An effort to transform a square block of the Brady Arts District into a park and public gathering space will begin in earnest in just a few weeks, but a plan to drill geothermal wells in the area has hit a snag.
A federal grant that would pay for part of the geothermal wells project has been approved but not released, meaning that part of the work will be delayed until the money is delivered, according to those working on the project.
"We had hoped to start digging the wells July 1, but the feds haven't released the money, which has been matched by the Kaiser Foundation," said Greg Gray, the president of the Brady Business Association.
Construction of the park cannot begin until the wells are drilled. Gray said he was unsure how much of an impact the delay would have on the park's completion date, which originally was targeted at 18 months from July 1.
"I don't know -- nobody's telling me enough information to make a judgment on that," he said.
The geothermal and park projects are at the heart of a highly touted revitalization effort in the Brady, a section of the north side of downtown that historically has served as a warehouse and industrial district. Boosters hope to convert the area into a haven for art galleries, restaurants, nightclubs, theaters and a slew of museums.
The planned geothermal project would provide heating and air conditioning for the adjacent Mathews Building, future home of the Adkins Collection and a satellite location of the Philbrook Museum of Art. Other businesses and residents in the neighborhood also would be able to access the system to reduce energy demand.
Its $6 million price tag would be covered by federal money and the matching funds from the Kaiser Foundation. The foundation's Stanton Doyle, who is working to secure the release of the federal money, said he wasn't alarmed by the delay, explaining that the federal government is conducting a secondary review of many such projects across the country before it releases the funds that have been approved.
"We think we're making progress," he said.
But the fact that the money hasn't been released yet already has impacted the ability of engineers and surveyors to do some preliminary work, meaning construction of the park likely won't begin on time, he said.
"It would probably need to be delayed a few weeks," he said.
Doyle squelched any notion that the delay could result in the park not being built, pointing out the projects are funded separately. The $8 million park is being built with Vision 2025 funds, Kaiser Foundation funds and other grant money, officials have said.
"The park will get built," he said.
Tentatively named the Brady Town Square, the park will occupy the city block bounded by Brady Street to the south, Boston Avenue to the west, Cameron Street to the north and Cincinnati Avenue to the east. The park will feature a huge green space called the Brady Lawn, as well as performance spaces, food vendors, gardens, a fountain and a public marketplace. A renovated historic freight loading dock will feature a solar power system on its roof that is designed to power the nearby geothermal well field and its distribution system.
Brady supporters introduced the projects at a Feb. 2 event at Living ArtSpace Tulsa in the heart of the district. Gray, owner of nearby Club 209, said then that work on the wells would begin as soon as Central Freight Lines Inc., a trucking company that occupies the site, moved out at the end of June.
The trucking company will still be moving out by that deadline, even though the drilling will not begin as scheduled, Gray said last week. What will be taking place, according to Doyle, is demolition of the Central Freight Lines facilities so that when the money is released, the projects can move ahead quickly.
Gray, for one, is impatient for that to take place. He has very high expectations for the impact the park will have on the Brady. He views it as a focal point for the entire district, a project that will help tie its parts together and attract large numbers of visitors.
The park could host live music events as part of the Brady's well-attended Friday art crawls, he said, as well as a music festival of its own.
"I'd love to see a jazz festival come back like we used to have," he said. "If we had a permanent structure like the cement loading dock we can use for a stage, we can put people in front of it, and we'll already have a venue."
Gray said the recent inaugural edition of the Brady Arts Festival -- held in conjunction with Mayfest and the Blue Dome Arts Festival -- was well attended and left vendors pleased. But he said it would have been even more successful if organizers had not had to pay to close down local streets or obtain city permits. Being able to place an event like that in a park would have made it much more attractive, he said.
Gray expects the park to provide Brady merchants with a boost in their lunchtime and weekend business. He believes it will serve as a magnet for downtown office workers looking for a quiet, green space in which to enjoy their lunch, as well as school children who are expected to flock to the area once a number of planned museums are constructed.
"Centennial Park was done right," he said, referring to a picturesque city park just east of downtown in the Pearl District. "We want to do this park right, too."
In the meantime, he has a message for federal officials who have yet to release the funds he and other supporters of the district are eagerly awaiting.
"Tell us what you want, and we'll do it," he said, laughing.
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