Plans for a garage that would add up to 2,200 parking spots for the Central Business District and Bricktown are in jeopardy after getting a dim reception from Mayor Mick Cornett and the Oklahoma City Council.
The Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority issued a request for architectural firm proposals earlier this year to design a 1,000-space garage on surface lots the city owns north of Main Street and east of the BNSF Railway viaduct in Bricktown.
But that effort was put on hold when Don Karchmer, who has a 25-year lease for lots, asked for the chance to develop his own plan to build up to 2,200 parking spaces with room for apartments and offices, and an extension of The Underground pedestrian tunnels into the entertainment district.
Council members claimed not to be aware of the garage plan until they read about it in The Oklahoman.
Some, including Ed Shadid, questioned why Karchmer's plans were not vetted with rail transit consultants hired by the city.
City Manager Jim Couch advised the council the garage is “a concept the developer is floating.” Councilwoman Meg Salyer, meanwhile, criticized the newspaper report as “jumping the gun.”
Cornett, meanwhile, warned the garage development is “a non-starter” if it cuts off access for rail expansion to the Santa Fe depot.
“I need to see what the options are,” Cornett said. “It can't go as designed there unless we have some right of way.”
Recently elected Councilman John Pettis was equally concerned, noting he visited with long time civic booster Lee Allen Smith about how to revive efforts to extend the Centennial railway, which travels from the Oklahoma Railway Museum at NE 36 and Grand to NE 4, onto Union Pacific tracks that extend into Bricktown surface lots operated by Karchmer.
Pettis said he hopes the line will eventually turn into an important public transit route for his residents.
Marion Hutchison, chairman of the nonprofit rail advocacy group OnTrac and a member of the Regional Transit Dialogue Steering Committee, said the garage could impede rail expansion efforts. The garage project, as proposed, would hamper efforts to use the Santa Fe train depot as a hub for any future commuter rail to Midwest City and Tinker Air Force Base, a line to the Adventure District in northeast Oklahoma City, and any potential high speed transit that might be attempted in the region, Hutchison said.
Oklahoma City has $128.8 million in MAPS 3 funding for a streetcar system and transit hub set to be located at the Santa Fe depot at E.K. Gaylord and Sheridan Avenue — a property still privately owned.
Planning for the MAPS 3 streetcar system is overseen by the city, while planning for possible (but so far unfunded) commuter rail to Midwest City, Edmond and Norman is being overseen by the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments (ACOG).
Karchmer said he was surprised by the response.
“The only possible affect would be on high-speed rail, as currently planned,” Karchmer said. “I believe there is an alternative for where they are trying to go. There is a cheaper and easier way to go. I'm in favor of rail as much as anybody else is; the light (commuter) rail I'm very much in favor of, and this won't affect it a bit.”