But what does that mean?
I’ve been giving this a lot of thought the past few days. The challenges and opportunities ahead will prove to be a historic time for downtown and the city as a whole.
Let’s begin by looking back once more. Can anyone argue that the past decade is a once in a century transformation for downtown? Looking back, you would have to go back to 1910 to find a time when downtown went through such a growth spurt. It was a time that defined OKC as a major player in the west half of the United States. It’s a bit of irony that OKC lost that momentum just as First National and Ramsey (now City Place) towers were rising up into the sky. After all, the great skyscraper race simply couldn’t compete the powerful (and woefully inaccurate) portrayal of Oklahomans in “The Grapes of Wrath.”
Since the 1930s it seems that OKC has been stuck in a position of trying to get people to like it once again. We pitched one incentive after another, one plan after another, trying to lure in industry and the sort of attention city leaders hoped would get OKC noticed again.
In 1993, the gameplan changed – and with the passage of the Metropolitan Area Projects OKC decided to spend some time, money and attention on itself. For once we decided to make ourselves happy – and improve our own city – instead of chasing after the latest economic hot shot halfway across the country.
The self investment worked, and got us to where we are today – a Major League City.
It’s easy to find areas where the city is still lacking – public transit, poverty, crime – but clearly things are moving forward.
We’ve retained our humility and friendliness, and that’s good. But maybe it’s time to do some showing off as well. I’m not suggesting a “fake it ’till you make it” approach as what can be found in cities like Dallas (yes, they really are faking it in so many ways). But let’s get a little cocky. Here are some suggestions made over the years that have yet to really get off the ground:
1. Get a great big flashy sign in front of Ford Center that can let everybody who passes know of the caliber events going on inside – including the upcoming NBA season.
2. The All Sports Association did a great job of transforming the dull blank south walls of the Cox Convention Center into a giant tournament rankings scorecards during the 2007 Big 12 Basketball Tournament. Let’s put those walls to use more often …
3. Trigen Energy has been quietly providing cooling and heating to downtown properties from its plant at Sheridan and E.K. Gaylord for some 30 years. During a master planning study several years ago, a consultant suggested placing a flashy LED sign on windowless plant that would promote various OKC events.
4. Other consultants have suggested using light pole banners to promote downtown all year long. What are we waiting for?
5. Snazz up the Oklahoma Spirit Trolleys. In San Antonio, similar trolleys have signs outside the entry doors promoting attractions on the routes. This has the advantage of not just making the trolleys easier to use for visitors, but also promote what downtown has to offer these visitors (and let’s not forget addressing complaints of unreliable service I detailed in this week’s Main Street column).
6. Visitors often comment how clean and modern downtown is. They like Bricktown, but then they wonder why so many buildings still have boarded up or broken windows and why so much space is still empty. If we’re a major league city, surely these relatively inexpensive flaws can be fixed pronto – as one might expect from a major league city.
7. I’ve often wondered why so many downtowns are free of 19th century technology – yes, overhead electric lines – and yet they muck up much of the streetscape in Bricktown.
8. Let’s brag more about our history. We’re building a great attraction with the Land Run Monument along the Bricktown Canal, yet we have nothing to my knowledge that explains to visitors what they are seeing or the unique founding of the city.
9. We have great historic characters – people like W.B. Skirvin, Charles Colcord, Perle Mesta, Jimmy Rushing, Charlie Christian, Roscoe Dunjee and so on … Yet these figures really aren’t celebrated. Some small town main streets in this state pull off great festivals where performers recreate historic figures and tell stories from the places where these folks’ ghosts are almost certainly still kicking back. The DeadCenter Film Festival proved we have a great creative class in town – let’s give them another shot at showing off by re-introducing us to W.B. Skirvin sitting back in his old chair in the lobby of the Skirvin, or Charles Colcord discussing the finer points of law enforcement at the Colcord Hotel, or Jimmy Rushing showing off his musical shops in Deep Deuce.
10. Yes, the NBA is coming. But I’ll argue being a major league city is a frame of mind, not something simply bestowed by a group of team owners. Think small town, and the major league status will remain elusive. Think like a major league city, and no one can take that away from you.