The unofficial Park Plaza District's proximity to Project 180 could mean design changes to the revitalizing area 

A downtown group seeking to opt out of Project 180 streetscape design requirements is hoping to do so before or at Thursday's Board of Adjustment meeting.

Rick Dowell, president of Dowell Properties, is appealing the matter to the board after Project 180 work within the unofficial boundaries of the Park Plaza District was given the green light by the Downtown Design Review Committee.

The boundaries are unofficial because the Oklahoma City Council has not yet sanctioned the district, although Dowell, who is also president of the Park Plaza Redevelopment Corporation, said the majority of property and business owners in the district have signed on to the plan and it has gone through most of the necessary steps toward being recognized by the council. Dowell said he expects the issue to come before the council in January.

The proposed district sits north of the Central Business District and west of Automobile Alley. About half of the district falls within the scope of Project 180, a $140 million plan to redesign the streetscape in much of the city's core. The Project 180 plans call for a consistency in design for much of the street furniture, fixtures, sidewalks and other appearances within its boundaries downtown.

Dowell said he and others in the district want to keep the existing light poles and street furniture while having parking lots and sidewalks that differ from the Project 180 design, keeping a sort of district-wide uniformity similar to Bricktown, Automobile Alley and other districts.

In addition, Dowell said, many of the modern-looking Project 180 fixtures and street furniture would not fit with many of the buildings in the proposed district, which were built in the early 20th century.

When the Downtown Design Review Committee first approved some of the Project 180 work earlier this year, Dowell protested and sought to have the district exempted. The matter was sent to the Board of Adjustment, which sustained the appeal and allowed the city to take into consideration options to keep the district uniform.

However, when the Downtown Design Review Committee again approved Project 180 work, this time in the unofficial Park Plaza District, Dowell said he again appealed the matter to the Board of Adjustment.

Dowell said his group is currently working with the city to resolve the matter prior to the Thursday meeting.
However, Dowell said, if the matter does go before the Board of Adjustment, he hopes that the board compels the city to keep the existing lights and fixtures rather than simply allowing it the option to do so.

"We're trying to raise the property value here," he said. "We've got a lot of historical buildings, we've got a lot of vacant lots we want to cover up and we want some symmetry to it."

Dowell said some of the light poles and signals the city is looking at replacing were put in not even two years ago.

"I don't know what they're thinking," he said. "They just put them in, for God's sake, and we're paying taxes to pay for it."

Laura Story, Project 180 program manager, said her project started doing work within the Oklahoma City National Memorial area, which sits within the proposed Park Plaza boundaries and was the result of a misunderstanding of that district's parameters. While the matter has the potential to cause delays in Project 180, it's ultimately a matter between the property owners and policy deciders, Story said.

James Loftis, who sits on the Downtown Design Review Committee, said the committee approved the Project 180 plans to keep a consistency to downtown, and that stakeholders in the proposed Park Plaza District are not unanimously opposed to the Project 180 changes.

"Within the 180, in an effort to achieve consistency and not go back to the scattered approach we've had in the past, we voted to support the proposed street amenities, planting and material palette suggested by 180," Loftis said. "If you have a hodgepodge, there are issues such as the design of the various features," such as street furniture placement, tree spacing and where certain other features are located. "Mr. Dowell just has a different view on how this should be done."

To allow the district to have its own unique streetscapes would defeat one of the goals of Project 180, Loftis said.

"It breaks up the consistency," he said. "The work that's been done by 180 has been done by professionals with lots of experience in that area. Mr. Dowell, I think, has a different idea." "Clifton Adcock

See a map of where Project 180 overlaps with the proposed Park Plaza District.

above Rick Dowell stands near landscaping in the unofficial Park Plaza District. Photo/Shannon Cornman

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