Change coming to OKC health district

Officials seek to liven up institutional atmosphere of Health Sciences District in Oklahoma City

Monday, November 10, 2014

by Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

Moves are afoot to develop an “innovation district” that would be more welcoming for the area located east of Oklahoma City’s downtown.

After spurning commercial and retail development for three decades, a sharp reversal is about to take place in the 300-acre area sometimes known as the Oklahoma Health Center, or the Health Sciences District, or the OU Medical Center.

Truth is, that sort of confusion over the area’s identity is being acknowledged by Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, who is championing a new direction for the campus, which is just east of downtown and home to 17,000 jobs.

The answer being pursued by the area’s biggest players is an “innovation district,” which would add some color and vibrancy to what is now a very institutional neighborhood.

“What spurred this is I’m on the Oklahoma Health Center’s board and we’ve been talking about what the role is for the organization moving forward,” Williams said. “There has been a lot of brainstorming with all the people representing the various institutions.”

Innovation district

A Brookings Institute report released in June provided Williams with inspiration; the analysis showed how cities across the world are creating “innovation districts” out of old industrialized areas, suburban science and research parks, and around institutions located in or near central city downtowns.

The Health Sciences District has it all — only Interstate 235 separates it from Bricktown, Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley and the Central Business District. The area is home to 28 research, medical and scientific research organizations along with a number of companies that work in bio-sciences.

The area is home to the University of Oklahoma’s teaching hospital, the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation and some of the state’s brightest students attend classes at the Oklahoma School of Science and Mathematics.

Newest anchor being built

And it’s newest anchor, the $110 million GE Oil and Gas Technology Center, is being built at NE 10 and Walnut Avenue and will employ 130 people and is expected to attract a flurry of new high-tech businesses to the area.

“I ran across this Brookings report and I got to thinking we’ve got 17,000 jobs and with GE coming in, it’s no longer a medical-driven entity,” Williams said. "Yet this is a place to work, but not a place to live and play. It’s not been talked about in the development community.” ...

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