Core to Shore places new convention center next to central park, but others don't agree 

If getting voters to agree to a new convention center was a tough sell, finding the right location could prove even tougher.

A new study suggests putting the convention center closer to Bricktown is a better idea than closer to the proposed central park, which is where the city's Core to Shore master plan had placed it. But city officials and convention center proponents say more dialogue is needed.

In the last two years, at least two scenarios have been researched to determine the convention center's location. The first study's weighted scoring, sponsored by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and conducted by HOK Venue, found the lumberyard property to the south of Harkins Cinemas Bricktown 16, near South Shields Boulevard, as the prime location. Oklahoma Gazette obtained the 2008 HOK Venue site evaluation from City Hall this month.

"We intentionally did not release what they gave to us, because it was so preliminary and because more detail is needed to go into any analysis," said Cynthia Reid, vice president of marketing and communication with the Chamber.

The city's Core to Shore proposal, a plan for development between downtown and the Oklahoma River, shows the convention center farther west than the HOK recommendation. Core to Shore would place the center " and an adjacent hotel " along the new boulevard that will replace the Interstate 40 Crosstown bridge, but across the street from the Ford Center. It would be next to the new central park.

HOK Venue's speculative scoring ranked the Core to Shore site highest, but only if development occurs simultaneously for Core to Shore and the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill area.

The Urban Land Institute released its recommendations March 5. It backed the lumberyard scenario by HOK Venue, putting the convention center closer to Bricktown.

"It anchors the Bricktown area in an attractive way by opening more energy into (north) side, as well as anchoring (south) side of the development area," said ULI researcher Charles Johnson.

The ULI study cost $120,000, with the city paying half and a group of entities, including the Chamber, paying the other, according to ULI spokesperson Trisha Riggs.

Although the Chamber helped sponsor the new study, Reid said more work is needed.

"While the ULI group raised more questions, they didn't conduct in any way, shape or form the level of analysis required to make a good decision," she said. "For us, it just points to the need to be very thoughtful and very deliberate about making that decision."

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett agreed that more study is needed, and pointed out the ULI prefaced its remarks with the need for more discussion.

"It's good to have multiple ideas," Cornett said. "I don't have a preference at this point."

But some in the Bricktown area do. Marsh Pitman, of Pitman Resources, which owns the Bricktown Parking Garage, said he prefers putting the convention center in the lumberyard area along the boulevard.

"It's irrational to me that you would put the convention center in a location that people would have to take a cab from the convention center to get to any of (Bricktown's) amenities," Pitman said. "If a convention-goer gets an hour for lunch, they are going to spend 30 minutes walking back and forth to the convention center (if next to the park). I believe they are just not going to do that."

The area suggested by ULI is currently occupied by Mid-States Wholesale Lumber and Producers Cooperative. The 43-acre Producers Cooperative Oil Mill site is being offered for $120 million.

One of the reasons ULI authors didn't like the site next to the park is they believe it would create a wall separating the park and the convention center, gobbling up one of the best development areas.

But Reid pointed to Houston, where its convention center is located right across the street from a park, and both have proven successful.

"You have people that come downtown for something at the convention center, and their activities spill over into the park and vice versa," Reid said. "They way they use it in Houston, the way Core to Shore envisions it, is that those two would be synergistic things."

One other aspect of the convention center ULI discussed was the center's hotel. The study concludes a hotel of 600 to 700 rooms would cost around $220 million and that taxpayer money would be needed. ULI also said the hotel site does not need to be connected to the convention center, but within walking distance.

"Our experience has been the incentive needs to be 20 to 30 percent of the costs," Johnson said, meaning the city would have to come up with about $50 million.

Reid said citizens shouldn't assume the city is going to subsidize the hotel.

"There are some very successful models around the country where cities are not subsidizing," she said. "There is a difference between subsidizing and financing. Look at what the city did with the Skirvin (Hilton). That has been a very successful partnership."

Cornett said he is not sure that large of a hotel is needed, but that the financing would be less complex than the city's involvement with the Skirvin. Scott Cooper

View two of the recommendations:
HOK VenueULI: video, powerpointCore to Shore
photo This aerial photo shows the Producers Cooperative Oil Mill site from the south, with the lumberyard to its north. The existing Interstate 40 bridge separates it from lower Bricktown.
photo Shannon Cornman/Lance Cornman

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