Yes, I enjoyed an evening at the new Devon boathouse along the Oklahoma River last night. Yes, the architecture was stunning. Yes, the event was catered by the always wonderful folks at Good Egg Dining. Yes, the live music was great. Yes, the acrobatic performances were quite entertaining. Yes, there was free wine. Yes, I got a good parking spot. Yes, there were a lot of very attractive women at this Blu Party. Yes, Judge Robert Henry is truly a funny guy. Yes, the fireworks show over the water was really cool. And yes, the weather was perfect.
No, I don’t think I would have gotten to enjoy any of this if I had stuck with majoring in accounting 25 years ago.
Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Today I will be honest; I’m not all that thrilled with the image chosen to go along with my story on the Civic Center Park. But I don’t do page design, so that’s that.
But here’s a rendering that I think does the project more justice:
The Plaza District will be hosting its annual festival this Saturday, and I have every intention of making an appearance and joining in the fun.
My first exposure to the Plaza District (NW 16 between Classen and Penn) dates back to 1994, when I was still the newspaper’s cop beat reporter. A man had been beaten to death inside a run-down swap shop in the building next to the dilapidated, boarded-up Plaza Theater.
The area, quite frankly, was a war zone where I did not feel safe wandering out and about without police nearby. Yes, it was that bad.
Flash forward 16 years. Through a lot of hard work and dedication, the neighborhood is thriving. As mentioned the other day, the Plaza District will be hosting its annual festival on Saturday. This video on the Plaza District’s website shows just how much things have changed:
The changes underway downtown match or exceed the ambition of the original MAPS projects.
Investment wise, it’s no contest. With Project 180, SandRidge Commons, Boathouse Row, MidTown, Devon Tower, Film Row, we’re talking about well over $1 billion (MAPS was $370 million). And it’s all at a much more accelerated rate. And coming in the new few years we’ll see a downtown streetcar system, a new large park and convention center.
Add to that the unknown – the prospect of more high-rise housing? A new corporate anchor for downtown? More arts organizations calling the Arts District home? More hotels? More housing? You get my drift….
It’s not a bad time for Oklahoma City.
Time for The Oklahoma! River
By Ray Ackerman
Sunday, January 26, 2003
Edition: City, Section: EDITORIAL, Page 9-A
Linked Objects: (Click image for details)
I AGREE with Robert Nall (“Your Views,” Jan. 15) who wrote that the budget crisis, jobs, schools and national security are more important issues for the Oklahoma Legislature to deal with than changing the name of our river from North Canadian to The Oklahoma! River.
But the latter should be a slam dunk for those who put our state and its 3.5 million people first over any parochial interests. Move it. Second it. And pass it unanimously.
If it gets to be a harangue, table the subject until a later date. That’s what George Nigh did in the early 1950s when he made a motion to change the state song to “Oklahoma!” One legislator with tears in his eyes and a tremor in his voice spoke in favor of keeping our former song, “Oklahoma, A Toast.” George could see the body assembled sympathizing; he was losing support for “Oklahoma!” So he moved and successfully tabled the subject for another day.
But we should pass the change to be effective in 12 to 15 months when our new seven miles of wide, beautiful, bank-to-bank river flowing majestically through our capital city will be dedicated.
John Steinbeck gave Oklahoma a dry and dusty image. We don’t deserve it and we’ve made a little headway in changing it, but the perception lingers on. Ever since we’ve had an airport, most business travelers and a lot of other visitors have been crossing that dry, dusty scar called the North Canadian. How refreshing and impressive it will be full of water and with a new name!
I’ve been in the advertising business for most of my life and I know the value of name repetition. In magazines, newspapers, literature and on television, I’ve seen and read powerful invitations to vacation in Canada. Why give that country extra mileage with recognition reminders of its colorful advertising when we could be promoting our own state?
Development along our new 14 miles of riverbank will be fast and spectacular, with every kind of recreational and leisure time venues one can imagine. We’ve already had our first rowing races. It would be downright tragic, if not silly, for a television announcer to refer to a national rowing regatta on “the beautiful North Canadian River, just south of downtown Oklahoma City.”
For those with nostalgia for the French Canadian trappers who named our river in the 1700s or those whose pride in Canadian County is bruised, you would still have the Canadian River (the real name of what we call the South Canadian River).
Our river lies entirely within the state except for its headwaters in Union, the extreme northeast county of New Mexico. It is called the Beaver River in the Oklahoma Panhandle counties of Cimarron, Texas, Beaver and Harper, and the North Canadian the rest of its 747 miles before it terminates in Lake Eufaula.
The change would be inexpensive. Grandfather all existing maps and materials. Each county could pay the few thousand dollars for new signs where its roads cross the river.
Charles J. Mankin, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey at the University of Oklahoma, thinks the change could be easily made. He said, “Since it lies almost entirely within the state of Oklahoma, any action by the Oklahoma Legislature probably would be binding on the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, assuming the issue did not present serious problems in New Mexico.”
Call your state representative (521-2711) and your senator (524-0126) and tell him you want the river named The Oklahoma!
(DON’T BOTHER CALLING NOW. RAY GOT THE JOB DONE IN 2004)
Change Sought for North Canadian River
By John Greiner
Sunday, December 12, 1993
Edition: CITY, Section: NEWS, Page 22
Get out your maps, Oklahomans, and be prepared to pencil in a new name for the North Canadian River.
Four Oklahoma City area legislators, with the backing of city officials, want to change the river’s name to the Oklahoma River.
Sen. Keith Leftwich filed a resolution to give the river a new name.
He said he filed the resolution in connection with Oklahoma City’s vote next week on a variety of projects including redevelopment of the North Canadian River.
“Changing the name at the same time we redevelop the river in Central Oklahoma would send a message to the country,” Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, said.
The river, probably named by French explorers in the 18th century, begins in a New Mexico county adjacent to Oklahoma’s Cimarron County.
It is called the Beaver River where it flows through Cimarron, Texas and Beaver counties.
As it moves into Harper County its name becomes the North Canadian. The river continues through Oklahoma City and finally joins the South Canadian River in Lake Eufaula in eastern Oklahoma.
Riverfront development in Oklahoma City is one of many proposed projects in the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) plan.
“I’m a long-time supporter of development of the North Canadian River,” Leftwich said. “The Dec. 14 vote is vital to that development and the future of the Oklahoma City area. ” Leftwich’s measure to change the river’s name is Senate Concurrent Resolution 29.
Joining him in filing the resolution for consideration by the next Legislature are Sen. Howard Hendrick, R-Bethany, and Reps. Charles Gray, D-Oklahoma City, and Mary Fallin, R-Oklahoma City.
Leftwich said he first got the idea for changing the river’s name from Ray Ackerman, who was chairman of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce in 1991.
He said Ackerman brought with him the chamber’s endorsement and the endorsement of the Metropolitan Area Projects Task Force.
“Why promote Canada instead of Oklahoma? ” Leftwich asked.
The river is in Oklahoma except for one county in New Mexico.
Leftwich said that Charles Mankin, director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, wrote the chamber a letter, saying any action by the Legislature to change the river’s name probably would be binding on the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, assuming it didn’t present serious problems with New Mexico.
Today I had a column questioning why no tribute exists along the Oklahoma River (formerly the North Canadian River) to Ray Ackerman. To all those celebrating the opening of the Devon Boathouse Thursday night, I leave you with a series of reminders of Ray’s contributions:
Watering Down Divisions Chamber Leader Sees River Revival As Key to Unifying City
By Tim Chavez
Sunday, December 2, 1990
For Oklahoma City’s 101 years of official existence, the North Canadian River has divided the municipality’s population north from south and sometimes, its politics and vision.
But in 1991, the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and its incoming chairman Ray Ackerman want residents to come together at the river and help the city take a giant step in a leap of progress to major league status.
“I’ve been here 43 years, and the city has not truly been one,” Ackerman said last week in an interview at the offices of the advertising firm Ackerman, Hood & McQueen Inc.
Ackerman is chairman of the firm’s board of directors.
“If we put water in that river, put development on both sides, that will draw us together.”
The North Canadian is not a rolling river it just sort of limps along.
But the intent of Ackerman and the chamber is not just for a revival meeting of residents on the shores. It’s to make converts of companies and their executives looking over Oklahoma City as a good place to bring their plants and jobs.
It’s image the big intangible in the tough economic development game.
Members Speak Out Each year, the chamber solicits input from its members to develop its list of goals.
After more jobs, two-thirds of those responding said changing the city’s image to the rest of the country was a priority, Ackerman said.
That image to the nation is of a dry and dusty hick town in an oil and gas setting, complete with cowboys and Indians, Ackerman said.
“In this business of economic development, people slip into town to look you over,” Ackerman said. “We look dry and dusty when you drive in from the airport. Engineers say you can put water in the river.”
This goal of image-changing was coupled with a request of membership to provide a visionary project for the city.
“Everything started (in the leap of cities to major league status) with one significant thing,” Ackerman said.
St. Louis built its arch.
Indianapolis built a domed stadium.
Oklahoma City needs a channel to downtown, Ackerman said.
Water is natural and an attraction for vacations, conventions, hotels and restaurants downtown, Ackerman said.
People who live here know the positives such as a good climate, a good transportation system that allows for quick travel around town, one of the nation’s premiere horseracing tracks, clean air, plenty of water for industry, lots of land, a strong work ethic, vo-tech and a nice place to raise a family, Ackerman said.
But with out-of-town executives who like to slip in unannounced and without local escort, getting all this across is not as easy.
“This year, we were a finalist for a fairly significant thing, (along) with San Antonio,” Ackerman said. “The executives with their wives, unannounced, visited both cities’ downtowns for the weekend.”
Whipping Water Woes, Part II Oklahoma City leaders licked the water problem once before, and that changed the course of industrial development for the area and the quality of life.
In the 1950s, the availability of water was the major issue facing the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and its hopes for jobs and diversificaton in central Oklahoma.
New industry needed water and plenty of it.
In 1963, the completion of a 100-mile pipeline from the McGee Creek Resevoir in southeast Oklahoma to Draper Lake in southeast Oklahoma City set the stage for the addition of such corporate citizens as General Motors and Firestone by the late 1960s and mid-’70s.
In the 1990s, a replenished North Canadian River would provide a channel to downtown Oklahoma City.
Somewhere along the shore could perhaps be a stadium for a National Basketball Association franchise or a National Football League team.
Perhaps a multi-cultural center, an Indian and Western heritage center. All were suggestions of members for the visionary project, Ackerman said.
Private and innovative financing for stadiums has been available across the country, he said.
Change From Within
The first improvement in the city’s image will not come from the release of new waters or the pouring of concrete but from a change in the perspective of local residents, Ackerman said.
They need to be reminded of the positives, he said.
“We must start with turning around our own people,” Ackerman said.
He related the story of an industrial site selection committee that secretly visited 25 cities to see what the areas were like. They made it a point to talk to a cab driver, a bellman and a waitress at each location.
If each person talked their own city down, that city was scratched from the list, Ackerman said.
The chamber will unveil radio spots highlighting the city’s positives and encouraging residents to take a positive view.
The ascendency of Ackerman to the chamber chairmanship at this time seems more than appropriate. With image-changing at the top of the chamber goals, who better to spearhead such an effort than the man whose advertising firm has swept his industry’s honors locally for the last several years?
But Ackerman stresses that the chamber is a team with expertise from a host of local chief executives.
“The chamber has always been presented as part of a team,” he said. “The chamber and the city have been working better together than they ever have. The relationship with the county is good,” Ackerman said.
In 1991, a site plan on the river would be a wonderful start, Ackerman said. There is a city trust in place to do such the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, he said.
Ackerman acknowledges that not all the bases have been touched in regards to these projects.
“But from the people we’ve talked to, the response has been good,” Ackerman said. “The best of both worlds would be studies done at the same time (on the river and a stadium),” Ackerman said.
“If the chamber of commerce in 1991 can be instrumental in working with government and other entities in getting the image turned around and the visionary project started, it can be a great year,” Ackerman said.
“We like to think we get better from all the fine leadership in the past,” he said. “I’m very pleased and proud and look on this position with a great deal of humility. I look forward to the challenge.”
I should have posted this late last week – sorry for the delay. About a day or two is left to respond. Try not to aspire to something more insightful than saying “parking meters suck.”
Go here to fill out the survey.