Thursday, June 22, 2017
The Journal Record
This weekend, a crowd of more than 20,000 people will gather in the Boathouse District for the 6th annual Stars & Stripes River Festival. The family event combines water activities and competitions, such as rowing and whitewater rafting, with food trucks, entertainment and fireworks. It is one of the Boathouse District’s biggest events of the year and a great example of Oklahoma City’s transformation.
In the 1990s, the 7-mile stretch of the North Canadian River known today as the Oklahoma River was a dry riverbed that at times had to be mowed. Through public and private investments exceeding $200 million, the Boathouse District has evolved into a destination place with adventure sports, live entertainment, restaurants, walking trails, special events and Olympic-level competition.
The Oklahoma River transformation started with the original MAPS in 1993, which funded the creation of dams, trails and landscaping along the river between Eastern and Meridian avenues. The Chesapeake Boathouse, built in 2006, was the first structure in the district, which has since rapidly grown to include a row of iconic boathouses along the river, the world-class Chesapeake Finish Line Tower, and Riversport Adventure Park. The most recent addition to the river is Riversport Rapids, a nonprofit recreational and athletic training whitewater and rafting center, fully funded by MAPS 3. The addition has doubled the number of visitors to the Oklahoma River.
The Stars & Stripes River Festival is one of many large events in the Boathouse District. Another annual event, the Oklahoma Regatta festival, brings in $3 million to the Oklahoma City economy through lodging, food and entertainment. The district is home to the OKC Boathouse Foundation’s U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site and hosted the 2016 Olympic trials for canoe/kayak slalom.
It’s now plain to see how a grand vision, support of Oklahoma City residents and 25 years have changed what was once referred to as a drainage ditch into a destination place attracting more than 500,000 people annually. By design, the Boathouse District offers something for everyone – from Olympic athletes to recreational athletes, Oklahoma City metro families and visitors. The Stars & Stripes River Festival is a time to celebrate and enjoy the successes of our original MAPS investments.
Cathy O’Connor is the president of the Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.