Sunday, April 9, 2017
Fireworks exploded over the Oklahoma River one weekend last spring as the city celebrated competitions among youth rowers on the river and Olympic kayakers on the newly opened RiverSport Rapids.
Much has been written about the opening of the rapids, the latest MAPS 3 addition to a river that 20 years ago was an eyesore and embarrassment. But that weekend last May was a significant moment in the city's history, a time when reality matched the dreams of late civic boosters Ray Ackmerman and Aubrey McClendon.
My very last communication with both men was about the river. They poured their hearts and souls into the transformation we are seeing. Their legacy along the river can't be debated. Ackerman has a statue commemorating his contribution. McClendon's legacy will be honored, as well.
The Oklahoma River is one of the best representations of the public-private approach to community investment that started with the passage of the original MAPS initiative in 1993. That five-year, penny sales tax funded only the creation of dams, trails and landscaping along the six-mile stretch of water that flows south of downtown between Eastern and Meridian avenues.
It was McClendon and Chesapeake Energy that funded the first boathouse, followed by other boathouses and additions funded by Devon Energy, SandRidge Energy, Blue Cross/Blue Shield Oklahoma and other corporate sponsors.
That investment prompted city residents to support a MAPS 3 penny sales tax that paid for stadium lighting for nighttime regattas along the river and the brand-new RiverSport Rapids.
And yeah, we really do have an amusement park along the river again, a century after the last one, Delmar Gardens, was abandoned due to a mosquito problem, flooding and Prohibition.