Amid all the excitement in recent years over the opening of the BOK Center, ONEOK Field, new hotels and loft apartments, and a series of bars and restaurants throughout downtown, it's been easy to forget that long-term plans for the area call for the creation of some attractions that require very little in the way of bricks and mortar -- namely green space.
Stephen Carr certainly hasn't forgotten. A senior planner for the city of Tulsa, Carr is the project coordinator for the Downtown Area Master Plan that was approved last year. Even though there's far more talk these days about such projects as a rail transit system and a major new mixed-use development, Carr knows that one of the elements that ultimately will make downtown a more desirable place to be is the addition of that green space. And he says plans for the creation of those spaces are moving ahead, even as work on all aspects of the downtown plan continues.
Tulsans who are hoping for the creation of a large urban park such as Central Park in Manhattan or Golden Gate Park in San Francisco may be disappointed to learn that's not in the works here, Carr said.
"A 10- to 12-block city park is not really feasible, but several of the size of two to four blocks are," he said.
And there are plenty of those in the downtown plan, one of which is already a reality (John Hope Franklin Park), while work on another is proceeding quickly (the Brady Arts District park). Both those projects are located in the north end of downtown. Carr said the most likely spot for a relatively large new park is in the East Village, and a site between 4th and 6th streets between Frankfort and Kenosha avenues already has been targeted for that, according to the plan.
"Generally in that area, there are ongoing discussions with Land Legacy (a Tulsa-based nonprofit land conservation organization)," Carr said. "They've been trying to secure land to develop a park there for some time."
Carr said a park in the East Village would serve as a focal point for development in a section of downtown that traditionally has lagged behind the rest of the district.
The south end of downtown would benefit greatly from the creation of green, open space, as well, he said. Carr pointed to a site just north of the Inner Dispersal Loop between Boulder and Denver avenues as a likely site for that park.
City officials also are working with representatives of Tulsa Community College's downtown campus to generate some sort of open space there, Carr said, explaining that project likely would take the form of a green focal point and intersection improvements designed around the area's increasingly pedestrian orientation.
Open space opportunities in downtown's west end are not as plentiful, he said, though plans call for the creation of a trail to tie in with the Route 66 plaza on west bank of the Arkansas River.
But there are additional opportunities in other parts of downtown, as well, he noted. An open space and recreation map included in volume I of the Downtown Master Plan features numerous public plazas and existing open spaces that are targeted as locations for parks, he said. Perhaps the most interesting concept is that of "deck overs," in which a deck would be constructed over a suppressed portion of the IDL for commercial development and parking. Carr said the adjoining land on either side could then be converted into open space or park land.
By creating a series of smaller open spaces or parks, instead of one massive park, he said, officials hope to make downtown more walkable in order to attract enough residents to make the area a bustling place even on nights and weekends.
"The idea would be that you don't have to walk much more than five or six blocks to a park or open space," he said. "We want to have green space, open space, available for everybody. And we want to use that to connect downtown to the river, to OSU-Tulsa and to existing neighborhoods to the east and west."
And though it is technically not part of downtown, Carr said the plan also calls for the redevelopment of Veterans Park just south of the IDL.
"The idea is we would have a real canal-type system running through there," he said. "There's a bunch of storm water lines that go through there already that carry water 24/7/365," he said.
All those open space and park plans are closely tied to other aspects of the downtown master plan, Carr said, especially commercial development and transit. So even though it may be years before Tulsans start seeing some of those new green spaces become a reality, that doesn't mean progress isn't being made, he said. The construction of the new Boulder Avenue bridge, the construction of a new multi-modal Interstate 244 bridge and the conversion of several downtown streets from one way to two way are just some of the things that need to happen -- and are happening -- first, he said.
"We're working a lot of pieces of this plan," he said. "We're not just letting it sit on a shelf."
In the meantime, Carr finds himself working with a wide range of public and private stakeholders who are eager to see downtown thrive. With its numerous investments in downtown projects over the past few years, Carr said the city is sending a strong message to the private sector that the once-prosperous district is re-emerging.
"The more we do that, the more we grow in smaller jobs and it really will work," he said. "It's not any one thing -- it's all these things."
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