Forget about simply making a new convention center “iconic.”
College students studying to become tomorrow’s architects say Oklahoma City should set its sights high as it begins to consider a new convention center as part of planning for “Core to Shore.”
Brent Gathright, Kim Monroe and Kyung Namgoong, all fifth-year architecture students at the University of Oklahoma, spent their past year designing proposals for what they all agree will be an important anchor of the blighted area between Reno Avenue, Shields Boulevard and the Oklahoma River.
While the timing for a MAPS III has been delayed due to improvements at Ford Center, Mayor Mick Cornett and leaders at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber say a convention center is the next priority for the city.
A final report on “Core to Shore,” meanwhile, suggests the best location for a new convention center should be just south of Ford Center adjoining a new boulevard that will replace the current alignment of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway.
“It’s at the top of the scheme of things with Core to Shore,” agreed Gathright. “It’s a foundation for the whole development because of what it can do for the whole boulevard, which will be finished before you know it.”
The students agree that ideally, the current Cox Convention Center site, north of Ford Center, is best situated for downtown’s existing hotels. But they say it’s a site that is no longer adequate if the city wants to grow its convention business.
“With what Oklahoma City needs, it just won’t fit there,” Gathright said. “There isn’t enough space. And another problem with that site is the space for loading docks. You take up so much of the street frontage with what should be a very pedestrian friendly part of downtown.”
With the site south of Ford Center, the loading docks could be located along Shields Boulevard, preserving the new boulevard as a pedestrian corridor.
Gathright’s plans call for that new corridor to be more than a place for out-of-towners. His designs call for retail all along the first floor of the convention center facing the boulevard. With ample curbside parking on the new boulevard and 1,000 parking spaces in the complex itself, he sees no problem making the convention center a 24/7 attraction with or without visitors.
“We could fill the street up with people even when there isn’t (anything) going on,” Gathright said. “You visit convention centers now and it’s almost a dead zone sometimes because of the lack of retail.