Plans for downtown park taking shape

Friday, December 14, 2012

by Zeke Campfield

The Oklahoman

The focus of an urban park proposed for just south of downtown Oklahoma City will be a “great lawn” that will rival that of the one at Central Park in New York City.

At six acres, the proposed public gathering place will be almost half the size of the Central Park lawn but six times larger than the open space at Myriad Botanical Gardens across the street.

Residents who comprise the oversight board for the $132 million MAPS 3 project said they were excited about the park’s potential after the latest draft was unveiled by its design consultants, Hargreaves Associates, on Thursday.

“They’ve still got more studying to do and work to do, but it’s fascinating to see what that park will be and to dream of what the view of the skyline will be from the park,” said Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum and a member of the MAPS park subcommittee.

The plan presented to the subcommittee Thursday is a mixture of three previous designs developed by Hargreaves and presented at a public meeting in October.

Park to be 70 acres
The new design proposal incorporates elements from all three previous proposals and was developed based on comments and suggestions lodged at the public meeting, at subcommittee meetings and during informal conversations with the city council, said Mary Margaret Jones, landscape architect with Hargreaves.

The 70-acre park will be bordered by the proposed boulevard and convention center to the north — also part of the MAPS 3 package approved by voters in 2009 — and by the Oklahoma River to the south.

Interstate 40 will split it nearly in half, with the new Skydance Bridge connecting the two elements together.

The park will be built in phases starting next year and is expected to be completed in 2020.

Recreational lake
The design unveiled Thursday calls for a lake large enough for water activities, a walkway that runs north-south alongside S Robinson, and a meandering “discovery trail” running east-west in the section immediately south of I-40.

“We got tons of responses of, ‘Yes, I want a lake I can paddle around on,’” Jones said. “That was, I’d say, 90 percent of the response we got: Give us a lake that maximizes edges and that maximizes discovery as you move around it.”

A plaza alongside the proposed boulevard will connect the proposed convention center to the great lawn, which could host as many as 50,000 congregants when the street is shut down, Jones said.

Gardens will run the length of the park, graduating from native prairie-land flora in the urban north to native wetlands flora as the park reaches the river, according to the proposal.

Members of the subcommittee asked the consultants to consider cost of maintenance, the impact of grades leading up to the interstate, and the best way to incorporate Union Station into the park while they work to develop a final design proposal.

The subcommittee also authorized Hargreaves to investigate the development of the riverside area immediately south of the park.

The final proposal will be revealed at a public meeting in January.