Bids to build the MAPS 3 whitewater recreation center far exceeded expectations when they were opened Thursday, but officials still are determined to bring the project to life.
When the city council gave the go-ahead last month, City Manager Jim Couch said the expected $23.8 million construction cost was below budget.
But bids from three companies, all local, ranged from $37 million to $45.2 million, creating a gap much greater than the $6 million encountered when Bricktown ballpark bids were opened in 1996.
David Todd, the MAPS 3 program manager, said he would be examining the bids to determine how they could have missed the mark by such a wide margin.
“I’ve got to find out what’s going on,” he said.
Mike Knopp, executive director of the Boathouse Foundation, has described the whitewater center, to be built downstream from the boathouses, as a “world-class aquatic adventure venue.”
Operators will be able to dial up the flow of water to challenge athletes training for Olympic competition and dial it down for children seeking a thrill ride.
“This is not cause for panic or to think the project is in jeopardy,” Knopp said Thursday evening. “This is a signature project for the river, and we will find a way that this will be a complete success.”
Construction had been expected to begin this fall, and be complete in late 2015 or early 2016. The whitewater center is part of $57 million in Oklahoma River improvements approved by voters as part of MAPS 3.
Looking back to past challenges such as the ballpark, Mayor Mick Cornett said past city leaders “chose quality over quantity” when bids on MAPS projects exceeded estimates. On the river, he said, “the whitewater course is the priority. We shouldn’t compromise the quality of it.”
Engineers don’t yet have enough information “to know why the bids are that far off,” Cornett said.
He noted spending on planned windscreens and grandstands had already been pushed back to keep the whitewater course at the forefront.
“Whether it’s a big hiccup or a small hiccup, it’s a hiccup,” Cornett said. “We don’t shortchange the whitewater course, and we see where we are on some of those other amenities.”
USA Canoe/Kayak, the national governing body for paddle sports, opened an office in Oklahoma City in 2009 and relocated from Charlotte, N.C., in 2011, all in anticipation of construction of the whitewater course.
Joe Jacobi, the organization’s chief executive officer, said in 2011 that Oklahoma City’s whitewater course would — for the first time — enable USA Canoe/Kayak to stage all 10 of the sport's disciplines in one venue.
Jacobi said Thursday that the only U.S. courses similar to the one planned for Oklahoma City are in Charlotte and in western Maryland.
USA Canoe/Kayak has been a “stakeholder” as Oklahoma City’s course design was developed, he said.
“Any road to the Olympics or Paralympics goes through Oklahoma City at some point. Everyone will race here,” Jacobi said.
Scott Shipley of S2o Design, the course designer, said his team “put in a lot of time” consulting with two estimators on costs.
“Obviously we’re surprised,” said Shipley, a former Olympian whose Lyons, Colo., firm worked on the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte. S2o created a 1/12 scale model of the Oklahoma City course as part of the design process.
Shipley said cost estimates worked out by designers and the MAPS 3 office had been in line with expectations.
“We’ll get it figured out,” he said.
BY THE NUMBERS
3 companies bid
Thursday to construct the MAPS 3 whitewater course in the Boathouse District. Bids were well above the city’s $23.8 million estimate.