POSTED ON MAY 11, 2011:
Bridge to the Brady
The city opens bidding on a project officials say is key to growth of burgeoning arts district
A project viewed by many city officials as crucial to development on the west side of downtown is one step closer to becoming a reality as the city has begun seeking bids for construction of a new Boulder Avenue bridge.
The city began advertising for the project on May 6. The bridge is significant for a number of reasons, according to city planner Stephen Carr, who has been working on a small area plan for downtown for several years.
"The potential impact is pretty dramatic," he said, explaining that the bridge will link the Tulsa campuses of Oklahoma State University and Langston University with the west side of downtown, which is anchored by the BOK Center. It also will serve as the only north-south arterial street that will link the north side of downtown with the riverfront, he said.
The bridge will run from First Street to Archer Street over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway tracks.
The project originally was identified as a priority by the Brady Village Owners Association in 2000, Carr said. In 2001, plans called for the bridge to be demolished and replaced with an at-grade crossing, but city officials later decided to replace the bridge. It has taken many years to put together enough funding to do that, he said.
Brent Stout, the project engineer with the city of Tulsa, said the bridge would be paid for with a combination of bond and sales tax money.
The original Boulder Avenue bridge, constructed in 1929, was closed to vehicle traffic in the late 1990s and later to pedestrians. The bridge was demolished in 2009.
Steve Jacoby, an engineer on the project with SAIC, said reconnecting the area around the new arena with what is now called the Brady Arts District -- a burgeoning entertainment, restaurant, cultural and residential center -- is very important, though he noted the challenges of designing a bridge over the railroad tracks because of the steep grade required.
"Any connection down there is always difficult," he said. "It's been a major problem for a lot of people on the west side of downtown. Re-engaging that area has been a point of emphasis."
All the new activity planned for the areas on both sides of the bridge in the next few years made the need for the project obvious, he said.
"With the emphasis that's been put on the Brady Arts District and engaging that as a living district, as opposed to a warehouse district, it's an even more critical connection."
While the BOK Center has surpassed expectations in terms of ticket sales, many observers have been disappointed that it has not triggered a flood of accompanying development. Stout said he doesn't believe the lack of a Boulder Avenue bridge has hampered development, but he acknowledged, "It definitely hasn't enhanced it."
One project likely to benefit from the new bridge is the planed One Place Development east of the BOK Center. The massive mixed-use development, budgeted at $80 million, will be anchored by an office tower reaching at least 15 floors, but it also will include a hotel, 55 units of residential living, restaurants, retail space, an underground parking garage and other uses. The project is bounded by 2nd Street, Cheyenne Avenue, 3rd Street and Denver Avenue, meaning it is just one block west of Boulder Avenue.
One Place developer Bob Eggleston welcomes the project, of course, but he also believes it's important from a symbolic perspective.
"Almost any public investment in infrastructure will help spur and support private development," he said. "Public investment demonstrates to the private sector the common goal of a more vibrant and successful Tulsa."
Other factors contributing to the significance of the project include its status as a multi-modal transportation project. Stout said the bridge will be built to accommodate not only automobiles, but rubber-tire trolleys and fixed-rail streetcars, as well. It also will feature sidewalks for pedestrians.
Jacoby said Boulder Avenue has been targeted in long-range downtown plans as a fixed-rail corridor that stretches from north of downtown to Veterans Park on the south.
The bridge also will include an art component, although it isn't known yet how ambitious that aspect of the project will be. Jacoby said there was an interest from the outset to introduce art on the bridge.
"There's been a major push by the stakeholders in the Brady Arts District and in the city as a whole to enhance that feature, to give it a little more of a polished look," he said.
The wider-than-normal, pedestrian-friendly promenade designed to make the bridge more attractive to pedestrians will be enhanced by landscaping features, he said. A simple black vinyl art element on the side of the bridge is included in the basic design, though Jacoby said a more elaborate collage depicting the history of Tulsa that was designed by Tulsa Community College students could be added if there are enough left-over funds to cover the cost.
"That also could be added at a later date if a private entity wanted to fund it, although, obviously, it's far more cost effective to do it now," he said.
Jacoby said depending on how the bid process goes, construction of the bridge could begin in July or August. The work is expected to take 10 to 12 months.
Carr has no doubt the new bridge means better days are ahead for the whole of Boulder Avenue.
"Once we get it built, it's going to be an incredible corridor of urban development," Carr said.
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A38890