Main Street: Core to shore proposals taking a step forward

Published: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 7:00 am By: Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman

Last week, some of Oklahoma City's most recognized architects pitched their best visions for a new "central park" that city leaders hope will anchor the area known as "Core to Shore."

They didn't have much time to prepare. A request for proposals to qualify for the project was distributed just a few weeks ago. And there isn't any real funding for the park to be built, especially if it's to match up to Mayor Mick Cornett's dream of having our own version of Chicago's Millennium Park.

For those not familiar with Chicago's park, it's a stunning 24-acre public space that includes a huge amphitheater, gardens, public art, fountains and a restaurant.

Oklahoma City, armed with bond funds and tax increment financing, has spent just under $6 million buying up properties for such a park - which would be centered on the site of the former U.S. Postal Service distribution center.

If it seems like the selection of an architect for a Core to Shore park is on the fast track, consider this: before the city can go to voters to fund such a project, it must first have a pretty water color sketch to present and a cost estimate.

Add into this equation the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber's report on needed funding for a new convention center ($250 million to $450 million) and an ongoing wish list for river improvements and a clear picture emerges - MAPS 3: Core to Shore.

Cornett insists that some form of public transit, the one wish-list item mentioned most by residents when they were surveyed about a potential MAPS 3 two years ago, will also be a part of any ballot.

And don't be too surprised if city leaders take a chance at rolling out such a vote later this year, even with the ongoing economic recession.

Will the plan sell?
What remains to be seen is whether city leaders can sell their vision to a public that, to date, hasn't shown as much excitement or interest in Core to Shore. And even more uncertain is the timing of all this if such a ballot is passed.

Before Core to Shore can really take off, the new alignment of the Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway must be finished and the state must also find the funding necessary to build an ambitious boulevard planned to take its place.

Mayor Cornett believes the boulevard will be built, but it has yet to even make the state's eight-year construction plan and in recent weeks Oklahoma Department of Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley has been quoted using the word "if" when discussing when it might get built.

City leaders predict Core to Shore success will translate into new retail, housing and offices for the urban core. What's at stake is a redefinition of downtown, the Oklahoma River, and the impression the city makes on thousands of travelers who make their way through this currently blighted area daily.

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