Grand proposal 

Two major issues of the MAPS 3 program are likely to come up for approval at the July 5 Oklahoma City Council meeting: a proposed project timeline and a proposed site for the future convention center.

While the timeline was discussed at a council meeting earlier in June, the body, which was divided on its support of the timeline, made no decision on the matter.

Meanwhile, the MAPS 3 convention center subcommittee unanimously voted at its June 21 meeting to recommend the so-called Core to Shore North site for the convention center’s location. The subcommittee sent its recommendation to the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board, which unanimously decided at its June 23 meeting to recommend the site to council. The subcommittee considered sites for several months, and the list of potential sites was eventually whittled down from eight to three, before the Core to Shore North site was recommended. Populus and GSB, the consultant firms that aided in the selection, weighted the location against the other sites.

The Core to Shore North site is located just south of Myriad Gardens and just west of the Oklahoma City Arena. The proposed site puts the convention center between the Myriad Gardens and the site of the 70-acre future MAPS 3 park.

Early plans for the convention center included both below-grade and above-grade options, said Ryan Eschelman, an architect with GSB who presented the recommendation to the advisory board.

The below-grade model would put the exhibit hall, used for trade shows and other functions, underground. Meeting rooms, ballrooms and other rooms with windows would be at ground level, Eschelman said.

Eschelman said early designs give the building a 360-degree feel, with no backdoor visible and all sides treated as the main entrance. Eschelman said the convention center would serve as a gateway for the Core to Shore development.

The above-grade option would be similar, only with exhibit halls above the ground level, Eschelman said.

Having the two options allows for a contingency in case the below-grade plan is deemed too costly.

“If we find ourselves in a situation where the challenges of going below grade are cost prohibitive, there are some scenarios that can be studied that allows the building to go above grade that can be studied,” said MAPS 3 Program Director Eric Wenger.

Board member and MAPS 3 park subcommittee chairwoman Kimberly Lowe said the convention center’s location between the MAPS 3 park and the Myriad Gardens allowed the two parks to distinguish themselves. By putting the convention center in such close proximity to other downtown attractions such as the gardens, MAPS 3 park and Devon tower, Lowe said it would create a grand display of the city’s finest achievements.

“If you had a collection of treasures you want to showcase throughout your home, you wouldn’t spread them all throughout your house; you would nestle them together, because together they make the strongest impact,” Lowe said. “And that’s exactly what putting this convention center does for this part of Oklahoma City. It fills those voids.”

The proposed timeline has come under fire from some at the subcommittee, advisory board and City Council levels for placing too much emphasis on economic development and not enough emphasis on quality-of-life projects.

The first project timeline introduced by Architectural Design Group, the city’s consultant on the MAPS 3 program, put the convention center as the last of the eight MAPS 3 projects to be completed, ending in 2021. However, the timeline received revisions after some council and convention center subcommittee members complained that it did not take into account the economic impact.

Revised timelines that moved up the convention center, along with projects at the fairgrounds and river, were presented to the convention center subcommittee. The subcommittee selected an option that moved up the convention center pre-construction start date to 2013, which pushed other projects, such as the modern streetcar and park, to the end.

When the matter came before the MAPS advisory board, ADG recommended going with a start date of 2014, since the 2013 start date would have too much of a negative impact on the other projects. The board passed one of the 2014 options on to the council.

Compared to the original timeline, the working draft delays the second phase of the modern streetcar, as well as the lower park, by about two years. It also divides the upper portion of the park into two phases. The first phase allows for construction of the SkyDance pedestrian bridge landing and landscaping along the northern edge of the park, which is across the boulevard from the planned location of the convention center.

Councilmen Pete White, Ed Shadid and Ronald “Skip” Kelly expressed concern at the June 14 council meeting that the timeline sacrificed the completion of quality-of-life projects, such as trails, sidewalks and wellness centers, to advance completion of the convention center.

“(The council) talked about a balance between both those things,” White said. “It’s my personal opinion that this is not balanced; it doesn’t move in that direction. It moves toward satisfying the downtown-economic-development view of things and not the broader community-wide quality-of-life things.”

The council likely will be considering it at the July 5 meeting.

During the June 21 convention center subcommittee meeting, subcommittee member and Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams said the majority of visitors to the current Cox Convention Center are from Oklahoma City, while a majority of the revenue generated from it comes from visitors.

The convention center hosts many activities for the community, such as graduation ceremonies, lunches, athletic events and local government events, Williams said, and also serves a quality-of-life role.

“I would remind people too that last week 3,000 people celebrated the life of Clara Luper, a civil rights leader, in our convention center,” Williams said.

“The convention center was where we gathered to feed, accept donations, console and be united as a community to deal with the devastation of the bombing,” Williams said. “… To hear people blatantly dismiss that the convention center contributes to the quality of life and say this is all about an economic development thing, is really incorrect.”

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