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Oklahoma City's Civic Center park makeover challenged

A Project 180 makeover of the Civic Center park is being delayed because of design concerns.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: January 22, 2012
/articleid/3642367/1/pictures/1616988">Photo - The Civic Center park, between the Civic Center Music Hall and City Hall, is surrounded by streets torn up as part of Project 180. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman
The Civic Center park, between the Civic Center Music Hall and City Hall, is surrounded by streets torn up as part of Project 180. Photo by Paul B. Southerland, The Oklahoman

Montgomery responded the committee no longer gives conceptual review and approval, following a successful extended challenge to an earlier design approval request for a Project 180 makeover along the 500 block of N Walker.

That challenge, waged by area property owner Rick Dowell, resulted in the work being scrapped altogether.

Blair Humphreys, an urban planning consultant and executive director of the OU Institute for Quality Communities, told the committee that while the Project 180 makeover of the Myriad Gardens has won widespread praise, the revamp of the Civic Center park is “less walkable, less flexible, less respectful to our city's history, less safe and far less appropriate for such an important civic site.”

He warned the Civic Center park is designed to fail.

“I expressed similar concerns to the project manager about the direction of this park at an informational meeting about Project 180 over two years ago when I was told that this park would be focused on passive observation,” Humphreys said.

“I am not aware of a single successful public park created for passive observation. Citygarden in St. Louis, the best new sculpture garden in the world, is the opposite, encouraging interaction with the art and among the adults and children that flock to it.”

Humphreys asked why no public meetings were held on the park design. A committee was convened, Story noted, that consisted of neighboring property owners and city staff. Those meetings, reported in The Oklahoman, resulted in approval for the basic park design but did not include the arch, spinning towers or signs.

With the two city departments at odds, the Downtown Design Review Committee voted to delay consideration of the project for another month. Story said that delay could jeopardize efforts to have the park makeover completed for a potential Sept. 25 celebration of the Civic Center's 75th anniversary.

“The problem with this is it's the (question of which came first, the) chicken or the egg,” she said.

“We paid a consultant to design this hoping it would be approved, but now we might need to go back to the drawing board if they want it to be redesigned. I don't know what they want. They may want just minor changes that we can make and move forward.”

A major redesign, she warned, could result in construction bids expiring and park completion being delayed. That could complicate the city's efforts to complete reconstruction of adjoining streets.

“It's not just the park that's at stake here — it's Project 180,” she said. “There are significant construction issues related to this.”

Neither Story nor Montgomery could predict what happens next. Eric Wenger, who was not at the meeting, said later he's hopeful the questions and confusion can be successfully addressed.

“We clearly need to address some questions out there,” Wenger said. “If we can do that in February, I think there is a very good opportunity of getting it done on time.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author 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...
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