The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer and City Manager Jim Couch took questions from readers in today's OKC Central Live Chat. You can join Steve's Q&As on Fridays at 10 a.m. and submit your questions about the happenings in and around downtown Oklahoma City. Read the complete chat transcript here.
What do you think Bricktown needs the most right now to keep it growing and improving?
JIM: There are a lot of things going on in Bricktown. I think the Gary Brooks development, the Steelyard, will bring some definition to the east end of Bricktown which I think is very important. The hotels will bring seven day a week activity in Bricktown. The restauranteurs tell me the biggest problem they have is the feast and famine they see every year. The housing and hotels will definitely help on that.
STEVE: Jim is dead-on with this answer. And I am seeing a lot of organizational changes taking place with the increased involvement by Downtown OKC Inc.
What, if anything, have you seen with the issues of the original MAPS that helped with the explanation and the passing of MAPS3?
JIM: One of the things is the setting of expectations. With the original MAPS the time schedule was oversold. We set the expectations on the length of time it will take with these projects further. We've put reasonable schedules into the implementation and as of this date we are close to following the implementation plan.
How many policemen has the city of OKC hired in the last decade? Who decides how many are needed?
JIM: Over the last decade the number has been pretty steady except the council added 40 positions last fiscal year and added another 40 this fiscal year. The police chief has recommended adding officers, and his presentation was made about six weeks ago.
Obviously we need to recognize the recession from 2008 to 2010 had an impact on what we were able to add.
What have you perceived to be the biggest hurdle in getting the Boulevard completed to where all sides are happy?
JIM: I think the public process we had in the summer/fall of 2012 was an excellent public process. The proposed designs is better than what we started. That process thought delayed start of construction of the boulevard from eighteen months to two years.
Give your take on the status of downtown development. What you are the most excited about?
JIM: Gosh. There are so many things I am excited about downtown. Who would have thought we would be pushing 3,000 hotel rooms downtown? Who would have figured we would have the thousands of housing units added and the ones still coming online downtown. This week I am most excited about the rebirth of three long challenged buildings downtown - Century Center, the Journal Record Building, and the Fred Jones Assembly Plant. They all have viable redevelopment projects underway.
Who is managing the new City Plan for the city? When is that coming out? Are developers dictating what they want instead of the people? Is that why it is taking so long?
JIM: Plan OKC is being managed by the Planning Department, led by Aubrey Hammontree. We are developing issue statements at this point in time and anticipate a joint planning commission city council workshop regarding this issue in late spring or summer and there are many stakeholders in this process. Developers are only one of those. If you attended any of the Plan OKC meetings to date, hopefully you feel good about the public participation.
What is your response to the criticism that planners in Oklahoma City have not had a loud enough voice or even a seat at the table?
JIM: I truly respect our planning department and planners we have working for us. I think they've done a great job. I value their input. In all public processes we sometimes go with compromise. And sometimes not all recommendations are implemented. An example of that is with urban chickens. Just because recommendations are not adopted does not mean their input is not valuable.
What will you be looking for in the new Planning Director?
JIM: I think someone who has a lot of the traits the last two planning directors had, though they both had different styles, they both pushed the envelopes to make Oklahoma City a better place. They had different styles. John Dugan was quieter in his approach, while Russell Claus was more vocal. Both achieved change.
STEVE: Jim hired both men as planning directors.
When will there be more choices for upscale housing downtown?
STEVE: Upscale? We're probably looking at The Hill continuing to be the main supply for that. Other housing at lower price points is in the works for downtown.
When you look at other cities, which ones do you admire and compare to the potential of OKC, and can you name any particular developments in them that inspire you?
STEVE: Kansas City is doing a lot of things right these days. Wichita has some great retail in Old Town that has eluded Bricktown. I greatly admire Guthire Greens in Tulsa. I am less and less impressed and enthused by what I see in Dallas, especially Victory, which is an unmitigated 21st century urban extravaganza nightmare.