With the opening of ONEOK Field now only a little more than a month away, businesses in the commercial districts surrounding the new ballpark are preparing for an onslaught of visitors looking for a place to park.
The Tulsa Drillers' Web site (HYPERLINK "http://www.tulsadrillers.com"www.tulsadrillers.com) features a ONEOK Field parking map that shows the location of numerous lots within a relatively easy walk of the new ballpark. According to the map, there are 3,509 spaces within four and a half blocks of the stadium, or a five-minute walk. Within an eight-block radius, or a 10-minute walk, there are 5,534 spaces. According to the Web site, that number does not include numerous metered parking spaces that are free after 5pm and on weekends.
The ballpark seats approximately 6,000 people. When city officials planned the new facility, they chose not to build an accompanying parking garage in an attempt to promote foot traffic in the surrounding areas.
A full house is expected for the team's home opener on Thursday, April 8 against Corpus Christi, and crowds throughout opening weekend are likely to place a heavy demand on parking in the three districts that lie adjacent to the ballpark -- Greenwood, the Brady Arts District and the Blue Dome district.
Brian Carroll, media relations director for the Drillers, said there has been a degree of concern expressed by some members of the public over parking as the season opener nears.
"But that's died down a little bit," he said. "I know it's still on people's minds as April 8 approaches because it's going to be different from the fairgrounds, where we basically had two different lots where everybody parked."
But Carroll believes once patrons of the new ballpark come to understand the layout, they'll like this situation a lot more. He said the spread-out nature of the parking situation at ONEOK Field--and the easy access to Interstate 244, U.S. 75 and the Broken Arrow Expressway--will mean that post-game traffic can disperse much more quickly than at Drillers Stadium.
He said reserved parking will be made available to the team's season ticket holders.
Reuben Gant, president and CEO of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, has previously said he initially expects chaos in the area around the ballpark as visitors figure out how to get around and where to park. But he said last week merchants in his district are looking forward to the increased traffic--and, hopefully, business--the opening of the ballpark will bring.
The owners of a new hamburger restaurant in the area are planning on being open by April 1 to take advantage of baseball season, he said.
Elliot Nelson--who owns a number of restaurants in the Blue Dome district, including his flagship operation, McNellie's Public House at 409 E. First St.--did not return calls from Urban Tulsa. But Greg Gray, president of the Brady Business Association, acknowledged he has mixed emotions about the opening of the ballpark, though it likely will mean an increase in business for many of the bars and restaurants in the area.
"That is true, but I'm also concerned there may not be enough parking," he said. "I haven't seen any city-developed plan for dealing with where everybody is going to park. That's something they did for the opening of the BOK Center that was very effective."
Gray said the Brady does have a good deal of on-street, metered parking, as well as four surface lots run by American Parking that can handle between 500 and 1,000 cars.
"But when the Brady Theater and Cain's (Ballroom) have something going, it gets kind of crowded down here on weekends," he said. "I think the city needs to come up with a suggested parking plan for folks from all over the community who are coming here from different directions.
What we don't want to happen is for them to come down here and not be able to find anywhere to park, then get frustrated and leave. If there's a plan in place everyone can use, we'll avoid that."
One development that may prevent that from happening is the availability of the parking lots at the Oklahoma State University-Tulsa campus just north of the ballpark across Interstate 244.
Dr. Ron Bussert, OSU-Tulsa's vice president for administration, said the school is making its lots available for ballpark parking on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
"We are (making parking available), under conditions that'll be good for ballpark fans, as well as respecting the interests of students and faculty here at OSU," he said.
Bussert said the school has little need for parking on weekends, so signs will be posted advising visitors that the school's lots may be used on those days. The signs will advise visitors that from Monday through Thursday, students, faculty members and staff members are to have priority. No permits will be required for ballpark patrons to park in the lots, he said.
Bussert said he didn't know exactly how many parking spaces OSU-Tulsa has, but he estimated it was several hundred, some of which will be more convenient for ballpark patrons than others.
The decision to open the campus' lots to ballpark visitors is an attempt by the university to reach out to other Tulsans, he said, pointing out that the campus is built on city trust land and has an obligation to give back to the community.
"We have felt a special connection and mission ever since we came to this campus 10 years ago," he said. "As the ballpark was coming online, we looked for opportunities to be supportive and come on as a good neighbor."
Bussert said he hopes the decision results in greater visibility for the school.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "Many people who don't have reason to come downtown on a regular basis will be coming downtown for a ballgame, and many of them might be seeing our campus for the first time. We're excited about that. We're trying to get the news out that OSU is here in Tulsa in a big way."
The decision not to build a parking garage next to the ballpark has been second guessed in some quarters. But Carroll pointed out that planners in many major-league cities have gone the same route in recent years.
"In an urban setting for ballparks, cities more often are doing what we're talking about--fragmented, on-street parking, as opposed to a high-rise parking lot that's hard to get out of."
Gray said restaurants and bars in the Brady are actually hoping to use post-game congestion to their advantage, in that it might persuade some ballpark patrons to stick around and have a drink or a meal while traffic clears out.
Despite his concerns, he's confident the city will initiate an effort to educate visitors to the area about where parking exists. His association recently began having conversations with the Drillers about the parking issue, and Gray said team representatives share their concerns.
"We want to make sure there's a plan out there that's as effective as the BOK's," he said. "And, if you recall, they didn't unveil that until about a week or 10 days in advance. As long as we know it's being worked on, we're in good shape."
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