MAPS, skycrapers, and Myriad Gardens – excitement in Oklahoma City

These are pretty amazing times for Oklahoma City. The MAPS Projects have all been a great success and set a tone of action and progress for our friendly community. The ballparks, library, canal, museums, Bricktown and the river are transforming our community and have led to many additional private projects and investments. The Oklahoma river is in the earliest stages of development and over time may have the biggest impact of all these projects. Our city is progressing on the MAPS for Kids to build new school campuses and to remodel most of the other school campuses and are even landscaping some of these school buildings so they don’t look like prisons. After OKC’S  amazing response in hosting the homeless New Orleans Hornets, we have now landed our own NBA Basketball Team and the momentum keeps building. We were excited that Sandridge Energy acquired the vacant Kerr McGee building and will develop it as their new home and take over care of the lovely Kerr Park in downtown Oklahoma City, a rare example of good landscaping in our downtown area.

This last week Devon Energy announced plans to build the first skyscraper in Oklahoma City in decades. This project will be almost twice as tall as the tallest building in Oklahoma City but will be softened with a beautiful landscaped atrium and over 2 acres of outside park with gardens that will be open to the public and we hope will be done to a scale and quality to set an example for our city. We have a lot of room for improvement in urban landscaping and beautification when compared to peer cities like Columbus, Ohio and Chicago since we have limited trees, few flowerbeds, large street container gardens or hanging gardens to add excitement, color and air cleaning charm to our downtown concrete jungle. The amazing Devon project is estimated to cost 750 million dollars by the time it opens in 2012. That compares to the 350 million invested with the penny sales tax in the MAPS Projects for the Ballpark, Arena, Bricktown Canal and Library. We now are investing 512 million in the MAPS for Kids penny sales tax to rebuild all of the city schools. The new privately funded Devon Tower will cost almost as much as all those MAPS and MAPS for kids projects put together. The parking garage across from the street north from the Myriad Gardens will be transformed into the new Devon Tower. The Devon Tower will be built in a Tax Increment Financing District where the extra property taxes from the development for 17 years will be diverted to further infrastructure improvements within the boundaries of the new TIF district.

Larry & Polly Nichols and the good folks at Devon could use this economic development tool to make further capital improvements on the Devon property but because of their love for Oklahoma City and the desire to be good neighbors they want to see most of it used to transform the Myriad Gardens, Centennial Park and other public spaces in their new downtown neighborhood. They have hired two sets of nationally known landscape architects to help with developing master plans, to tour other urban parks and gardens and to help host a community input seminar this last week to discuss ideas and determine the best ways to use these funds to take our already gorgeous 17 acre downtown Myriad Gardens and transform it to become an even more active and integral part of our community’s activities. There was a strong concensus among those at the input meeting to retain the Botanical Garden focus but there was an agreement that the outdoor gardens could benefit from lowering the soil berms in areas to open up the gardens and the conservatory for more street level views, by adding one or two restaurants, more event plazas and spaces, food kiosks for events and lots more seating areas. There was interest in game tables for checkers and chess, wifi access throughout the park, possibly adding an outdoor ice skating rink, an area for movies in the park, more fountains and water features.

There was a lot of debate about what features should be in a remodeled Myriad Gardens and what should be in the giant “Central Park” type area proposed to be built with MAPS III that would be 3 blocks wide and stretch from just south of the Myriad Gardens for a full mile south to the Oklahoma River to transform the big new city area that will evolve when the new I-40 opens in 2012 as it moves south near the river. Most of the group thought big space projects like basketball, soccer, skateboards and bandshells belong in the future park and the Myriad Gardens should be the star attraction south of Devon Tower and at the north end of the planned Core to Shore Park. These are exciting times that will shape our city for the next century and beyond.  Send me your ideas and I will forward them on to those working on the master plan for the new and even better Myriad Gardens.

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