PERHAPS it's only fitting that many of those who work in the Oklahoma City Thunder's corporate offices have a front-row view of the work underway south of Chesapeake Energy Arena.
After all, it was the Thunder's arrival in 2008 that heralded Oklahoma City as a “big league city.” The city had shown that potential in the two years it served as temporary host of the NBA's New Orleans Hornets, but the Thunder placed a permanent stamp on the label.
The following year, Oklahoma City voters chose to build on that. After previously approving separate 1-cent sales tax increases that paid for projects that helped transform downtown and the city's school buildings, voters in 2009 said “yes” to another slate of upgrades to be paid for with $777 million in sales taxes.
This one, MAPS 3, included senior wellness centers, bike trails, a whitewater and rafting course for the Oklahoma River and a streetcar system. The two largest projects were a downtown park and a convention center, which are being built on either side of Robinson Avenue, south of The Peake.
Work on the upper section of Scissortail Park, 37 acres on the west side of Robinson that will extend to Interstate 40, has been underway since June 2017. The expected completion date is 2019. Work on the 31-acre lower section will follow.
The east side of Robinson will be home to the convention center, which at nearly $300 million (including land acquisition, design and construction) is the most expensive of the MAPS 3 projects. Just last week, the city council gave the final go-ahead on a $168.2 million construction contract to Flintco LLC to build the convention center.
As architect renderings show, the convention center will be spectacular. It will be 550,000 square feet, with a 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall. That's much larger than the exhibit hall in the Cox Convention Center, improving Oklahoma City's odds of luring conventions that now are going elsewhere. The new exhibit hall can be divided into four smaller rooms to allow for more than one event at a time.
About 45,000 square feet will be used for meeting rooms. The upper-level ballroom has 30,000 square feet and a terrace. As The Oklahoman's Bill Crum has chronicled, the front of the building faces west, allowing for views of the park and the downtown skyline, something architects say will be unique in the convention business.
Complementing the convention center will be an 18-story, 605-room headquarters hotel by Omni, and a new parking garage. A skybridge will connect the hotel with the convention center.
Formal groundbreaking on the convention center is Friday. If all goes well, the building will be open by summer 2020, heralding the start of the latest new chapter for Oklahoma City.