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If voters approve MAPS 3 proposal, downtown could house $130 million park

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While the Myriad Botanical Gardens is an attractive and popular public space in downtown Oklahoma City, the 17-acre site is miniscule when compared to urban parks in other cities.

'STILL A CONCEPT PLAN'
AFFECTED PARCELS
'EXTREMELY CONJECTURAL'
PARK POLL

But with the "Core to Shore" development included in the MAPS 3 proposals, recreational park space in downtown Oklahoma City stands to increase at least fourfold with the inclusion of a proposed 70-acre central park and additional green spaces that will extend from the Myriad Gardens down to the Oklahoma River and for several city blocks east and west along the riverfront.

The proposed central park, which is just one part of the total parks project, would be bound by the former route of Interstate 40 on the north, the new path of I-40 on the south, with Robinson and Walker avenues forming its east and west boundaries. A new boulevard is proposed for what will be the former route of I-40.

In addition, the MAPS 3 proposal calls for mixed commercial and residential development along with the park space both north and south of the new path of I-40. At its farthest points, development south of the new route of I-40 would stretch from the Interstate 35 interchange to the east to Western Avenue to the west.

'STILL A CONCEPT PLAN'
The Core to Shore plan prepared in 2008 indicates that more than 3,000 commercially developed housing units are planned near the park, which would include single-family detached homes and residential towers. The plans also include construction of more than 500,000 square feet of retail space in nearby areas, as well as office space built for potential corporate offices.

Assistant City Manager Cathy O'Connor said the total estimated price tag to the city is $130 million for the parks portions of the "Core to Shore" project.

"It is still a concept plan. It isn't the final version of the plan " that won't be done until after the election, if the election is successful," O'Connor said. "Then we'll have a much better idea of what everything's really going to cost."

The exact details of the central park and other proposed downtown park areas may be somewhat vague right now, but O'Connor said the city staff is using the $130 million figure as a preliminary benchmark.

"'You ask, 'How can they do that?'" she said. "Well, there are consultants who specialize in preparing cost estimates. That's what they do for a living. They took the park, and the kinds of amenities and features that the steering committee and everyone who had input wanted to see in (the park), and then prepared a cost estimate."

As part of the central park's creation and included in the project budget, the City of Oklahoma City will buy a total of 53 land parcels that fall within the proposed park boundaries.

AFFECTED PARCELS
Most of the affected parcels are zoned either commercial or industrial, with small numbers of residences, and exempt properties owned by The Salvation Army and the State of Oklahoma.

Most of the property within the proposed central park area has yet to be acquired by the city, O'Connor said.

"We began acquiring property in the area about a year ago," she said. "The council passed a resolution authorizing staff to begin negotiating to purchase property in the (entire) Core to Shore area. The only parcel that we've acquired that's in the park boundaries is the old post office facility, and we purchased that about a year ago."

O'Connor said negotiators have yet to meet any resistance from property owners unwilling to sell their land within the proposed parks areas.

"We pay based on a fair market value appraisal. At this point, we are still meeting and negotiating and talking with people who own property in the area, and we're working with as many willing sellers as we can," she said. "The council authorized the use of about $5 million of tax increment financing money in the area, and we will be continuing to buy property, but that money will run out (eventually) and if the MAPS (3) vote passes, then we'll continue to buy property."

'EXTREMELY CONJECTURAL'
Russell Claus, OKC planning director, said that proposed amenities for the 70-acre central park include a family play area for small children, an exploration play area for teens, nine vertical axis wind turbines in a prairie setting, a 1,500-square-foot café, a large performance lawn for concerts and a small amphitheater.

In addition, he said that landscaping and other improvements to the north end of the park could include formal gardens, as well as formal and interactive water fountains, a five-acre pond, plazas, paths, bridges and other recreation and picnic areas. The plan also suggests the installation of public art at both the northeast corner of the park and in the pond.

The southern portion of the park is slated to include soccer fields, basketball courts and sand volleyball areas with field lighting.

But Claus also noted that unless and until MAPS 3 funding for the park is approved by voters in December, "these amenities and the associated numbers are extremely conjectural. (This is) based on a very preliminary evaluation of the possible content and functions of the park," he said.

"As such, inclusion of all amenities mentioned, estimates on size and other numbers cited are subject to significant change before they are finalized " a process which will not happen until after a successful vote."

The Core to Shore project will not significantly increase Oklahoma City's total public park space available to city residents, which by some measures already compares favorably with Tulsa and Wichita, Kan.

The 2009 City Park Facts study prepared by The Trust for Public Land found that Oklahoma City has 26.8 acres of park space per 1,000 residents, while Tulsa has 19.1 and Wichita has 12.3. The study also found that Oklahoma City spends $52 per resident on parks and recreation, while Tulsa spends $44 and Wichita spends $57.

City Park Facts furthermore reported that Oklahoma City's 123 park playgrounds represent 2.2 playgrounds per 10,000 residents " almost twice the number of park playgrounds (1.2 per 10,000 residents) in New York City. "C. G. Niebank

PARK POLL
Nearly 1,000 voters were polled by Shapard Research just prior to the MAPS 3 announcement in September. The exclusive Oklahoma Gazette/News 9 poll found 45 percent oppose the central park concept with 19 percent of voters undecided.

Only 36 percent of Oklahoma City voters approve of a new downtown central park investment in MAPS 3.

However, 54 percent of those polled said they would support a city sales tax extension for an investment in outdoor projects such as parks, trails and street beautification in MAPS 3. Only 30 percent opposed these improvements.

Voter support is more broad-based for general outdoor improvements because a lot of residents aren't necessarily touched by a park that is located downtown, said Keith Gaddie, Shapard's vice president of research.

"If they are going to pay taxes, they want it to go to services that will come out to them," he said.

The Dec. 3 MAPS ballot is expected to include a yes-or-no vote on the downtown park and seven other projects combined. The other items are a new rail-based streetcar system; a new downtown convention center; sidewalks; biking and walking trails; Oklahoma River improvements; aquatic centers for seniors; and an upgrade at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds.

The proposal calls for a seven-year, nine-month extension of the one-cent sales tax. Approval will require 50 percent of Oklahoma City voters, plus one. "Rob Collins

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MAPS 3 could bring massive central park to Downtown OKC area

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