As I mentioned earlier this week, there’s a lot going on – so much so that it’s almost impossible right now to keep up with it all. Hopefully by the end of this week I’ll have most items caught up.
Let’s start with Bricktown, where it looks like a small wedge-shaped building along Main Street is being remodeled:
In MidTown, meanwhile, we’re continuing to see an influx of new housing and restaurants. At 430 NW 12, a long vacant two-story office building is about to extended to three stories and converted into housing:
We also know that the old strip shopping center at NW 10 and Walker is being renovated into an upscale string of restaurants as well. Passersby have seen renovations underway for the past couple of months for a Go-Go Sushi restaurant:
If you follow The Oklahoman’s food writer, David Cathey, you’ll also know that a new location for Saturn Grill will be opening next to Go Go Sushi. The opening of these two restaurants will likely solidify Walker Avenue’s status as an addition to the city’s list of leading restaurant rows.
I’m hearing from a lot of folks who are very complimentary of the Chickasaws for listening to local concerns about their first choice of names for the ballpark (Newcastle Field at Bricktown) and going with a name that celebrates the tribe, and not a suburb and one of its casinos.
More catching up….
Some of you will recall how shortfalls in Project 180 led to the decision, or rather, indecision, by city engineers to go only part of the way in the conversions of Walker and Hudson Avenues from one-way to two-way traffic. As all the dust kicked up by all this began to settle, I realized that the city was essentially going turn both streets (and had already done so with Walker) into two-way, one-way, two-way corridors between Reno Avenue and NW 13.
This discussion began with Public Works director Eric Wenger. But oh my, this discussion has had quite the evolution…
On Feb. 8 I posted the following on OKC Central:
Going through an extensive project update with Public Works director Eric Wenger, I learned the city still has money for traffic controllers for these intersections, but no money for the actual traffic lights.
Wenger said a study not yet done will determine a new timeline and potential funding. Note that the city council instructed the public works department to begin a study to convert downtown’s one-way streets to two-way traffic back in 1999. History shows that at City Hall, a study can translate into a years-long delay (consider the progress to date on a quiet zone on the railway tracks parallel to Automobile Alley).
What this means is the plan now in place would result in Walker Avenue being two-way traffic south of Robert S. Kerr Avenue, one-way traffic between Robert S. Kerr Avenue and NW 6, and then two-way traffic again north of NW 6. Ditto for Hudson Avenue.
Councilman Ed Shadid, a reader of OKC Central, checked on this for himself with city engineers and responded the next day:
I am grateful for your work; your questions are critical to the process.
I believe this Council is strongly committed to the goals outlined in the 1999 T.E.C. study as well as Jeff Speck’s recommendations that these streets be converted to 2-way.
The barriers to implementation go beyond traffic signaling (of which the City does have enough traffic poles and traffic lights in storage if and when we were to need them).
As you state, the sections between Kerr and 6th are not part of P180 or the ’07 Bond issue and will need to be dealt with by the City in house.
Perhaps the greatest barrier is that so many driveway designs along Walker and Hudson have taken advantage of the 1-way street design to make them oblique. Surveys need to be completed to assess which driveways would need to be straightened out to make them perpendicular to the new 2-way street. In addition, restriping would need to be done. Many of these driveways are owned by the County. The obstacles on Hudson are worse than they are on Walker.
Additional funding will be necessary to complete the downtown master plan but prior to that we need to survey those areas and study the geometry and design of 2-way streets in those areas.
The conversion of 2-way streets up to Kerr is still some time away. The conversion between Main to Couch will occur by the end of the year and the conversion from Couch to Kerr will occur after that, possibly into the beginning of 2013.
Obviously, this didn’t quite match up with what I had been told – at least it seemed to hint that Walker Avenue wasn’t as indefinite as I had been led to believe. I then got a call from Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers, himself the former public works director. And I posted the following update:
Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers just called me. They’re aware of this conversation. Clowers was the former public works director and that department is one of several that answer to him.
He said the city “has every intention” of finishing the conversion of Hudson and Walker to two-way traffic. But, he added, “it’s not just going to happen overnight.”
He repeated what was apparently told to Ed Shadid. I challenged him on the studies, noting studies began a dozen years ago. I asked, what is more urgent – a cosmetic makeover of the Civic Center park or the safety and function of Hudson and Walker Avenues?
At this point Dennis, who I do respect greatly, acknowledged this matter may not have been addressed with the diligence it deserves. He acknowledged the two-way, one-way, two-way pattern will be less safe for visitors than what we had before. He said city staff is going to get on top of this, and that this matter will be addressed with the same urgency being given to the park.
For downtown businesses, development of the urban core, consultants have determined street traffic patterns can make or break economic development.
More conversations ensued as I shared with readers how the city council had tasked the public works department with converting the one-way downtown streets a dozen years earlier. I posted the following on Feb. 10:
As noted by frequent OKC Central contributor Dennis Wells in a comment on yesterday’s blog post, the city has shifted its response on the street conversions. Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers reports that the Project 180 contract will include money for complete conversion of Walker Avenue to two-way traffic after all – and that it will be done this year.
Clowers reports no change in plans, however, for Hudson Avenue. More studies and evaluations on funding, etc., are said to be needed before the section between Robert S. Kerr Avenue and NW 6 can be converted to two-way traffic. This means visitors are likely to encounter a two-way, one-way, two-way traffic pattern along the street from Interstate 40 to NW 6 until the city addresses this matter. I will remind readers, the city council instructed the public works department to begin conversions of one-way downtown streets to two-way traffic in 1999 – which was 13 years ago.
So what’s new?
The city council was provided an update on this whole matter on Tuesday. They saw in a black-and-white power point a schedule that now promises that both Hudson and Walker will be fully converted to two-way traffic by late 2012. When quizzed, City Manager Jim Couch reported no further studies are needed, and indeed, bond monies and surplus traffic signals and poles are available to make these full conversions possible without any further delays.
He also reported a similar gap along Robinson Avenue – one I admit sort of escaped my attention – will be addressed on the same timetable.
Watch the report here:
Flashback: “council is allowed to reject a name only if it is tied to an inappropriate business or identity”
UPDATE: DESPITE WHAT FORMER MAYOR RON NORICK SAID IN 1998, THE LEASE DOES NOT APPEAR TO GIVE THE COUNCIL ANY CONTROL OVER THE BALLPARK’S NAMING RIGHTS.
Ballpark Gets Corporate Nameplate
By Bob Hersom, Steve Lackmeyer and Jack Money
Oklahoma City’s new era of professional baseball will have a familiar ring to it.
That message rang clear on a windswept Tuesday at the new Bricktown ballpark, when the Oklahoma RedHawks officially introduced their home as Southwestern Bell Park.
“Southwestern Bell is involved with every aspect of this community as sponsors, promoters and supporters through volunteer leadership and resources,” said Oklahoma RedHawks President Clay Bennett.
“It is an absolute natural that this outstanding company would be a part of the Oklahoma RedHawks, a part of this baseball park and a part of this first product that’s launched from MAPS. We are very excited about the relationship.”
“All of us at Southwestern Bell are so proud to be part of this history-making event,” said Southwestern Bell regional President Donna Snyder. “Southwestern Bell is the home team. Back in 1904, when the Oklahoma City Metropolitans took the field, Southwestern Bell was in business here in Oklahoma City.”
“We have a new corporate partner, and that’s really what this is all about,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick. “It’s the commitment that Southwestern Bell has made to our community. These naming rights issues help keep ticket prices down and provide services, and I know Southwestern Bell is going to put a tremendous amount of dollars in their advertising budget on top of this just to promote Oklahoma City and the stadium.”
Bennett said the RedHawks, which has naming rights to the $29 million ballpark, entered into a seven-year agreement with Southwestern Bell.
Neither Norick, Bennett nor Southwestern Bell officials would say how much money Southwestern Bell was paying the Oklahoma RedHawks to put the company’s name on the ballpark.
“We’ve agreed not to disclose the financial terms,” Bennett said.
As for the stadium’s name, Norick said it will still have to face a vote of the city council. But the lease, according to Norick, does not allow the city council to arbitrarily reject a name. Instead, the council is allowed to reject a name only if it is tied to an inappropriate business or identity, Norick said.
“That’s not the case here – Southwestern Bell is a very good corporate citizen,” Norick said.
Oklahoma City will make some money from the revenue the RedHawks receive from the naming rights – $100,000 total, according to the lease agreement approved by the RedHawks and the city council.
Norick said the city will get more revenue than that because of the additional ticket sales the advertising package will generate. Ticket sales and concession revenues from the ticket buyers will be a boost, he said.
The majority of the city council said Tuesday they will support the new ballpark name.
But Councilman Jack Cornett said he would oppose the name if he could. He also repeated his claim that the city was on the short end of the stick during the lease negotiation.
About 50 people called city hall Tuesday afternoon to comment on the name, and most objected to the new designation.
Southwestern Bell Oklahoma President Dave Lopez said fan response to the naming of the park was not unexpected.
“I think every fan has that reaction, but I think it’s a reality,” Lopez said. “I think there’s a balance between the quality of the product and becoming overly commercialized. It is a fact of life in sports today.”
Alright, enough posting of music videos.
I’ll admit, I’ve been a busy guy the last few days. And there’s a lot going on.
We’ve got a press conference coming up tomorrow at what many will always refer to as the Bricktown Ballpark. Like it or not, the name is about to become Newcastle Field at Bricktown. Yes, the ballpark built and paid for by city taxpayers will be named after the Newcastle Casino and the town of Newcastle. The naming rights are controlled by the owners of the Oklahoma City RedHawks, Los Angeles-based Mandalay Sports – power granted to them through a lease they inherited that the city council approved way back in 1998 (not a single member of that council is now at City Hall).
I received an urgent string of emails yesterday as I was busy covering some stories going on at City Hall. For those unaware, a couple of old buildings, both real gems, are being torn down along NE 4. One, the old Le’Ora’s Beautye Salon, had a surprise as the brick walls started coming down…
My friends speculated that from the carton design on the graphic, the sign might date to the 20′s and would be well worth trying to save. But even as this discussion was underway, demolition had already started. The wall was taken down and feared lost forever… but what’s trash to one person is a treasure to another. I am told the sign, left in a pile, has been rescued by fellow history enthusiast and is in safe keeping. I’ll verify this soon and report back…
Final note: Many were surprised to hear that Larry Nichols, executive chairman at Devon Energy, asked that an effort to name the Civic Center park after him be dropped. This quietly occurred while debate was raging over a makeover of the park, and one councilman, Ed Shadid, was very unhappy to learn this after the final vote took place on the tearing up of the old park. I can also report that according to Carol Troy, chair of the Civic Center Foundation, Nichols personally contacted City Manager Jim Couch to request the naming be dropped. I am unaware of Couch making any report of that request to the city council prior to their Feb. 28 vote on the park redesign.
From the American Banjo Museum in Bricktown:
Bela Fleck, the genre busting banjo player who, to many, has redefined the instrument to a worldwide audience, will be visiting the American Banjo Museum during his upcoming concert stop in Oklahoma City.
A New York City native with musical roots in the traditional Bluegrass music associated with banjo, Fleck’s departures into blues, jazz, classical and world music have netted the artist over 30 Grammy nominations and 15 wins since 1998. While memorable stops with the New Grass Revival and his own Flecktones provided hints to his musicianship and direction, Bela Fleck remains a unique artist who continues to defy musical classification.
During his April 10th concert at Rose State College, Fleck will be reunited with the original line-up of his Flecktones group which was formed in 1989. In addition to the fusion of blues and jazz which brought the group to national prominence in the 1990s and can be heard on their new CD, Rocket Science, the current Flecktones repertoire also includes African inspired melodies and rhythms resulting from Fleck’s acclaimed Throw Down Your Heart film and CD project.
Prior to the concert, Fleck will be visiting the American Banjo Museum in the Bricktown district of downtown Oklahoma City. Since opening in 2009, the American Banjo Museum – with its world class collection of over 300 ornate vintage instruments – has developed into a must see Oklahoma City attraction which celebrates the vibrant history and heritage of America’s adopted native musical instrument.
In addition to touring the museum (where he is recognized as one of six Banjo Heroes who have defined the banjo to their respective generations), Bela Fleck will participate in a Q&A session with the media as well museum visitors. During this special event the American Banjo Museum will be closed to the general public but will offer complimentary admission to a limited number of people who are holding tickets for Fleck’s April 10th concert at Rose State College.
Tickets for the Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concert on April 10th at Rose State College may be purchased by calling 405-297-2264 or visiting www.myticketoffice.com
While no admission charge will be required for museum entrance during the Bela Fleck Q&A session, tickets will be required and seating is not guaranteed. Q&A session tickets will be distributed beginning April 3rd at the museum. Q&A session ticket requests must be made in person at the American Banjo Museum (9 E. Sheridan Avenue, OKC). Each Q&A session ticket request must be accompanied by a ticket to the April 10th Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concert at Rose State College (no additional guest tickets will be provided). Telephone, text, mail or email requests for Q&A session tickets cannot be honored.