Eight years have passed since the Humphreys family bought the former Downtown Airpark during a bankruptcy auction with plans to create a retail and housing development called “The Waterfront.”
Partners in the venture changed. The market changed.
Kirk Humphreys and his son, Grant, shifted their attention to another project, Carlton Landing, in Eufaula. Grant Humphreys, who led development of The Waterfront, moved his family to Carlton Landing while his brother, Blair Humphreys, developed a reputation as one of the state’s leading urban planners while overseeing the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma.
The development, however, is not dead. Instead, the family doubled its bet by buying up even more land to the south and east of the airpark. Blair Humphreys left OU to take charge of the project earlier this year — a development now rechristened as “Wheeler” in tribute to the early day city father James Wheeler who donated land for what is now Wheeler Park.
After months of behind-the-scenes discussions about the area’s future, Blair Humphreys is set to host a community-wide planning effort that he hopes will result in the city’s next “great urban neighborhood.”
“The plan for The Waterfront was dialed into the market and the market norms of the pre-recession era,” Humphreys said. “That plan started in 2007, was completed in 2008, and a lot of the things that we planned to do in terms of retail, and the aggressiveness of the phasing, don’t seem as appropriate after the recession.”
The ambition, however, is even greater than before.
The Ferris Wheel
Some aspects of the former plan remain; tying into the trails and park area along the Oklahoma River, and incorporation of a Ferris Wheel the family bought from the Santa Monica Pier.
Humphreys, however, sees a landscape that is far better than it was in 2006, starting with the RiverSports recreational venues and boathouses on the river’s north shore, the Skydance Bridge over the new Interstate 40, and the new city park being built along the river and the future downtown boulevard between Robinson and Walker Avenues.
“The opportunity is bigger now due to the great strides Oklahoma City has taken during that period,” Humphreys said. “And there are other aspects of the old plan we can accomplish more of, and do at a higher quality.”
A key to this new vision is the Humphreys’ purchase of 70 acres on the east side of S Western Avenue, just south of the river and across the street from the former airpark.
The acreage was originally owned by Kerr-McGee, whose co-founder, Dean A. McGee, also was one of the original developers of the airpark when it opened at 1701 S Western in 1947. The property passed into Chesapeake Energy’s ownership when it acquired local holdings of Kerr McGee after the company was swallowed up by Texas-based Anadarko Energy.Wheeler District Charette
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The choice of “Wheeler” as the new name for the area at Western Avenue and the Oklahoma River is intended to tie to the redevelopment of the former Downtown Airpark and surrounding properties, 150 acres in total, to Wheeler Park, which is one of the city’s oldest parks. The land for Wheeler Park was donated to the city by James Wheeler in 1902, and it was once home to the city’s zoo, several baseball fields, and the adjoining Delmar Gardens amusement park.
Blair Humphreys, developer of Wheeler, is hosting a series of planning sessions, open to the public, that will be held July 9-16. More information about meeting locations and topics, and about the development can be found online at www.wheeler