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OKC Central Live Chat Transcript - Band-Aid Edition

by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: May 9, 2014 at 11:30 pm •  Published: May 9, 2014
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Several of you have asked about the live chat transcript and yes, it wasn’t posted as usual today. So what follows is my best (though admittedly a bit chaotic attempt at posting a transcript):

9:33 Comment From Kim
Good Morning Steve, Any updates on new housing in the Uptown District?

9:33 Good morning!

9:34 Comment From Kim
I’ve heard from several people that a well known developer that has helped with other residential projects is looking at the corner of Walker and 24th street in Uptown for development of new housing, what have you heard?

9:34 It’s certainly a possibility, but nothing is done yet I’ll report it to you when I can.

9:34 Comment From Guest
when is the metropolitan going to begin?

9:36 The Houston development group previously indicated construction was to start this last month. They’ve bought the land, they paid for design work, they took out a building permit. I will check with them again … but keep in mind, these big projects follow timelines of their own.

9:36 Comment From Kim
Who owns the empty lots across from the Tower Theater?

9:36 The same owner – Marty Dillon.

9:36 Comment From Guest
where can i see if odot is working on a new ramp for by the new GE facility?

9:38 ODOT was preparing to rebuild the 10th Street ramp for northbound traffic long before the GE project was announced, and it had to be tweaked for the development. I’ve long had a graphic and info ready to go – just never got around to it. I’ll see if I can put that out this next week.

9:38 Comment From Dennis
Thank you Steve for shining a bright light on ODOT!

9:46 You’re welcome. The folks at the Oklahoma Department of Transportation have spent time responding to my questions. But … as I wrote in my blog, there’s a big difference between responding and answering. I never got an adequate answer as to why ODOT scheduled the one “open house” and not even a full presentation of the changed designs on a Thunder play-off night at the Cox Convention Center. Not one reader has told me they saw the arrangements for Wednesday night as anything but an attempt to discourage turn-out.
We still don’t know why (really why) a six-lane option was added back into the designs other than as a “baseline.” Huh? I also got no response from ODOT engineers as to whether they’ve contemplated the possibility that the assumptions they’ve long tried to meet in designing roads no longer apply in 2014, or that driving habits and transportation preferences have changed. These are folks who are clinging to how things have always been done.
The ODOT engineers are not elected officials. And though they declined to say Monday night whether outright opposition to the Option C scored highest by ODOT might stop its selection, they are accountable. They have a board of commissioners. And then there is the Federal Highway Administration, which has shown a very different response to the growing interest in rail transit, bike lanes and pedestrian accommodations. Also remember, it was opposition by the city council and local residents that forced these design changes to begin with. The designs shown Monday night, by the way, no longer match up with the design last approved by the city council, so I imagine they will have to vote again on this matter either way.

9:46 Comment From Frank the Tank
Do you think Core to Shore will hit a huge roadblock if the boulevard is a divided highway as ODOT wants? Do you think that ODOT is using the boulevard as a diversion tactic to hide get something else moved forward and wants everyone discussing this project instead of something else? Who is the head of ODOT and what is his contact information?

9:49 Everyone I’ve talked to who isn’t a state or city engineer has said yes, this freeway approach will hamper development of the greater Core to Shore area.
I’m told contacting those in charge at ODOT will not be an effective means of changing this debate. Instead, I’ve been told by folks with Friends of the Boulevard that you should email your comments, questions and concerns to Elizabeth Romero at the Federal Highway Administration at Elizabeth.Romero@dot.gov.

9:49 Comment From Guest
Why doesn’t ODOT understand that the boulevard is supposed to be a grand entrance to downtown OKC, one that the entire city can be proud of and NOT an Interstate bypass? It would be better had I-40 had never been relocated than to build what has been proposed. If they cannot be convinced to do this right, is there any way to have the city of OKC do it rather than the state?

9:52 ODOT designed a new I-40 that they feel won’t provide adequate access to downtown without building the boulevard as a freeway bypass. City leaders, by the way, were firmly opposed to the new alignment that ODOT pushed, and the route was dictated by then ODOT director Neal McCaleb over city objections. ODOT promised to work with the city to mitigate the effects of building the highway through the Hispanic low income neighborhoods and work with the city on the design of both the highway and the boulevard.

9:53 My understanding is the city would have to come up with $30 million to $50 million that is already budgeted by ODOT for the project if the city were take over the construction. Now, that said, this all still bewilders me because ODOT is building a road that will be owned and maintained by the City of Oklahoma City.

9:53 Comment From Frank the Tank
What do the city leaders think of the ODOT designs?

9:55 The ones I’ve talked to don’t like ODOT’s plans for a freeway bypass, and about 500 of the most prominent folks in the city gathered at the Mayor’s Development Roundtable gave a loud cheer when speaker Larry Beasley advised against letting ODOT turn the boulevard into a highway.

9:58 Will ODOT move forward with designing and building a boulevard that will be owned and maintained by Oklahoma City, and yet one that Oklahoma City hates and does not want? Did ODOT hope to avoid a lot of scrutiny in this final round by how they scheduled and located their Open House? Will my efforts to inform readers and get questions out in the open drive ODOT crazy? Will I quit asking questions? (No).

9:58 Comment From Frank the Tank
How do you think the ODOT boulevard will impact the new Central Park? Does it put it on hold?

10:02 I never understood the rush on the park. Just a couple years ago city engineers were citing “city council instructions” that the park had to be done in 2014 to coincide with the opening of the boulevard. It was common knowledge even two years ago the boulevard wouldn’t be open or done in 2014. I’ll be surprised if it opens by the end of 2016. And that’s OK. The area around the park is a moving target. The 2006 Core to Shore study, as I suspected, is now irrelevant (especially when it comes to elaborate sketches of big box stores and Border’s style bookstores that are now falling out of favor and no longer being developed as they once were). So what’s the harm if the park gets delayed a few years until we see what the market does want to do with Core to Shore?

10:03 Comment From DoctorTaco
Good morning Steve! When are you going on vacation? Seems like you could use one. If $$$ is the limiting factor I’m sure many of us here would kick $10-20 into a Kickstarter Lackmeyer Vacation Fund (#KLVF).

10:03 It will probably be a few years….

10:03 Comment From Jay
A little outside your beat, but since you compared the OKC, Tulsa & Moore park plans a while back ago I just have a little FYI that the Moore Central Park groundbreaking is today at 10am.

10:04 Comment From Frank the Tank
Do you know what other projects ODOT has that may be of concerned to OKC? The 10th St exit maybe????……

10:04 Yes. And forgive me, earlier I called this the 10th Street exit. NewsOK editors, please contact me so we can fix this on the transcript.

10:04 Comment From Aloe Noir
There were some great ideas presented by Larry Beasley at the Mayor’s Roundtable. Do you think developers will implement family friendly design elements such as street level entrance for first floor units and small fenced yards into new multi family developments? Do you think the city should increase design standards or should the market dictate changes? What design elements and amenities do you think are most important to families that want to live in downtown OKC?

10:06 Some developers I’ve reported on are more committed to good design than others. I don’t think that will change. And the good developers were likely at the roundtable and I’m sure will try to incorporate the best ideas that apply to their projects. And the developers that don’t care so much about good design? I saw a couple of them at the roundtable, and I seriously doubt any of what Beasley had to say really struck them as being a rebuke to what they’ve done to date.

10:06 Comment From Guest
Your last couple of blog posts on the Boulevard were outstanding. Great Job!

10:06 Thanks!

10:07 Comment From Guest
What do you think has been the cheesiest ODOT threat? More vehicles than the old I-40 crosstown? Thunder traffic problems? Devon employees won’t be able to get home quickly enough? We have to build something because we will lose the tax payer money otherwise?

10:07 I think the concerns expressed by ODOT engineers are sincere from their perspective. I’m just not convinced they are relevant.

10:07 Comment From Guest
Why did Devon invest (ok, lend) so much money for Project 180? To improve traffic in and out of downtown?

10:09 Oh stop now. How does the expenditure of millions of dollars on upgrading to Myriad Gardens and Bicentennial Park, building new sidewalks, refreshing landscaping and adding public art translate into improving traffic?

10:10 Comment From BrettDOkc
After having looked over the alternative plans and dialoging with the OKDOT folks Wednesday, which plan do you think will be the most acceptable to OKC officials? Which do you think is the best plan?

10:10 As drawn up? None.

10:10 Comment From Terry
What is wrong with ODOT? Don’t they understand that OKC residents want the boulevard to be a grand entrance for people to slowly experience downtown rather than an expressway serving only as a secondary interstate highway? Most of the downtown traffic is coming from the north or south anyway, not from the east or west.

10:11 Nightmare scenario: someone believes they are doing what is right.

10:11 Comment From Guest
Why do so many companies want to locate downtown? Because of the easy vehicle access into downtown? Why _is_ downtown growing so much?

10:11 You’re trying to be clever. I like that.

10:11 Comment From jet
I realize that the powers-that-be have to make decisions. However, it’s frustrating (or maybe even flustrating) when the people in power don’t listen to what the citizens want. Is there any recourse at this point concerning the Boulevard and/or park designs?

10:16 YES! You folks DO have the power. Any effort by ODOT or anyone else to say they have ultimate say is a bluff. I’m hearing from many readers they don’t like ODOT designing any more of the boulevard as a freeway. I’ve yet to hear anyone defend such efforts. So if this is the case, if enough of you contact Mayor Mick Cornett and the city council, if enough of you contact Elizabeth.Romero@dot.gov at the Federal Highway Administration, and if you start up an online petition stating your interest, there is no unelected ODOT engineer who can stand in the way of such response. This is a road being built for the city, that will be owned by the city, that will be maintained by the city. We live in a city where elected officials and city staff don’t like to get into big public fights or confrontations unless absolutely necessary. I appreciate that they want a good relationship with ODOT. But area residents are the wildcard. And these people all work for you. Don’t forget it.

10:16 Comment From Terry
Where’s the City staff and especially the Mayor in all of this boulevard discussion? Seems like the Mayor should be using his weight to get ODOT to build what the City wants. After all, the City will inherit ownership and maintenance responsibility for it.

10:17 Ask the mayor.

10:17 Comment From Terry
If the new boulevard is to be owned and maintained by the City, why is ODOT even involved?

10:17 The boulevard is funded and programmed as part of the new I-40 project.

10:17 Comment From Guest
According to ODOT engineers Vehicle Miles Traveled are going up. Why is Oklahoma so different from the rest of the country? Why will it continue to be?

10:21 I don’t know that Oklahoma is so different from the rest of the country. But why should I believe these forecasts?

10:21 Comment From Terry
RowerBrandon responded to my OCU question last week by answering that “OCU is gaining a PA program”. I appreciated his answer except I’m not sure what PA stands for: Public Affairs, Program Administrator, Political Affairs, Performance Analysis, Pollution Abatement, Professor’s Assistant, Public Announcement, Planet of the Apes, Police Academy, Punk A@@ or even Pamela Anderson. Maybe RowerBrandon can answer back and tell us what he meant.

10:21 Comment From Terry
With downtown’s ongoing parking problem, when are they going to start the commuter rail service to Norman, Edmond and Midwest City? They need it to reduce parking demand, but it would also alleviate traffic and open up downtown, Bricktown and the other central districts to more customers.

10:21 There’s an ongoing discussion among regional leaders…

10:21 Comment From Terry
Why didn’t they expand the Century Center garage? Weren’t they going to add 2 levels of parking on top at one time?

10:21 There was apparently a math error related to earthquake standards amounting to more than $3 million.

10:26 Got bumped off line. I’m back.

10:26 Comment From jet
Hi Steve, My daughter is a rower and says there is some stench along the river and I’m not sure where it is coming from…is there a dog food factory or something down there? I know it’s not the Stockyards to the west, that’s another story I’ve experienced on the bike path . . . beware the south wind near Stockyard City.

10:26 Let me ask around…

10:26 Comment From Terry
Do you know the history behind Grand Avenue? I never realized it made a loop around OKC until I was looking for a business on SW 36th Street and found out 36th doubled as SW Grand Boulevard. Afterward I looked on Google Maps and saw that it’s in every quadrant of the city even though it gets interrupted by freeways, etc. at times. Do you know when it was built and why it was built as a loop road?

10:27 Yes, I do know the history and Blair Humphreys wrote a great paper on it a few years back. But yeah, the original plan was for it to loop the city and allow for the possibility of big car races.

10:27 And actually, the road you refer to was Grand Boulevard. There was a separate Grand Avenue that ran east and west through downtown. It was renamed in the 1960s and is now Sheridan Avenue.

10:28 Comment From Guest
Is the Mayors Round Table held once a year? Is it open to the public or is it invite only?

10:28 The Mayors Development Roundtable is held every year and is open to the public (though one must buy a ticket to attend).

10:28 Comment From Terry
Heard anything on when they plan to build the Pavilion with the surf pool in the Boathouse District? P.S. Also curious about timing of the Grandstand and the wind barriers.

10:29 I wish I saw this question 10 minutes ago. I ran into someone here at Nebu who likely could have provided us with an answer. I’ll get back to you.

10:29 Comment From Terry
You’ve mentioned before that since the City installed diagonal parking in Automobile Alley, that Bricktown might be next. Any idea if the City is seriously considering this? Not only would it add much needed parking, it would vastly improve the feel of Bricktown by slowing down traffic and making it much more pedestrian friendly.

10:30 It’s suggested in the Bricktown master plan and if Bricktown leaders push for it, I see no reason why it can’t happen.

10:30 Comment From shawnw
I’m about as convinced that ODOT is truly willing to consider the grid option for the boulevard as I was that they were truly willing to be a multi-modal TRANSPORTATION department by keeping the state-owned rail line. Am I being too cynical? Is there hope?

10:30 I have no argument with you.

10:30 Comment From Terry
What qualifies as the biggest eyesore in downtown?

10:32 Define “eyesore.” Is it the historic Pioneer Telephone Building, that has a huge cluster of broken microwave relay towers and equipment on the roof? Is it the boarded up Sunshine Laundry building at Classen and Main? Is it the exposed OGE substation at NW 10 and I-235? Let’s look at photos, shall we?

10:35

10:35 The Pionner Telephone Building before “improvements” by AT&T

10:37
The Pioneer Telephone Building with AT&T’s “improvements.” I’ve been told by numerous sources it would cost about $150,000 to remove the obsolete roof top clutter and improve the skyline.

10:37 Comment From Lyndon
Where does mayor Mick stand on the old I-40 roadbed issue?

10:37 I don’t know.

10:37 Comment From Terry
What’s your favorite building in OKC?

10:38 I love the Skirvin for how it came back. I love Devon Energy Center for what it added. And I love First National for its potential and past.

10:38 Comment From Terry
When you have out-of-town visitors where do you take them to show them the best OKC has to offer?

10:40 I take them to the River Sport park area along the Oklahoma River, I take them to Bricktown, the Myriad Gardens and to the Plaza District. I recommend they go the National Memorial, but I don’t go there myself because it brings back too many painful memories of April 19, 1995.

10:40 Comment From Terry
Seems like downtown is just shy of the required population threshold for attracting national brand retailers. Hoteliers, however, are seeing something the retailers don’t and are building all over downtown. I know they are separate markets, but when do you think we will see these national brands expand into our downtown retail market?

10:41 They’re noticing. But these deals take time. Discussions taking place now, I believe, will begin to pay off in the next couple of years.

10:41 Comment From Guest
Steve, do you fear we will have more Parking Garage Skyscrapers then real Skyscrapers?

10:41 No.

10:41 Comment From Chris
Are the city engineers on board with the ODOT engineer’s plans or will they support a boulevard and not another freeway?

10:42 I’ve not sensed they’re taking a strong stance this time around. But I could be wrong…

10:42 Comment From Terry
Do you think the new planning director, Aubrey Hammontree, would be willing to come on as a guest on this chat?

10:42 Maybe. I’ll ask!

10:42 Comment From DWR
Morning Steve: I try and axcess your old Friday blogs. I used to click on the downtown link but it disappeared. I click on your blog but i can’t find any of your old stories. What am i doing wrong?

10:43 You’re not doing anything wrong. The blog format changed when the blogs were taken in as NewsOK pages. We lost of a lot of great features when that happened, and quite frankly, I fear the OKC Central blog will never again be what it once was due to this formatting change. You can find all of my work at www.newsok.com/stevelackmeyer

10:44 Comment From Terry
I’d love to see the Oklahoma River intensely developed on both sides (at least between the Lincoln and Exchange bridges). European-style river development with wide walkways directly adjacent to the river with mixed uses along these walkways would be awesome. I know Blair Humphreys is proposing a mixed use development at the old airpark, but do you know if any other property owners are proposing similar developments? Waterfront property is waterfront property after all.

10:44 You have a great dream. There are some obstacles to this – sites like Pull-A-Part scrap yard and elsewhere. But there are great opportunities to get close to what you desire as well.

10:45 Comment From Guest
I hear the Mayor is a big fan of Jeff Speck. How many of Jeff Speck’s walkability recommendations were used to evaluate the Boulevard options? Was walkability even included at all?

10:46 Comment From Terry
Do you see any signs that the draconian liquor laws will ever get changed? It’s definitely hurting business by keeping great retailers out of OKC. I’m sure CVS would still be interested in that corner spot at the Century Center if they could sell wine and liquor.

10:46 Yes and no…. I’m at a disadvantage when it comes to answering this, but for those of you who follow Jeff Speck, I ask, do you really think he likes these ODOT plans?

10:46 Terry, slowly but surely…

10:46 Comment From Gary T
Greetings from Florida! Technology is amazing, isn’t it? If you were to design the boulevard, what would it look like as opposed to what ODOT has shown us?

10:46 I think it’s up to others to answer that.

10:46 Comment From Guest
How much did walkability make up of the environmental part of ODOT’s evaluation? And how much did enivronmental make up of ODOT’s scoring matrix?

10:47 Environmental due to cars stopping at lights was a component of the scoring. I don’t remember pedestrian access being a consideration at all.

10:47 Comment From Gary T
Why does ODOT refuse to listen to planners and the council?

10:47 They say they are listening.

10:47 Comment From Guest
Was availability and potential for development of land parcels even considered by ODOT?

10:48 Not from what I saw on the scoring.

10:48 Comment From Gary T
Do you think the renovation of the Chevy Events center will help bring in acts that would typically go to the Brady in Tulsa, The Winstar, Hard Rock in Tulsa or other mid size venues?

10:48 Yes.

10:48 Comment From Guest
Why does Option D score so badly for visual yet all the other options, which all involve elevated highway, embankments and bridges, score really well for visual?

10:48 Ask the students who scored their own tests…

10:48 Comment From Gary T
Do you think we will ever see a redesign of Classen to make more pedestrian friendly?

10:49 It’s possible. I’ve not heard discussion of such an idea before…

10:49 Comment From Bob
I did not get to go to the boulevard open house the other night. I have been out on the ODOT site and looked at the four proposals. Still very confused althought the matrix seems to indicate they are leaning toward proposal C. It has some good parts but how did we get back to a 6 lane road?

10:50 It’s “baseline” Bob! Doesn’t that answer your question?

10:50 Comment From Nick
Hi Steve! Wanted to thank you for exposing this ODOT “boulevard” nonsense. What they’re trying to do is ridiculous. Why can’t they listen to the citizenry of OKC? We don’t want another highway.

10:50 Comment From Gary T
Where does the city stand on Guyutes and Daebak K approvals? Did the HH/MP protests have any affect?

10:50 This is a story I need to catch up with….

10:50 Comment From Guest
Will there be any opportunity to publicly question ODOT engineers about how they (not FWHA, I assume) chose their scoring criteria? And how they then scored issues? Will ODOT be presenting their findings to City Council before FHWA makes a final decision? I imagine ODOT and City Council would be terrified of that level of public scrutiny.

10:52 No. You had the opportunity to privately, one on one, question ODOT engineers, at Wednesday’s Open House. If you missed it, according to their current plan, that’s it. You get to submit comments for the next month and then in 60 days they’ll pick the design.
At least that’s their plan. But their previous plan didn’t envision this even happening. Protests by residents and locals do matter.

10:52 Comment From Guest
How important was traffic access to the Core to Shore Plan? ODOT seems to think Options A, B and C “fit” better with the Core to Shore Plan. And, surprise, D was worst. I thought it was about creating a livable, walkable, attractive neigborhood.

10:52 It appears as if very little consideration is being given to the west half of Core to Shore.

10:52 Comment From 3:10 to Yuma
The City Planners or lack of thereof, is costing taxpayers a lot of money. Downtown here it seems that no sooner does the city complete a project, be it the Myriad Gardens, and or especially Robinson Avenue, then they are back re-digging what they did and doing it over again. Who comes up with the shoddy initial plans do you know?

10:52 I don’t know.

10:53 Comment From Jeff
Where would Mick and Fallin side on the boulevard debate?

10:53 You’ll have to ask them.

10:53 Comment From Guest
Did you happen to see who cheered when the Boulevard was criticized at the Mayors Roundtable? Who was the most interesting/unexpected person who cheered? Or that you have otherwise met? In fact, have you met anyone who is ardently for ODOT’s plans?

10:54 Ask me who DIDN’T cheer. This is like asking me who doesn’t cheer at Thunder game when Durant makes a slam dunk. I’ve not met anyone who is not an engineer who likes ODOT’s freeway boulevard plans.

10:54 Comment From JayNorvellsCigar
There has to be a great amount of arrogance for ODOT to ask opinions, be told their design is not what we want( including city leaders) and still try to push that stuff, right? It’s almost sickening. They are basically saying you don’t know what you want and we( ODOT) know exactly what this boulevard needs, not you. Am I right?

10:54 Comment From Terry
It sure looks like ODOT’s promise to work with the City on the design of the boulevard was an empty promise. Why the heck did they design the new I-40 with what they felt was inadequate access to downtown in the first place?

10:55 Comment From Terry
If you ask me ODOT has stirred up the hornet’s nest. The way they’ve handled this whole boulevard design and public input process is going to backfire on them. OKC will get the grand boulevard we deserve even if we have to drag ODOT kicking and screaming into the 21st Century to get it.

10:55 Comment From Guest
As a former ODOTer…I’ve always thought it’d be a great idea for an enterprising journo to comprehensively delve into ODOT’s practical research process for collecting traffic count data. Maybe even ask for a “ride along” when traffic engineers/technicians sit out near a road and count cars (one of the ways they collect data). How do they know the projected Boulevard traffic levels? Gimme a break…I-40 west is NOT the heavy traffic movement corridor out of downtown in any practical sense. During OKC’s “rush hour” er…”rush 15 mins”…that stretch of road is the least congested of any interstate leaving downtown. The congestion on I-40 going west is always between the I-35s.

10:55 Comment From BrettDOkc
I can’t find any follow-up to this story by Bill Crum, http://newsok.com/legislato… I know that you were concerned about this proposal, too, as it would harm OkC’s ability to deal with abandoned property, etc. Did it get fixed or did it take away some powers of OKC?

10:56 I believe state lawmakers have stripped that power away…

10:56 Comment From John
Steve if the boulevard gets built against your advice and it works well, just like other 6 lane roads in dense urban areas, will you do a story on how much you were wrong? The only part of option C I find questionable is the 6 lanes adjacent to the park, which will help coordinate the rail stops at this location… Its amazing how you can make the roadway slow and pedestrian friendly with enough room, great landscape, and traffic control.

10:57 I’m not providing any advice. I’m asking questions. I’m pointing out issues that I don’t hear being discussed. I’m noting that the city leadership has said they don’t want it to be six lanes.

10:57 Comment From Terry
ODOT actually thinks good design warrants a dead-end cul-de-sac for Western Avenue? Are they serious? Western Ave. is one of the main streets in OKC and it runs continuous from Robinson Street in Norman to HWY 33 in Guthrie. These people need to get out once in a while and smell the roses!

10:57 Comment From jet
Steve, I just want to say that I really enjoy these chats. I appreciate you and your knowledge/insights. I also value the people it attracts . . . there are many informed questions and responses from the participants which help me learn more about OKC. I just wanted to say thanks.

10:57 Guys, as I advised before this began, I have to cut out early today. Have a great weekend!

10:58 Comment From Guest
Terry a PA is a “physician’s assistant.” I believe that the OCU PA program will be only the 2nd PA program in the state.

10:59 Thank you.

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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