One of the features of the proposed makeover is a series of “spinner towers” that would be funded through private donations. It just so happens that one of these towers is on display outside of architect Rand Elliott’s offices at 6th and Harrison. I hope this photo helps.
I’ve also been asked to reprint Blair Humphreys’ full remarks concerning this project. I will also note that I’ve asked Elliott if he wants to comment on this matter – so far he has politely declined to do so.
Humphreys is no stranger to long-time readers of OKC Central. He is Executive Director of the Institute for Quality Communities and Asst Professor in the College of Architecture. He has a Masters in City Planning and Urban Design degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BBA in Entrepreneurship from the University of Oklahoma. He is a founding member of ULI Oklahoma, currently serving as the Vice-Chair for Mission Advancement of the statewide organization.
Humphreys teaches graduate-level Urban Design Theory, and has previously taught in the Urban Design Studio. In 2011, Blair served as the faculty advisor of OU’s award winning Hines/ULI Urban Design Competition team. He also has acted as a consultant in development efforts along Automobile Alley and in MidTown.
Humphreys’ comments to Downtown Design Review Committee on the Civic Center Park redesign:
The new Myriad Gardens is special.
It is a captivating mix of spaces and attractions that seem to offer something for everyone on every day, all year long. It gets right everything that the old Myriad Gardens got wrong, while being careful to retain everything that the old Myriad Gardens got right.”
In fact, the shift from rigid to flexible is something of a theme with a park now appropriately offering “myriad” attractions for a range of users. A restaurant will sit on the edge of a fun-natured plaza sure to host laughing children year-round. The plaza features a splash fountain during the summer that converts to a skating rink during the winter.
As famed urbanist William Whyte pointed, “What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.” The new Myriad Gardens gets this: It is a public space for people. Hopefully, it is just the beginning of our transformation into a city for people — a city worth staying in.
Simply put, the new Myriad Gardens and all Project 180 improvements to date have made our city a better place for people. The new Bicentennial park design does not.
I expressed similar concerns to the project manager about the direction of this park at informational meeting about Project 180 over two years ago when I was told that this park would be focused on passive observation. I am not aware of a single successful public park created for passive observation. Citygarden in St. Louis, the best new sculpture garden in the world, is the opposite, encouraging interaction with the art and among the adults and children that flock to it.
I have been waiting these two years for a public forum in which to offer my input both as a passionate promoter of great public spaces and a native citizen of Oklahoma City. I am not aware of any public meeting I missed, but apologize that these criticisms have not been offered until today.
When compared to the existing Bicentennial park, the new design is:
less respectful of our city’s history
and far less appropriate for such an important civic site.
What makes the Myriad Gardens special is that it was carefully crafted for the people of our city, whether workers downtown, residents from surrounding neighborhoods, or children enjoying a sunny Saturday afternoon. It may not win an architectural design award or be praised by the critics in New York and Chicago, but it is already cherished by the people of our city and will be for many decades to come.
In the case of the new Bicentennial Park, with polished steel, fresh landscaping and an abundance of beautiful granite it will definitely have some initial appeal. But ultimately, the inherent flaws of the design as a usable public space for people will lead to the parks demise. While we will be able to rectify this mistake with further design and additional investment, we will not be able to retrieve the history lost or return the money wasted.
I don’t support a continuance, rather I recommend denial of this item to provide for a complete redesign that includes the input of the community and the expertise of a proven public space professional. I would encourage the city to design a park (not to meet the 75th anniversary gala deadline next fall, but) that will still be cherished when the Civic Center’s 100 year anniversary gala takes place.
In the past week since the Downtown Design Review Committee, Planning Department and Public Works clashed on the proposed makeover of the Civic Center park, I’ve heard only negative comments about the designs by Rand Elliott and Tulsa-based PDG Inc., which call for the removal of all trees (some of the biggest trees to be found downtown), sculptures, monuments and other landscaping. Read the full story on that debate here.
Rand Elliott doesn’t think small – I think it’s safe to say everyone would agree he always attempts to hit a home-run – he aspires to create great, eye-catching architecture and design. And I think his biggest fans and even his greatest critics would agree that the city is better off with his imprint. But what if one of those high-flying balls ends up being a foul? Will anyone tell the slugger when his latest hit didn’t go so well?
That’s the question ahead ahead for those who see this hit as a foul ball rather than a home run. I’m hearing that any differences between city planners and engineers is being ironed out behind the scenes and that the rare display of disagreement will disappear with a reapplication of the designs that skip over, for now, questions about the proposed archway, spinning towers and City Hall fountain.
Of course, that still leaves a lot of questions unresolved. I’ve been asked by more than a dozen different readers what they need to do to voice their opposition to these designs. They say these designs were not fully vetted, and some also are questioning whether the committee that reviewed this work consisted of too many people hand-selected by the design team.
This project HAS NOT been approved by the mayor and council. It must get five or more votes to move forward. So to those asking how they can voice their disapproval – or approval – now is the time to contact the mayor and council.
Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs: email@example.com
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee: email@example.com
Ward 4 Councilman Pete White: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell: email@example.com
Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly: email@example.com
Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mayor Mick Cornett: email@example.com
It’s been a busy few weeks and I’m still trying to catch up on all that is happening downtown. We’ve seen a lot written about the cutbacks on Project 180. One early ambition that is apparently victim to all this is the desire to improve the intersection of NW 4, NW 3, E.K. Gaylord and Broadway.
A few years back Blair Humphreys, OKC’s own rising star on urban design and planning, suggested a change was long overdue for this intersection, a creation of the I.M. Pei Plan of the 1970s. Humphreys’ suggestion was rather simple: reconnect 3rd Street and Broadway, end E.K. Gaylord at 3rd where traffic either turns right or left instead of merging into one giant intersection with Broadway, 3rd and 4th Streets. Walkability Jeff Speck said a big “amen” to Blair’s concerns. Ironically, the project that prompted Blair to delve into the problems caused by this intersection, the construction of a new headquarters for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, appears to be in a deep freeze. But the issues for downtown commuters and pedestrians remain the same.
Here is what was proposed early on with Project 180:
Notice that when given a chance to pursue the fix proposed by Blair Humphreys and Jeff Speck, designers at the instruction of city staff went instead with a “dressing up” of the existing grid instead. Keep in mind, city staff was never enthused about the changes proposed by Humphreys and Speck.
So what’s next? Does this issue die all together?
On Sept. 6 I posted the following:
The new Project 180 street lights are going up throughout downtown – so why are they not going up on Film Row, where they are desperately needed?
The response I got back from the city was the lights would go up in three weeks. Guess what? Still no lights?
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).
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.”
I’ll be at Coney Island Hot Dogs, 424 W Main, at noon today.
The following photos from Greg Elwell’s Corner Booth blog (part of NewsOK) are being deliberately posted to manipulate your lunch decision today. And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.
It seems as if Project 180 is going to be an overriding topic at OKC Central this week. But instead of delving deeper into the funding and project scope problems I reported today, let’s first give some love to one of the latest restaurants suffering through road construction.
I’m going to be blunt: after reporting on the potential loss of landmarks like Crescent Market, Nichols Hills Drugstore and Johnny’s Lunch Box (not the mention the long slumber of closed down eateries Sleepy Hollow and County Line BBQ), I’m not ready or willing to do another such story.
Which brings me to Coney Island Hot Dogs … which has been around a while.
Visit Urban Spoon and you’ll discover Coney Island Hot Dogs has a 92 percent approval rating. This isn’t Red Prime Steakhouse. It’s chili cheese dogs, chili on spaghetti and Frito pie territory. And the food is good. The atmosphere is old, old school with hand written college football records kept for decades all over the walls. The building is old – built back before statehood, and the restaurant dates back to the 1920s and moved to this building at 424 W Main about a half century ago when its original home fell to the Urban Renewal wrecking ball.
Coney Island has been a survivor. It’s a community gathering spot, where every Saturday old-timers get together and play chess.
Today I got a call from Bill Mihas. It’s a call I’ve received from several restaurants caught up in the steamroller known as Project 180. Streets are torn up. Despite the best of intentions, contractors don’t complete their work on time due to complications, surprise basement discoveries, or even, I suspect, the occasional under-staffing or bidding for more work than they know they can really handle. Mihas’ business is down – way down. He’s not saying he’s in danger of closing, but you can sense the panic in his voice.
Yeah, I’ll write another story about how Project 180 is going to be great when done, but how it’s also hurting more businesses caught in its path. I’m once again checking to see whether contractors are finishing Main Street on time, and if they’re not, is there a good reason or are they screwing around (yes, that does happen from time to time on street projects and there is one contractor that is rather notorious for low-balling bids and spreading itself too thin on jobs).
In the meantime, though, it’s time to go a step further. I’m not going to sit by and risk watching Coney Island die. So I went to work:
Will this little lunch gathering make or break a restaurant? Probably not. But it won’t hurt. And the hot dogs are damn good. Feel free to join me. Access won’t be easy. My suggestion is to park along Main Street west of Walker Avenue, in the Sheridan-Walker garage, or in parking spots around City Hall. Join us. We’ll be helping out a great historic restaurant, enjoying good food, and I’ll do my best to make the conversation interesting!