Our look back at the ULI panel’s analysis of Core to Shore continues…
Given the profound transportation changes—the relocated I-40, the new Boulevard, and the streetcar project—occurring in and around downtown, it is vital that Oklahoma City use the best technology available in order to be able to make the most informed decisions regarding connectivity and circulation.
Older, regional traffic models that were used for previous analyses, including the I-40 relocation studies, are being replaced by a newer model that is more sensitive to local transportation needs. A new, regional, multimodal model that is under development will provide an excellent basis for fine-tuning a model specific to downtown and its environs and should be used to test transportation and development scenarios.
Expectations for the streetcar project funded by MAPS 3 should be kept in perspective. Travel demand modeling will be especially important for decisions about the streetcar project. Although streetcars elsewhere have created a positive image for neighborhoods, their part in spurring development is less clear. Streetcars tend to be one of many factors that support development.
In light of transit’s limited role in the city now and the less-than-conducive conditions for greater transit use, transit planning is essential. The streetcar’s purpose, routing, and costs deserve careful consideration. The panel is concerned that the community may be moving too aggressively too soon to implement the streetcar.
The panel recommends that a downtown access and circulation master plan be produced using a travel demand model specially tailored to the downtown area. The purpose of the master plan is to coordinate the function, capacity, and design of all transportation facilities and services.
The upcoming alternatives analysis for the streetcar should be coordinated with the downtown access and circulation master plan. The alternative analysis will compare ridership estimates for different routes; other factors that should be considered include how easily riders understand the route and the total cost per rider for each alternative. These factors will provide a better understanding of the best value for the MAPS 3 investment.
Retail development will be an important element in creating vibrant new neighborhoods. Currently, there is a relatively limited supply of retail and services to support downtown employees and residents. Expansion of the resident, visitor, and employee base downtown will help to support new retail facilities in key locations that meet retailer needs and requirements.
The Core to Shore Plan calls for aggressive retail development on the blocks south of Myriad Gardens to the new Boulevard. During the interviews, the panel heard desires for a major new shopping destination with a department store anchor—dreams of a Nordstrom or a Neiman Marcus. The panel cautions that destination retail on this scale is not going to happen. Downtown lacks the density of residents, employees, and visitors to support such a major facility. Furthermore, very few department stores are being built today, and the incentive packages required to attract one to a downtown location start at $40 million or more.
Moreover, the blocks south of Myriad Gardens and north of the new Boulevard are not the best location for major retail facilities. Good retail streets have low speeds and retail on both sides of the street. Shopping along the Boulevard should be focused more on restaurants and cafés to serve downtown employees and residents, as well as shops with cards and gifts, office supplies, and sundries.
From the perspective of Oklahoma City’s regional market, more appropriate than a large department store would be smaller lifestyle-type retailers such as restaurants, a bookstore, home furnishings stores, and a few apparel retailers that do not depend on department stores to attract customers. The types of lifestyle retailers that could be attracted to create a concentration of retail space will require both pedestrian activity and auto access and parking. Such retailers would fare better if clustered in Bricktown, both as infill uses and in a center at the eastern end of Bricktown near Bass Pro Shops. This location would offer greater visibility to regional residents from I-235 and to visitors to Bass Pro Shops and Bricktown.
“It was difficult to get people to focus on it because it was seen as such a minor detail in the scheme of things.”
Mayor Mick Cornett on why there was no public discussion or need for a city council vote on his effort to divert $30 million from the $280 million taxpayers voted for the convention center (as told to them by the city on its website) to paying for relocation of an electric substation in Core to Shore.
Cost of the Bricktown ballpark as part of the original MAPS: $34 million
Canal – $23 million
Downtown Library – $21.5 million
For months we’ve heard Mayor Mick Cornett and city staff insist that the city council agreed, behind the scenes, to support spending $30 million of the $280 million convention center budget on buying out and moving an OG&E substation at SW 4 and Robinson, across from the future Core to Shore central park.
On Tuesday we found out that this agreement is only in Cornett’s mind; not one council member appears to agree with his version of this discussion. They say they DID NOT agree to reserving $30 million of the $280 million for the substation.
Another related matter was briefly mentioned by City Manager Jim Couch in this discussion – one I did not fully appreciate until I did a close inspection of a photo taken of this area earlier this month by Oklahoman photographer Jim Beckel while we were atop Devon tower.
The $30 million DOES NOT include the cost of moving or burying transmission lines. One can only appreciate the magnitude of this matter when examining Beckel’s photos up close.
First, a look at the substation and the lines running east and west – through the site of the central park:
Take a close look – there are at least three sets of transmission lines, including one fairly sizable set of transmission poles, running through the northern third of the proposed park site.
Now let’s look at the lines running north and south – also through the park site:
This transmission line is no small neighborhood set-up – these are heavy duty industrial lines. They run right through the heart of the park and appear to run parallel to the future Skydance Bridge.
At today’s meeting Councilmen Pete White and Ed Shadid asked why there had been no discussion about “the elephant in the room”: the need for a conference hotel to make a new convention center work, and the lack of a public discussion on how the city has no clue yet on how it will pay the estimated $50 million to $60 million in public incentives that will be required as any such project.
I’m wondering now, with the issue of these transmission lines and the lack of discussion up until now about the cost to move or bury them, as to whether there might be a SECOND ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM.
Final note: unlike the original MAPS projects, the city had already committed to buying land for the central park location before the MAPS 3 election even took place. The MAPS 3 citizens oversight group was not given the chance to evaluate the site and determine whether these sorts of issues made it a poor candidate or whether financially such a project is feasible.
Folks, I’m working on overdrive to keep up with all of this ….
To those of you who voted for or against the MAPS 3 sales tax: did you know Mayor Mick Cornett wanted to use $30 million on the $280 million dedicated for the convention center on buying and moving an OG&E substation in Core to Shore regardless of whether that site was chosen for the convention center?
I’m hearing from a lot of folks concerned about the proceedings of yesterday’s MAPS 3 convention center and the actions taken by consultant Populous. One thing to keep in mind: the consultant started the meeting saying it was their intent to narrow the list to one site yesterday, but then added back the rejected site south of the arena to expand the choice to three in the name of doing “due diligence.”
I’ve heard from more than a dozen people this morning they think the process is rigged. Others say the process is working as it should.
So what’s your thinking on this whole matter? Let’s take a vote, shall we?
I don’t hit “favorite” too often on Twitter, but anyone who checks out my favorites may notice one in particular that at first glance may seem a bit odd:
The Core to Shore Plan exemplifies
the true spirit of Daniel Burnham’s famous
dictum for planning: “Make no little plans. They have
no magic to stir men’s blood.”
A Plan with Solid Fundamentals
The magic of the Core to Shore Plan resides in its big
ideas, whose strength is bolstered because they also
express the plan’s solid fundamentals.
Are those the words of someone opposed to Core to Shore?
As decisions are being made that will shape Core to Shore for years to come, it’s time to revisit the ULI report and ask ourselves – did we learn all we could as we “make no little plans.”
Today city staff went out even further insisting that $30 million of the $280 million Core to Shore convention site favored by Mayor Mick Cornett be used to buy out an OG&E substation on the site regardless of whether it’s chosen for the convention center.
As you’ll recall, the mayor tried to tell the MAPS 3 citizens’ advisory board at its very first meeting that this site, and the current location of the Southwest Producers Cooperative are the only two viable sites for a convention center. He also instructed the committee that no matter what, $30 million of the $280 million for the convention center would be used to buy the substation property – essentially telling them if they chose a different site, they would have $30 million less to work with.
Recall also that the resolution the city council passed never mentioned $30 million for the substation – only that $280 million go toward construction of the convention center. The city council never had a public discussion or vote indicating otherwise.
So on July 23 of last year I reported the following:
Councilman Larry McAtee, a member of the oversight committee, said the selection process will be handled fairly, and without bias.
McAtee said the city council never agreed to reserve $30 million for the OG&E property, that no public discussion of such a purchase has occurred, and that $280 million will be budgeted for a convention center regardless of what site is chosen.
“This will get cleared up as we move forward with the process of selecting a site, and selecting the consultants, and looking at the details of the sites,” McAtee said. “There will be an open selection process for the convention center.”
I talked again with Councilman McAtee on Tuesday. He said this whole matter remains to be “debated,” and that he needs to visit with Wenger because he believes the instructions as I’ve reported are incorrect.
“I say give the voters what they voted for,” McAtee said. “And what the voters voted for was a $280 million convention center that was to be located at a later time.”
Conversations with other council members indicate they also had not agreed to dedicate $30 million of MAPS 3 funds for the substation. In fact, on Tuesday Councilman Pete White suggested at the council meeting (Cornett was out of town and not present) that the $30 million be spent on a wellness center for south Oklahoma City if the substation site is not chosen for the convention center.
Now for the good part: Despite all this, despite previous comments by MAPS 3 program manager Eric Wenger in the past that there was no direction on spending $30 million on the substation, that all changed Tuesday at the meeting of the convention center subcommittee. The meeting began with a report by MAPS 3 consultant Mike Mize that the CITY COUNCIL had instructed him to reserve $30 million of the $280 million convention center funding for the substation (when asked about this, he said this instruction came through Wenger).
I asked Wenger, and he confirmed the instruction. I asked him if he could direct me to any moment that the city council had made any such policy decision. He instead told me this instruction was passed on by Mayor Mick Cornett.
I then went to Assistant City Manager Cathy O’Connor. She also could not provide any moment when the city council voted and publicly committed to this expenditure. She insisted, however, that this was always a part of the budgeting for MAPS 3.
Where? When? So far, there is no documentation of any such decision. And clearly there seems to be some dispute by the council on this matter.
So here’s the punchline to all this: the threat of having $30 million less to work with if the mayor’s favored site wasn’t chosen went nowhere with the committee, which includes civic leaders like Russell Perry, Larry Nichols, Roy Williams, and Kirk Humphreys. They threw out both of the Core to Shore sites favored by the mayor and went with four other sites as finalists, three of which were added into consideration after the mayor told the citizens’ advisory board that they really had only his two favored Core to Shore sites to consider.
This committee’s vote was unanimous. Consultants with Populous then provided them with their preliminary scoring, which matched the committee’s choices.
This, my friends, ought to get interesting.
I know, I know, City Water Utilities Division Director Marsha Slaughter is thinking I’ve forgotten this sidewalk blockade along NE 2 that she says can’t be avoided because relocation of a water meter under the grate would cost taxpayers $100,000. Forget that an upscale hotel is being built across the street. Forget that an upscale apartment complex, likely with a grocery, is being built one block east. Forget that this street is emerging as downtown’s ideal mixed use corridor.
Forget all that. And forget spending $100,000 to make the street more walkable and improve the aesthetics. A decision has been made, at city staff level, not by the city council, that the aesthetics and walkability of this sidewalk is not worth spending $100,000.
Now let’s move on to Core to Shore, where there is NO DEVELOPMENT TAKING PLACE other than what city leaders are hoping to force into creation through the spending of millions and millions of taxpayer dollars.
The only certainty out in Core to Shore is a park that voters approved as part of MAPS 3. There is no development set for east of the park along Robinson Avenue.
But the city council on Tuesday will be asked to spend $168,000 on a tunnel under Robinson to allow visitors at the park to safely cross under Robinson to go to …??? The price includes creation of a decorative arch to accommodate wishes to have nice “aesthetics” for the tunnel.
So let’s get this straight: the city is OK spending $168,000 on walkability and aesthetics in an area where this is NO private investment, but won’t spend $100,000 to fix its own eyesore in an area where at least $40 million is being invested this next year alone.
Folks, this is your city council. They answer to you. If you wish to tell them you approve or disapprove of this prioritization, you can email them at the following:
Mayor Mick Cornett: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs: email@example.com
Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee: email@example.com
Ward 4 Councilman Pete White: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters: 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
I’ve not heard any public discussion about what the name should be for the boulevard that will replace the current alignment of Interstate 40 south of downtown. Mayor Mick Cornett is asking the Planning Commission tomorrow to consider naming it “Oklahoma City Boulevard.” What do you think?