While this weekend's "Polishing the Pearl" event at East 6th Street and South Peoria Avenue will result in only a temporary makeover of the fledgling entertainment and retail district, its organizers hope it sparks a permanent shift in the way Tulsans view the area.
"There's been a lot of talk about revitalization in this town, and unfortunately, some of that talk has been going on for a decade," said Brian Paschal, executive director of the Tulsa Young Professionals organization, which is staging the event. "A lot of people have read about the Pearl District and its form-based code and don't know what it is."
That recently adopted code, a departure from traditional zoning, is designed to attract the kind of multi-use development that Pearl District supporters hope will turn the area into a walkable, sustainable urban neighborhood. "Polishing the Pearl" is intended to serve as a two-day transformation of a one-block area in the heart of the district, illustrating for visitors what the 6th Street corridor could become.
The event kicks off with a ribbon cutting at 5pm on Friday, April 15 and continues until 9pm. The event resumes at 11am Saturday and concludes at 3pm. Visit typros.org and click on the "Happenings" link for more information.
"Polishing the Pearl" is the brainchild of Typros member Jonathan Bolzle, who dreamed up the project after learning about the success of a similar effort that was staged last year in the Oak Cliff section of Dallas. His Street CReD work crew is doing much of the work on the event, though Paschal said all nine Typros work crews are involved to one degree or another, an effort that includes hundreds of people.
Pearl District Association board member Jamie Jamieson said his organization has been involved in the planning for the event from the beginning, and he is pleased to see it coming to fruition.
"It's great to see young professionals taking an interest in the core of the city," he said. "Most research shows that young people are more interested in living and hanging out in funky, urban neighborhoods than suburban areas. "
During the two-day event, 6th Street will be narrowed to two lanes from four on the block between Peoria and Quincy Avenue, and a physical representation of a proposed canal will be placed in the middle of the street. The block will be lined with 64 trees brought in for the event, along with hundreds of twinkling lights. Vacant buildings along the block are getting a quick facelift, and a variety of vendors are moving in to those storefront locations to showcase their wares. Street performers will provide entertainment.
Paschal emphasized the street will not be closed during the event, a nod to the Pearl District's infill plan that was adopted years ago. That plan includes a canal down the middle of 6th Street, part of a larger effort to control flooding in the area. Pearl District supporters envision 6th Street becoming a place where motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians mingle freely.
Among the artists scheduled to perform at the event are Ben Neikirk, Eric Himan, Fiawna Forte, Gypsy Fire Belly Dance of Tulsa, Marce Lealperez, Native Lights, the Parakeet Chiefs, Flash Mob, the Legacy Project and Porticl Dans Theatre.
Narrowing the street for the weekend will help create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, Pashcal said.
"That will slow down traffic and provide a more walkable area for people to go shopping," he said. "Studies have shown that if you're driving more than 30 mph, you're not really noticing what you're passing.
This will allow people to take notice of their surroundings."
The canal itself will be represented by a giant cloth stretched down the middle of the street. Trees will line both sides of the canal, and while they'll only be located there temporarily for the weekend, Paschal said Up With Trees -- one of the event's community partners -- has agreed to donate them for planting on the street afterward.
Work on the project began several weeks ago, Paschal said. The building fronts on the block are being power washed, and many of them are receiving a new coat of paint. As the event approaches, the storefront sites will be opened and given a facelift, with boarded-up windows being opened and missing ceiling tiles replaced.
The list of vendors includes local restaurants, brewers and boutiques.
"We've giving each vendor a blank slate," Pashcal said. "We've basically said, 'We've cleaned it up at no cost to you, so come on out and create a sales area.' "
Another feature of the event will be a "community village" featuring a cross section of organizations promoting revitalization, walkability or sustainability. That list includes Big Brothers Big Sisters, the Community Food Bank, the Fab Lab, the Indian Nations Council of Governments, Independent Youth, the Pearl District Association, PLANiTULSA, the Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, Transit Matters, the Tulsa City-County Library, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, Up With Trees, the YWCA of Tulsa, the Tulsa Hub, the University of Tulsa, the Tulsa Arts and Humanities Council and the Tulsa Children's Museum.
The event is planned as an unstructured, free-flowing event that is designed to have an organic feel. The only exception to that, Paschal said, will be a presentation at 11am Saturday that will feature appearances by representatives of Tyrpos, PLANiTULSA, INCOG and the Pearl District Association, along with a representative of the weekend makeover in Dallas that inspired this event.
"He'll speak to the success they've had there as a result of their makeover," Paschal said.
A streetscaping project that includes bollards, decorative crosswalks, traffic-calming measures and other flourishes is planned for the 6th and Peoria intersection later this year. Jameson said the Pearl District Association has been working to revitalize the area for the last 10 years, and he believes that project and this weekend's event are further evidence that that effort is reaching critical mass.
"'Polishing the Pearl' marks a kind of tipping point in the rebirth and regeneration of the core of Tulsa," he said.
Paschal said the University of Tulsa will run shuttle buses from its campus to the event in an effort to encourage student attendance. The 6th Street corridor often has been cited by city officials as a logical link between downtown and TU, particularly if it becomes a bustling entertainment district.
"Polishing the Pearl" is being put together with a shoestring budget, Paschal said. Plans call for duplicating the effort next year in another part of Tulsa that needs a nudge in the right direction, and Paschal hopes sponsors can be lined up to help underwrite such efforts in the future.
"In some regards, we're saying the event is already a success," Paschal said. "It's got the building owners working together. I don't know if you can attribute that to us, but that wasn't happening before. We've already looked at that said 'We've got to do this somewhere else in Tulsa next year.'"
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