2020 Core to Shore vision

By Steve Lackmeyer

The Oklahoman


A couple of big decisions this week will set in motion the final steps toward moving forward with the “Core to Shore” plan, a makeover of blighted land with a price tag approaching $2 billion.

The campaign to transform the area between the Oklahoma River and downtown started with a decision 20 years ago to relocate Interstate 40. That in turn exposed a large swath of land south of downtown that the old highway had blocked from public view.

The new highway opened in 2012, opening up the old pathway to be rebuilt as a new downtown boulevard. The west end boulevard connection between I-40 and Klein Ave. was completed in 2013 and the east end connection to I-40, I-235 and I-35 was completed in 2016.

Construction of the first middle section of the new boulevard between the east end connection at E.K. Gaylord Boulevard, including the BNSF railroad bridge over the roadway, also was completed in 2016.

On Monday the Oklahoma Department of Transportation awarded up to $27 million to Allen Contracting Inc. and Shell Construction Inc. to construct the two remaining final sections of the boulevard, which is also in the heart of area being developed by the city.

The Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust, meanwhile, approved a proposal to pay $14 million to OGE Energy Corp. to buy the utility's data center, which spans an entire block between SW 3, SW 4, Broadway and E.K. Gaylord Boulevard.

The purchase must still be approved by the Oklahoma City Council, and all together, redevelopment of the site into an 865-space garage will total $40 million.

That garage, in turn, is deemed a critical part of building a 600-room Omni, a new convention center, Scissortail Park, and also to accommodate attendees at the neighboring Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The timing of all this, not without some very purposeful planning, is set to result in the transformation of all of the blighted area between E.K. Gaylord Boulevard, Hudson Avenue, Interstate 40 and the new Oklahoma City Boulevard.

In the broader sense, Core to Shore is still years if not decades away from completion when one looks at the overall area that extends west to the Farmers Market area. We don't know what Bob Howard will do with the old Fred Jones Ford dealership site between the new park and the Myriad Gardens.

We still don't know how the Strawberry Fields development will proceed to the west of Scissortail Park. And we don't have any hints yet on how the surviving east side of Hubcap Alley will ultimately be redeveloped, if it is redeveloped at all.

But have no doubt, the heart of the Core to Shore plan has always been the area immediately south of downtown. And now work is set to proceed very quickly with much of it wrapping up in two years.

So let's backtrack on what's been accomplished so far over the past dozen years and what is set to start.

Progress so far

Construction is already well underway on the 37-acre north half of the future Scissortail Park, which will sprawl between Hudson and Robinson Avenues and south of the future Oklahoma City Boulevard. The north half of the park, which is named after the state bird of Oklahoma, will connect to another 31 acres south of Interstate 40 and west of Robinson Avenue that will terminate at the Oklahoma River.

The two sides of the $138 million park will be linked via the $6 million Skydance pedestrian bridge, the iconic span over I-40 inspired by the Scissortail Flycatcher.

The upper park will be completed first and is to open in early 2019. Amenities will include a promenade, fountain, cafe, lake and boathouse, great lawn and stage, playgrounds and gardens.

The lower park between Skydance bridge and the Oklahoma River will be completed later, and includes the environmental cleanup after the junkyards and auto parts stores along Hubcap Alley along S Robinson Avenue are relocated. As I reported last week, demolition is set to start soon with permits being filed by the city.

The Oklahoma City Streetcar, meanwhile, is set to ramp up operations in late 2018. Work is nearing completion on the streetcar barn just west of the historic Union Train Station, and a duel track with a streetcar stop will be situated near the corner of the Oklahoma City Boulevard and Robinson Avenue.

To the south of the park, construction is set to start next year on a new convention center and a 600-room Omni Hotel. Construction started in late November on a 133-room Fairfield Inn that will front E.K. Gaylord Boulevard but will be just south of the convention center.

So where does all this leave us?

Well, if all goes as planned, we're looking at the boulevard opening in late 2019. We're looking at the Oklahoma City Streetcars starting up operations in late 2018. The upper park is set to open in early 2019. The convention center, garage and Omni, meanwhile, are set to open by late 2019.

Looking at Oklahoma City, with 2020 vision, will be all about looking forward and not backward.