit hall (which could be complicated by the area's water table), a less efficient truck access and potentially higher construction costs.

Committee member Larry Nichols, executive chairman of Devon Energy Corp., noted the water table did not interfere with construction of sub-ground levels for the nearby 50-story Devon Energy Center. Other committee members noted the nearby Cox Convention Center has below-ground structured parking.

Populous is set to finish development concepts for the three sites by early May, at which time the firm is expected to suggest one location.

Committee member Kirk Humphreys asked Voth why Populous shouldn't just focus on the site south of the Myriad Gardens since everyone in the room agreed it was the best option. Voth responded he felt all evaluation needed to continue on all three sites as part of “due diligence.”

With the reintroduction of the site south of the arena, the committee revisited the issue of whether the full $280 million pledged for the convention center would be available, regardless of which location is chosen.

Cornett has repeatedly insisted that $30 million of the convention center budget be set aside for purchase and clearance of an Oklahoma Gas & Electric substation on his preferred site. Council members have argued that he is wrong in stating they have already agreed to that spending priority.

Councilman Gary Marrs, who was present at the workshop Wednesday, declined to weigh in on the debate.

MAPS 3 program manager Eric Wenger told the committee the council has not decided the matter, but that he is following the mayor's wishes in reserving the $30 million for the substation.

“The city has spoken clearly,” committee member Kirk Humphreys joked, “with two different voices.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist 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 Metropolitan...
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