Somehow, some way, I make time for a bit of community service in all I do. My main contribution is through Retro Metro OKC, a 501c3 non-profit organization dedicated to making the city’s history more accessible and enjoyable to everybody. We do this through monthly get-togethers with fun speakers (on Monday we featured the legendary Count Gregore at our annual holiday party) and through the scanning and display of private held collections of photos and documents.
The latest collection – Kodachrome color photos taken of downtown by architect Kenyon Morgan in the mid-1979s – are among the most stunning I’ve seen to date. If you’re interested in the history of downtown’s Urban Renewal era and the Pei Plan that destroyed many of these buildings, be sure to visit www.impeiokc.com – a project coordinated last year by Retro Metro OKC, the Oklahoma Historical Society, the City of Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma City/County Historical Society.
Ah, the life of a newspaper guy in the multi-media world. Doing this job is like playing whack-a-mole. Get ahead on feeding the daily beast (the paper and NewsOK), and you get behind on doing the NewsOK videos. Master those two, and you get behind on either blogging or social media. Add in the challenge of meeting book deadlines, raising a family, well, it’s all quite the balancing act for us all, isn’t it?
So I’ve been remiss in posting the past couple of weeks, and I’ve got a terrible backlog. I’m trying to rectify that this morning.
First up: this wonderful video by Will Hider, documenting the progress on Devon Energy Center, the Skydance Bridge and the new I-40, the riverfront, and downtown in general. It’s long, but at least enjoy the first several minutes (including great footage of the new bridge).
UPDATE: OKC Nightcourt took his own shot of the tower last night, and who am I to deny the judge a request to show his photo as well?
This was quite the week in terms of changes to Project 180. Now, a look back:
CRITICISM, CONFUSION ARISE OVER DOWNTOWN PROJECTS
By Steve Lackmeyer
| Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Edition: CITY, Section: BUSINESS, Page 1B
Oklahoma City officials have spent the past few months trying to prepare downtown workers for what is expected to be the worst traffic nightmare in decades with most streets to be torn up and rebuilt over the next four years.
But some also worry about whether more headaches will follow with the same streets to be torn up all over for the installation of a streetcar system.
“In a perfect world you want to integrate the streetscapes with the streetcars,” said downtown architect Anthony McDermid, who brought up the issue at a recent strategic planning session with merchants, planners and property owners. “It seems that would at least be the preferred sequence.”
Assistant City Manager Cathy O’Connor and Assistant Public Works Director Laura Story don’t argue McDermid’s point — but they say the two projects are on, and will remain on two very different timetables.
Project 180 started a year ago when the city, working with Devon Energy, created a new tax increment finance district funded by future property taxes from the company’s new tower. The two parties, along with representatives and local schools, libraries and the county, agreed to use the proceeds to rebuild all downtown streets, sidewalks, parks and public spaces.
In comparison, as Project 180 was being launched in early 2009, the streetcar system was just one of dozens of ideas being debated on projects for a MAPS 3 sales tax ballot that wasn’t even scheduled until summer.
“We do have this agreement to do streets around Devon’s development by the time their building is done — and those could not have waited,” O’Connor said.
Pending city council approval and timely utility relocation, Story expects the first wave of Project 180 construction to start in May with crews tearing up Robinson, Park, Walker and Reno Avenues.
O’Connor and Story admit the Project 180 schedule is ambitious, and it requires utility relocation by Oklahoma Natural Gas, Oklahoma Gas & Electric, Trigen, Oklahoma City water and sewer, 22 telecommunications companies and more.
“What drives the schedule and the order of our work will be the utility relocation so that we don’t leave anyone out of work, out of power, out of water, out of communication,” Story said.
With all this in play, some downtown workers like courier Travis Smith still wonder why Project 180 can’t be delayed until work starts on the streetcar system.
“I think that should be the first MAPS 3 project started,” Smith said. “Give it a year or two and we can get all done at once.”
O’Conner notes no schedule is set for MAPS 3 and won’t be until a citizens oversight board is created by the mayor that can investigate the timing of the project.
“I think the park has been talked about being one of the early projects with the boulevard construction coming up,” O’Connor said. “Figuring out where the convention center goes is an early project. And from there I think it will all fall in place.”
And with such tasks still ahead, O’Connor and Story say they don’t expect streetcar construction to begin until 2020 – six years after work is to be completed on Project 180.
Using a stretch of Sheridan Avenue between Robinson and Hudson as an example of expected scheduling, Story said the street likely will be torn up for up to 18 months for Project 180 with traffic in the area being constricted to just one lane.
Story expects the streetcar work on that same block, if chosen for the route, to take only three months with less than one lane being closed for the job.
Story said city engineers are doing all they can to design the Project 180 improvements in such a way that there will be minimal disruption for the streetcar work.
They already know they have to clear anything made of iron within four feet of any track. Story said utility relocations also are being planned to accommodate future streetcar installation.
O’Connor suggests downtown workers already are getting a glimpse of what’s ahead with all but one lane of Sheridan closed for utility relocation under way just south of the Devon tower site.
“It’s like the closure of Sheridan now for Devon,” O’Connor said. “It’s painful, but you get used to it. You still get through it.”
(Photo from Oklahoma Department of Transportation)
(Photo from www.okctalk.com – to see more photos, go here)
Have no doubt, after waiting the past dozen years to see the new Interstate 40 open up south of downtown, that day is near. It is very near. Today I’m hearing the eastbound lanes could be open within the next couple weeks. Because this road isn’t as depressed into the ground as first designed, expect it to provide millions of travelers an entirely new impression of our city.