New downtown community planned for former Downtown Airpark property

Original development plan, to be called “The Waterfront,” scrapped by market conditions has evolved into “Wheeler.”
by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: June 2, 2014 at 2:00 pm •  Published: June 1, 2014
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The former Downtown Airpark and most of the property shown to the east will be redeveloped as Wheeler, a new urbanist neighborhood that will tie into the Oklahoma River and downtown. Photo provided
  
Provided
The former Downtown Airpark and most of the property shown to the east will be redeveloped as Wheeler, a new urbanist neighborhood that will tie into the Oklahoma River and downtown. Photo provided Provided

“We think the Chesapeake property makes what was going to be a good project even better,” Humphreys said. “The opportunity is to work with the city to turn S Western Avenue into a great street where people want to be, that will be the heart of the development.”

A transformation of the street, concepts for building a mixed-use neighborhood, and how best to tie into the river and future MAPS 3 park are all set to be studied at an upcoming series of design sessions to be held July 9 through July 16 to be overseen by Victor Dover, a renowned expert on livable communities and sustainable development and author of “Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns.”

A new community

Where others might see a barren former airpark, Dover sees the bones for a great new community that is already connecting to the city thanks to a temporary riverfront concert venue and a weekly bicycle and food truck festival on the property’s former runways.

Dover, who previously met Humphreys during his stint at the Institute for Quality Communities, was recently introduced to Oklahoma City via a bike tour from the airpark to downtown. On that bike ride, Dover saw a future community that is in close proximity to downtown, venues along the river, trails and thousands of jobs.

“I felt like we were seeing the city in the process of moving through the aftermath of its urban renewal phase,” Dover said. “You could see the lights are coming back on downtown, people are filling in the empty properties, streets are getting changed to be more friendly to pedestrians and businesses.

“Oklahoma City is pregnant, and it’s in the midst of giving birth to a whole new generation of positive place-making,” he said.

A listening process

Together, Humphreys and Dover hope to gather ideas and visions from residents of adjoining neighborhoods and from urban dreamers in drafting a new plan that could include a redesign of Western Avenue, a mix of housing to serve an array of incomes and interests, shops and businesses.

Cycling and pedestrian friendly streets, Humphreys added, will definitely be a part of the mix.

“This will be an organically grown community,” Dover said. “It’s not a corporate monolith — one big super-project done by one architect and managed and controlled by one corporation. This group is into the small-is-beautiful movement, that a lot of projects in a lot of designers’ hands is better. It’s the idea that you end up with a community with more of a blend.”

Wheeler District Charette
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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Also ...

Why Wheeler?

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.wheelerdistrict.com.

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