Downtown OKC groups pitch canal extension plan

Published: Tuesday, February 10, 2009 7:00 am By: Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

Momentum is building behind the scenes for an extension of the Bricktown Canal that would bring the waterway to the Myriad Gardens.

Tim Brassfield, executive director of the All Sports Association, and Brett Price, president of Urban Neighbors, say their boards recently passed resolutions supporting such a move after the effort was initially launched by the Bricktown Association.

Bricktown Association Chairwoman Avis Scaramucci and Director Jim Cowan declined to comment on the campaign. But several sources verify the discussions also involved top business and civic leaders, Mayor Mick Cornett and City Manager Jim Couch.

The resolution passed by Urban Neighbors mirrors one passed by the Bricktown Association and suggests an extension would change the canal from being just an attraction to a pedestrian thoroughfare.

The plan being pitched would extend the canal from where it dead-ends at the BNSF Railway viaduct; the new waterway would pass under the rail bridge at Reno Avenue, continue between the Cox Convention Center and Ford Center, and end at the Myriad Gardens.

Such a waterway would allow big crowds attending events at Ford Center to walk to Bricktown or to the Arts District without crossing busy traffic corridors.

The extension is also being pitched as a way to provide better access to downtown green space, including the gardens and the Oklahoma River.

What's uncertain is how such an extension might be funded. The project is not being publically mentioned as a potential MAPS 3 project (Mayor Cornett has been pitching light rail, public transit, Core to Shore and a new central park).

Nor has it been mentioned as a potential improvement to be funded by the Devon Energy tower tax increment finance district.

But the idea of a canal extension is not new. When the canal plans were created, the city's public works department drew up a map showing a similar extension plan that also included a loop around what is now the Centennial Building in Lower Bricktown.

In my visits with various players in this deal, it seems they are more focused at simply getting the canal considered as part of a larger discussion on what's next for downtown.

Consultants are drafting up plans for future development of Bricktown and how to bring the city from a tier three to a tier two convention market -- so it's difficult to see how this time isn't better than any other to at least discuss whether such a canal extension is possible.

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