Downtown will not be home to a Larry Nichols Park — at least not near the Civic Center Music Hall.
Carol Troy, chairwoman of the Civic Center Foundation, reported Tuesday to the Oklahoma City Council that Nichols, executive chairman of Devon Energy Corp., asked that the foundation withdraw an application to rename the Civic Center park as a redesign of the park was hit with criticism.
“It was at Mr. Nichols' request that we take his name off,” Troy said. “We felt that Mr. Nichols has made an enormous contribution to our city and we wanted to do something we felt would honor his name. It was not anything he suggested or any of his employees suggested. It came strictly from us. The intention originally was that this would be a surprise and wiser heads prevailed. I would hasten to add Mr. Nichols was a reluctant participant in this.”
Council members Ed Shadid and Pete White noted the name change emerged as the plan to remove decades-old trees and historical monuments was initially met with widespread criticism. Four council members spoke against the plans by architect Rand Elliott and Tulsa-based landscape architecture firm PDG Inc., with no council members voicing support at the first presentation on Feb. 14.
The proposal by the foundation to rename the park emerged that week. On Feb. 28, the park was approved by a vote of 7-2.
Those voting “yes” included councilman Gary Marrs, who was the first to blast city staff for how development of the park
Shadid suggested the name change was behind the sudden shift in support for the park design. “It suppressed debate,” he said. “There were community leaders who heard it was going to be called Larry Nichols Park and then decided not to come.”
“You had one sentiment on the council, around the horseshoe, and then we found out it was going to be called Larry Nichols Park, and it was completely different,” Shadid continued. “So to put it out there that it was going to be called Larry Nichols Park, and then it (the park redesign) passes, and then to pull that back, I'm not understanding that.”
Nichols was traveling Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
The park makeover started last month, and is funded through Project 180, the $141 million tax increment finance district created through the construction of the new $750 million Devon Energy Center. While most companies and developers seek tax increment funding to assist with their own infrastructure and parking, Project 180 was created after Nichols asked the city to use the tax increment funds to improve downtown streets, sidewalks and parks.
At the end of Tuesday's council meeting, Shadid singled out the foundation with more criticism. He called its efforts to get approval for the park makeover heavy-handed.
“They did this without his (Nichols') permission,” Shadid said. “You don't throw his name out there lightly. He's a great leader for Oklahoma City.”
In an interview later Tuesday with The Oklahoman, Troy said she did not believe the park naming had anything to do with the collapse in opposition to the makeover. She clarified her group did consult with Devon Energy executives a few weeks before filing the application to rename the park.