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Oklahoma City planning director answers questions about potential Downtown park

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As the Dec. 8 MAPS 3 vote approaches, city leaders and paid consultants continue to amplify efforts to assure continuation of the city sales tax that funded previous MAPS plans.

A part of these efforts was an Oct. 29 presentation by park planning consultant Mary Margaret Jones at a Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at the Petroleum Club of Oklahoma City.

Jones' presentation described plans for the planned central park in general terms, but did not address directly questions about the park's funding, maintenance or security.

Afterwards, Russell Claus, city planning director, answered the following questions from Oklahoma Gazette.

OKG: What are the projected annual operating costs of the park? Would these costs constitute an increase in the city budget, and are these new costs factored into future city budgets?
Russell Claus: This has not yet been determined. Experience from other cities indicates a budget possibly above $2 million, but this depends on a number of factors that have yet to be worked out, especially park programming. Keep in mind that the park design is just at the concept phase and projecting any numbers at this point is very speculative.

None of the MAPS projects have been fully developed, as was the case for the first round of MAPS, and yet no issues of maintenance have been identified with these early projects.

Quite the contrary, these projects have not only paid for themselves, but have generated massive private investment that is one of the primary reasons the Oklahoma City economy is doing so well at the moment (OKC is the third strongest U.S. metro economy, according to BusinessWeek).

In considering maintenance models from other cities, it is possible that maintenance funding could be shared between the city and a conservancy or other management entity. Also, it is likely that revenues from special events, the café and other leasable elements of the park will help to offset overall maintenance costs.

OKG: What kind of security will be set up and who will pay for this? Off-duty police have been mentioned as the source of the park's security force, but doesn't the police union's reluctance to participate make this questionable?
Claus: The park has been designed in accordance with the latest national security design principles for public spaces. The proposed concept design ensures that there are no security risk pockets in the park, and that easy access is provided for potential emergency response situations.

The CPTED (crime prevention through environmental design) approach accomplishes these goals in a way that the general public will likely never notice. The park will be well lit and has been designed to ensure the continuous presence of people, since the best security for any site is constant people activity. The intention to support the park with adjoining residential development is another way to ensure "eyes on the park."

Downtown already has one of the lowest crime rates in the city, a situation we believe will continue to improve with the enhancements supported by MAPS.

On the question of what security will look like and who will pay for it, this has not yet been determined, since the governance structure for the park has not yet been determined. The idea of a private conservancy is being considered since this is a successful, commonly used approach employed by other urban parks (such as Houston's Discovery Green).

It is anticipated that security will likely be provided through some blend of uniformed police patrols during normal non-peak operations, and a combination of police and security for special events. Quite frequently, special events hire their own security, which can include off-duty police officers.

Also note that the MAPS projects are designed to grow our economy, which translates to increased revenues to support all city services, including the police force. It is possible that the blighted nature of this area of town may well place a greater load on the police force now than it will after it is redeveloped.

OKG: How will the proposed conservancy work to fund maintenance of the park? Will the conservancy pay for security?
Claus: As previously stated, the city has not yet determined whether it will seek to establish a conservancy to manage the park. We are in the very early stages of evaluating the management structure. We are endeavoring to determine the most efficient and effective way to manage the park.

The idea of a conservancy may offer significant benefits because the operation of a park of this nature is very different from anything we have had experience with so far. Since it seems to work so well for other communities, it is something we intend to evaluate in much greater detail.

OKG: Why did the estimated cost of the central park drop from $154 million to $130 million just in time for the MAPS 3 announcement?
Claus: City staff reviewed cost estimates based on our experience with local construction costs, which led us to believe that we could implement the concept design as proposed, at a lower cost.

The original estimate also included underground parking, which proved too expensive to justify relative to other parking options adjacent to the park. The deletion of the underground parking enabled us to include the complete open space system proposed by the Core to Shore plan.

OKG: I understand that more than $500,000 has already been paid to Hargreaves Associates to formulate the existing central park plan, with an additional $24,000 to help educate the public. Are these figures accurate?
Claus: The original contract amount was $413,209. The contract was amended to include the recreational fields when it became apparent that stakeholders wanted to contribute ideas for organized sports in the area south of the I-40 alignment. That second amendment amount was $67,078. The third amendment for $24,000 allowed for consultant time to present the concepts and respond to questions in Oklahoma City as well as begin discussions about governance of the park. The original contract with two amendments totals $504,287.

OKG: Is it also the case that money already spent on the central park designs is more than was initially allotted for the entirety of the Core to Shore planning effort?
Claus: The Core to Shore planning effort was contracted in two phases for a total of $796,716 for planning services. "C.G. Niebank

More MAPS 3 coverage:
Officials: Downtown rail initiative in MAPS 3 can serve as future framework
If voters approve MAPS 3 proposal, Downtown could house $130 million park
OKC Mayor Mick Cornett plans to educate about $777 million proposal
Will OKC's decreased revenue change MAPS 3's final blueprint?
Former Mayor Ron Norick discusses how current MAPS proposal differs from first
Mayor prioritizes modern streetcar in OKC for MAPS 3
Some OKC entities stand to benefit in MAPS 3 proposal
MAPS 3 could bring massive central park to Downtown OKC area

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