The Oklahoma City Council voted 5-4 Tuesday to award a $33.4 million construction contract for the MAPS 3 whitewater park on the Oklahoma River.
The bid is nearly $13.6 million over the city’s estimate and still leaves a $2.9 million shortfall that project managers plan to make up during construction.
Mayor Mick Cornett argued against delaying a vote or redesigning the park to reduce the risk of going over budget — both options would have pushed back a planned completion date of December 2015.
Hopes are to have the center ready in time to bid for the 2016 U.S. Olympic canoe and kayak trials.
“We can wait and we can wait and we can wait, but there’s still going to be some risk on the table,” Cornett said.
The whitewater center will be a training and competition venue for Olympic-caliber athletes in paddle sports, with recreational canoeing and kayaking for others.
USA Canoe/Kayak, the national governing body for paddle sports, relocated to Oklahoma City in 2011 and anticipates making the whitewater center a training hub.
City leaders were taken aback when construction bids came in well above expectations last month.
As the council considered three options with varying price tags and completion dates, Cornett said he thought the best option was to complete the park in a way that preserved amenities for athletes, recreational paddlers and visitors.
“How do we keep this on budget? How do we keep this on time? How do we build a facility that 10 years from now hardly anyone’s going to remember there was a hiccup on the bidding process?” Cornett said.
Including construction, land acquisition, design and other costs, and before project managers find construction savings, the whitewater park’s budget stands at $48.5 million. To build it, planned improvements including a windscreen and grandstands on the Oklahoma River rowing course will be pushed into the future.
Accepting the $33.4 million construction bid preserves a restaurant and shop that are expected to help make the park financially self-sustaining. Designers have said many visitors to the 11-acre park will be spectators, parents and others who never get on the water.
Taking the bid also means architecture will be consistent with existing Oklahoma River boathouses and buildings. The whitewater park will be on the north bank of the river, a short distance downstream from the Boathouse District.
Designers have said they can find some savings by eliminating a pedestrian bridge on the east end of the paddling course, substituting a prefabricated bridge for a custom bridge on the west end, and dropping a fountain at the entrance.
Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee said he preferred to keep the course intact while trimming back the buildings, an option that would have erased the projected shortfall but delayed completion until May 2016.
How they voted
Calling the restaurant “a want and not a need,” McAtee said he saw an advantage in building the “essentials” while reducing risk and staying within budget.
Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan argued for redesigning the park and seeking new bids. He saw dangers in awarding the contract with the intent of “value engineering” in conjunction with the winning bidder, Downey Contracting, to find savings during construction.
“You can move fast and make a lot of mistakes, or you can move more deliberately and make some mistakes but fewer mistakes,” said Ryan, an engineer who retired after a career with Oklahoma Gas and Electric Co.
The whitewater park is to be constructed debt-free with proceeds from the 1-cent MAPS 3 sales tax approved by voters in December 2009.
Cornett and Ward 1 Councilman James Greiner, Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell, Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer and Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis voted in favor of awarding the contract to Downey.
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, McAtee, Ward 4 Councilman Pete White and Ryan voted against the measure.