NORMAN — A $171-million-plus list of “quality of life” improvements is being promoted by Norman Forward, an ambitious initiative petition drive calling for a spring election to pass a 15-year, half-cent sales tax to fund the package of amenities.
Here’s the wish list:
A sports and wellness center that includes an all-sports stadium, a multipurpose arena, 20 tournament-ready baseball and softball fields, multiple practice fields, basketball/volleyball courts, an aquatics center and a senior citizens center.
Indoor soccer arena and 20 new soccer fields.
New central and east-side libraries.
Citywide parks improvements.
Development of two large, community parks: Ruby Grant Park on the west side and John Saxon Park on the east side.
Proponent Mike Fowler said the petition is the result of years of study by businessmen and various stakeholders to determine what Norman needs to move forward as a city.
“It’s got something in it for everybody,” Fowler said.
It’s also a one-vote proposition: It’s the whole package or nothing.
Fowler admits it’s putting all the eggs in one basket, but he and other organizers believe it’s the best way to accomplish what a variety of people would like to see happen.
Not everyone agrees that the package has something for everyone.
“There’s nothing in it for the homeless. There’s nothing there for the low-income, struggling families,” said Lisa Schmidt, with Variety Care, a health care organization for low-income and uninsured residents.
“When they say ‘quality of life,’ whose quality of life are they talking about? It’s not the homeless or low-income, struggling families. It’s a wish list, but it’s not their wish list. We have people sleeping in cars because they have no homes and children going to bed hungry, and their wish list does not include more soccer fields.”
Schmidt said she wants a new central library “as much as anyone,” and she’s long been a supporter of getting a state-of-the-art aquatics center.
“My concern is that there are struggling families who need help now, not six or more years down the road after this has been accomplished. I’d like to see something in this package that improves their quality of life now,” she said.
Fowler says the enhancements to Norman’s sports community would benefit all children, as well as provide a considerable boost to the city’s economy.
The sports venues, which would be contracted out and operated by private companies, would earn enough to maintain the quality of the facilities and allow for discounted prices for local residents.
The city’s economy would benefit from hundreds of visitors to Norman who come for tournaments and other athletic events and spend money on hotels, restaurants and shopping while they are here, he said.
“Norman families involved in sports travel to other cities for tournament play and spend their dollars there. This would allow them to host tournaments here, instead, making it more affordable for them, as well as bringing in outside revenue from visitors,” he said.
Everything on the “wish list” is something that has long been needed in Norman, from new central and east-side libraries to an all-sports arena, indoor soccer arena and senior citizens center, he said.
Supporters of the Pisces Project, a citizen-driven movement to get a state-of-the-art aquatics center in Norman, has lobbied for 10 years to get facilities that meet competitive swimmers’ needs, Fowler said.
“What happens is that basic needs get taken care of first, and rightfully so, but in the process, things like the aquatics center keep getting pushed to the bottom of the list,” Fowler said.
Don Rother, director of coaching for the Norman Youth Soccer Association, said Norman can’t host anything but the smallest tournaments now because of limited field space and parking restrictions.
An indoor soccer arena also would allow for year-round training and play, Rother said, providing more opportunities for children and adults to get involved in the sport.
Organizers of the petition drive believe the time has come too push for something more than basic services.
“We believe the time is ripe, that people are ready to pay for these things that will greatly enhance Norman’s quality of life,” Fowler said.
Reaves Park swap proposed
No definite locations have been determined for the proposed sports enhancements, although Norman Forward members are making suggestions.
Fowler said “the preferred site” for the sports and wellness center would be on 160 acres of land on North Base, currently owned by the University of Oklahoma.
OU officials have indicated they would be willing to swap that land for Reaves Park at Jenkins Avenue and Constitution Street, he said.
North Base is close to Flood Avenue and Interstate 35, so out-of-town traffic would be drawn there rather than into central Norman, Fowler said.
Fowler admits ceding Reaves Park to OU might not be a popular proposal.
“But the city would not be losing a park but would, instead, be getting a new, improved park,” Fowler said.
Councilman Stephen Tyler Holman said he has reservations about the proposal because Reaves Park is the only community park for south-side Ward 7 residents.
Kid’s Space, a children’s playground built by residents, themselves, is at Reaves Park, as well as the Cleveland County Veterans Memorial. Reaves Park also is the site of the annual Medieval Fair that attracts visitors from across the state.
Fowler said Norman Forward would give “great consideration” to what should be done with the Veterans Memorial, whether it should remain intact at its present location or be moved elsewhere.
“I think the veterans would have the say-so on that,” he said.
Likewise, senior citizens should be the ones to decide where they want a new center, Fowler said.
“We’ve pictured it on North Base near the aquatics center, but, of course, if they don’t want it there, then we would look for an alternate location. Nothing is set in stone. In the end, it’s up to what people want,” he said.
Public input sought
A series of public hearings will be held in the coming months so residents can weigh in on the proposal, Fowler said.
Already, Fowler and other businessmen are giving presentations on the project to civic groups.
Anne Masters, Pioneer Library System executive director, said public hearings to determine what residents want in new downtown and eastside libraries have been set for 2 p.m. Sept. 7 at the municipal building, 201-B W Gray St.; 9:30 a.m. Sept. 8 at the westside library, 300 Norman Center Court; and 6:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at Irving Middle School’s library, 125 Vicksburg Ave.
Masters said the Pioneer Library System has been working with Norman Forward organizers on its proposition.
“We feel really ready for this. I feel like the voters are ready for new libraries downtown and on the east side,” Master said.
Three phases of construction
Construction of projects would be accomplished in three phases over the next six years, Fowler said.
Phase 1 would include the libraries, aquatics center, baseball complex, development of Ruby Grant Community Park, completion of the John Saxon Community Park and enhancement of other parks. Price tag for Phase 1: $99 million.
Phase 2 would be the senior citizens center, the all-sports stadium, the indoor sports arena and improvements to Griffin Park, including new fields and ample parking. Price tag for Phase 2: $46.5 million.
Phase 3 of the project would be construction of the multipurpose arena and completion or enhancement of more city parks. Price tag for Phase 3: $26 million.