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From the ground up

Crews race to finish the Myriad Botanical Gardens in time for the Festival of the Arts.

Kelley Chambers April 20th, 2011

Most everyone who walks or drives near the intersection of Sheridan and Hudson avenues can’t help but look up, and keep looking up.

While the intersection provides picturesque views of the construction of the Devon Energy tower — reaching 40 floors high, and counting — along with the accompanying buildings and auditorium, it is easy to miss what’s going on at ground level. In the shadow of the growing Devon Energy Center tower is the Myriad Botanical Gardens. But this isn’t the gardens of old.

While up until last year the layout of the Myriad Botanical Gardens remained largely unchanged from when it opened in 1988, a $38 million renovation is currently under way. The work includes re-glazing the panels on the iconic Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory and reshaping the outdoor grounds to open up the gardens as a public space to relax, walk a dog, see a performance or grab a bite to eat. In one corner of the garden, a lumpy hillside was leveled into a great lawn that can hold 2,500 people fronted by a covered, lighted stage.

Rather than oddly placed entry points, the 17-acre gardens are accessible from four corners and the four streets that border the park. All sides have wide open entry points and decorative pavers that lead to paths that snake throughout the gardens.

above Laura Story, program manager for Project 180, leads a group on a tour of renovations in progress.

We’re a little bit stressed, but we’re confident everything is going to be great.

—Angela Cozby

“There are eight distinct invitations into the Myriad Gardens,” said Laura Story, Project 180 program manager. “That’s a lot different from how it used to be.”

Steep hills that led to the pond that surrounds the Crystal Bridge have been landscaped to include large steps for seating or as a way down to the water. An ice-skating rink and restaurant are set for completion later this year.

The gardens closed April 26, 2010, for a yearlong renovation that was set for completion in time for the Festival of the Arts, which runs from Tuesday through May 1. The re-glazing of the Crystal Bridge and a new south entryway to it were funded by a 2007 General Obligation Bond approved by Oklahoma City voters.

Project 180 renovations are funded through a tax increment financing district set up from construction and appraisal of the $750 million Devon Energy Center.

While the gardens are meant to be an amenity for people to enjoy, it is an essential piece of the Festival of the Arts. Last week, festival staff got their first look at the gardens in a guided tour by Story as workmen busied themselves in every area of the gardens.

“We’re a little bit stressed, but we’re confident everything is going to be great in the Myriad Gardens,” said Angela Cozby, director of the festival.

The festival will make use of the water stage, the lawn and band shell, as well as areas for outdoor sculpture displays and a newly constructed pavilion for a youth art sale. The festival staff’s main concerns were the gateway into the park from the west side. They want to ensure the festival blends seamlessly from the artists’ tents and into the gardens.

With the construction walls erected along Hudson Avenue coming down, Cozby said the festival setup is on schedule. Last week, tents were being constructed in the food court, and artists’ tents along Hudson began going up today. It is consistent with their setup schedule in previous years.

“We’re right on schedule,” she said.

City officials have addressed festival parking concerns in light of Project 180 construction of surrounding streets. Jim Couch, city manager, assured Oklahoma City Council members at the April 12 meeting that effort has been made to take the stress out of parking for the festival.

The city created a website,, to provide a list of parking options. On April 30 and May 1, the Devon parking garage along Hudson will be available for public use. The fee is $5, and proceeds will go to the Arts Council of Oklahoma City.

Story said she can’t wait for the public to see the new and improved gardens when they debut in time for the festival.

“I think people will be very pleasantly surprised,” she said.

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