POSTED ON APRIL 14, 2010:
The Pearl Divers
Pre-Development group hopes West Pearl detention pond gains momentum in becoming a reality. Good for them, good for downtown
String of Pearls. Development of the West Pond in the Pearl District would not only solve a flood control issue in the area, but supporters also hope that it revitalizes the area with new businesses and residents.
A storm water detention project that supporters hope will lead to the redevelopment and repopulation of much of the Pearl District east of downtown is close to becoming a reality, according to city and neighborhood officials.
The West Pearl detention pond -- a five-acre pond to be located north of Centennial Park -- is part of the larger Elm Creek/Sixth Street Drainage, Detention and Conveyance Plan put together by leaders of the Pearl District Association, a group working for the improvement of the neighborhood bounded by U.S. 75, Interstate 244, Utica Avenue and South 11th Street. Much of the northern part of the district lies in a flood plain, and the project is intended primarily to remedy that situation.
But PDA officials long have envisioned something more ambitious than a simple flood-control project. Construction of the West Pond would be the first step in completing that plan.
Carl Craigo, a professional engineer in the city's Public Works Department, said the city will be applying soon for a state grant to help fund the project. But matching sales tax funds already have been allocated by the city, and that money will be used to begin property acquisition, he said.
"This will help business owners and home owners from the existing Pearl District to the 21st Street bridge," Craigo said of the pond.
The pond generally would be bounded by Madison Avenue on the west, Fourth Street on the north, Owasso Avenue on the east and Fifth Place on the south. Preliminary plans call for it to be 500 feet long and 450 feet wide, and it would be configured to maximize redevelopable land around its perimeter. The pond would be heavily landscaped and include a number of amenities such as outdoor terraces, overlooks, fountains and a pier. In many ways, it would serve as a bookend for the pond at Centennial Park just to the south.
The cost of the project is estimated at a little less than $9 million, Craigo said.
"We're thrilled the city is building it, you bet," PDA President Dave Strader said. His organization has been lobbying for the city to commit to the entire $65.1 million Elm Creek/Sixth Street project for more than a year, and even though the West Pond is only a small part of that, Strader has high hopes for its impact.
"Our big challenge after that is to repopulate the area," he said. "That's why we're exploring a partnership with (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). We want to create a dense, urban environment."
Craigo emphasized the project would be an attractive one, serving more than a utilitarian purpose.
"That's the way we do (storm water retention) ponds, with extensive landscaping," he said. "It's not just a hole in the ground."
The West Pond would provide 64.5 acre-feet of floodwater storage, according to a preliminary draft for the plan. Its normal water level would be 15 feet below street level, though the water would be afforded room to rise during heavy rains. Large pavilions would be built on the north and south edges of the basin, along with a dock/observation deck on the east side. Steps and accessible ramps on the north and south edges would provide access to a walk that rings the pond. Aeration fountains would help maintain the water quality.
A 25- to 30-foot wide pedestrian zone is proposed at street level overlooking the pond, accommodating seating areas, trees, pedestrians, bicyclists and lighting. According to the plan, the project "has the potential to become a dynamic pedestrian space that provides benefits far beyond flood control."
Supporters of the project believe it would attract residential development, and the preliminary draft calls for the pond to be surrounded by new residential structures.
"We think it will be the catalyst to repopulate the entire Pearl District," Strader said. "We want to repopulate downtown. All these things that are happening downtown now, we need people to support those things."
The PDA completed its conceptual design for the project in December, then forwarded it to the city. City planner Theron Warlick said city officials are seeking a hazardous mitigation grant from the state, a process Craigo said would play out during the next several months. Completion of the actual designs for the West Pond could take a year, with construction taking another year, he said.
Strader acknowledged the project wouldn't get built overnight, but he expressed the hope that as it moves forward, its benefits will convince city officials to commit to the rest of the Elm Creek/Sixth Street project, which includes another large storm water detention pond near Sixth Street and Rockford Avenue several blocks to the east. The East Pond would be connected to the Centennial Park pond by the centerpiece of the plan, a canal system that would run down the center of Sixth Street that is designed to revitalize that corridor into a bustling retail, residential and entertainment zone.
Funding the plan will be a major challenge, Warlick said.
"The entire East Pond and canal project is orders of magnitude more costly (than the West Pond)," he said. "But to get a 100-percent flood control solution, you need all the components."
Strader, for one, considers it an integral part of the effort to remake the Pearl District into Tulsa's most livable community.
"We want to see work take place east of Peoria," Strader said. "That area has struggled for too many years. It's a slum, and it's blighted, and we're hoping to get it going in our lifetime. The West Pond would create the momentum we need."
Another project designed to benefit the Pearl District is moving forward, as well. Jerry Bowen, chairman of the PDA's Peoria Streetscaping Committee, said construction is scheduled to begin soon on a plan to enhance two local intersections and slow down traffic on Peoria Avenue, increasing safety and making the area more attractive for pedestrians.
"We've been working with the city and Theron Warlick for probably close to three years," Bowen said. "Hopefully, we'll see those plans come to fruition this year."
Bowen said plans call for the installation of attention-grabbing asphalt overlays bearing a Pearl District logo in crosswalks at Sixth and Peoria and 11th Street and Peoria. New bollards, stoplights and streetlights also will be installed.
A third, painted crosswalk will be installed at 8th and Peoria, he said.
"Those should really make the intersections look nice and hopefully draw new business to the area and make it look more attractive," he said. "That's our goal, once this is done."
Bowen said the planned improvements for the Sixth and Peoria intersection already have netted a positive result, as a sandwich shop and coffee house has announced plans to move into a building at the southeast corner of the intersection.
"It's going to be new to the neighborhood," he said. "We're hoping that's going to be contagious and attract more business along Sixth Street."
The plan also calls for the creation of traffic-calming measures through the corridor, a move intended to make it safer for motorists turning against traffic near a small hill near Eighth and Peoria. Flashing signal lights and new signs will warn motorists to reduce their speed to 25 mph through the zone.
Another flashing sign warning motorists to slow down will be installed at Fifth Street and Peoria, he said.
Doug Duke of the Jacobs Engineering Group, the firm that has been hired by the city to plan the project, said the work on Peoria is part of a larger $3.1 million street improvement package in the area that includes the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of 10th Street and Elgin Avenue. He estimated the cost of the Peoria portion at $800,000. The improvements are being funded by tax increment finance district money.
He said his firm would finish its design plan for the work this month, then present it to the city. Once the city approves the plan, Duke said, it will seek competitive bids and award a contract for the work, which would probably take three months. He estimated work could begin by late July or early August.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A29845