Posts about chamber

MAPS 3 Looking Forward: Mayor Cornett on the New Convention Center

October 28th, 2009

Mayor Cornett discusses Oklahoma City’s MAPS 3 Convention Center at the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerces “Breaking Through” luncheon on October 21, 2009. The Mayor points out the need for the Convention Center and estimated timeline for construction. He discusses the important issues when it comes to the site location – Bricktown and hotels – and indicates that we will look for a community consensus on the best site before making that decision.

Vote Yes on Dec 8!

I haven’t always been the biggest cheerleader of the Convention Center. Slowly, but surely though, I am coming around. The Mayor is right, it is economic development in its purest form and will help to infuse downtown with people, energy, and the mighty dollar!

Speck, the Chamber Building, and Why Public Works is to Blame

April 9th, 2009

Speck told residents of Memphis, “The biggest insult to your city is the MLGW headquarters.  Who would think to take a suburban office park and drop it in the middle of the city?”

It seems some in Oklahoma City are determined to make the same mistake.

From Joy in Mudville

This is in response to a post by Casey Cornett at Joy in Mudville concerning Jeff Speck and the Chamber building.  Here are a few of the key take-aways…

One of the great things about being at [the Jeff Speck] presentation was that I was there as a pedestrian, an urbanite, a downtown worker, a downtown walker (even though at times it seems i’m the only one) and also a downtown dreamer. I get excited about our future plans as a city and I get even more excited reading about core-to-shore.

And later continues:

The sad thing i’m starting to notice is that all the people who are strongly for greenspace are still focusing their efforts towards the 1 square block of privately owned [actually a portion of the land contributed by a public body – Urban Renewal] and privately funded Chamber building going in at 4th and EK Gaylord. Hasn’t that already been approved and moved on? Sure, there is still another (I believe just 1) date set on the beautification aspect of that space…but the building is still going there, let’s move on. The core-to-shore project will be bring roughly 20-square blocks of greenspace. Why can’t greenspace lovers and journalists focus on what has yet not been decided on instead of still arguing over the 1-square block to argue over.

In response,

Hey Mudville –

I share your excitement for Speck and his recommendations for walkability in OKC! I especially appreciate your enthusiasm for where the city is headed…it is great to hear native OKCers referring to themselves as urbanites!

Props to Mayor Cornett

I have said it before, but again, huge props to Mayor Cornett – not sure whether to say “your dad” or Mayor Cornett, so we are going to keep it formal – who brought in Speck to consult the city.  I think that this will have an extremely positive impact on the future quality of life in our city, especially the urban character of downtown.  Mayor Cornett deserves all of the credit for taking this step and I am really excited to experience OKC when these ideas have been  implemented.

“Move On”? But…

I am curious about the position you take on the Chamber Building, telling everyone to “move on”. It seems like someone enthused by Speck’s ideas wouldn’t be so quick to look past a project that will permanently hinder walkability at a critical connection in a burgeoning area of downtown. Speck himself has commented on the poor site layout of the Chamber proposal and every OKC urbanist that has expressed a position on the issue either questions the design and/or the way it was ushered through review despite violating the downtown design guidelines.

Simplifying the matter as being only about the quantity of green space doesn’t seem fair. Ultimately the underlying issues have more to do with walkability and good urbanism than green space, and the current Chamber proposal fails to deliver either.  Still, even within this simplistic framework, the idea that the Central Park will benefit the people in NE downtown the way a properly designed Chamber site would is certainly not true.  Quantity matters, but surely location is still a variable worth considering.  How will a new Central Park over 1/2 mile away serve people in the same way that a park across the street would?

Public Works is to Blame

That said, the Chamber DOES NOT deserve the majority of the blame for the resulting plan. I think it is worth noting that the same Public Works Department that has regularly been called into question by Speck when it comes to aspects of good urban design, walkability and Indy 500 like downtown traffic capacity, also played a major role in the design of the Chamber site. The Chamber actually attempted to do a siteplan that dealt directly with pedestrian issues: re-establishing the grid, improving pedestrian connections, and providing a terrific public space to serve the surrounding neighborhoods (not really pure green space so much as an urban square). But Public Works knowingly exaggerated the traffic challenges presented by this scheme, whipped up a flawed traffic analysis, and subsequently told the Chamber that the design was a “bad idea”.  So in truth, the Chamber deserves credit for their initial attempt, even if the continued commitment to good urban design was ultimately lacking. Public Works on the other hand has some explaining to do.

OKCers Deserve Better Than Okay

The Chamber may legally have all the approval they need to build the building as designed, but the people of OKC don’t owe them their added blessing, not on a project and process that falls short on so many levels. If the Chamber wants to do what best for the current and future users of Downtown Oklahoma City they will use the current delay to reconsider the design.  They should call into question the soundness of the advice they received from a Public Works department that – while doing an excellent job for most of the city – does not know much of anything about good urbanism.  Oklahoma City is better than an okay city – its a GREAT CITY, with great people that deserve a great downtown.  So why do we have to settle for something that falls short of this measure?

Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square

February 18th, 2009



Pioneer Courthouse Square is rated as one of the top public spaces in the country by both the Project for Public Spaces and the American Planning Association.


The Square is located just northeast of the heart of downtown Portland, in close proximity to much of Portland’s downtown retail.


The beautiful courthouse is just over 50,000 square feet in size. It was first completed circa 1875, and is listed as a National Register of Historic Places Landmark Structure. Its stately presence frames in the square, while in return, the open space contributes to the courthouse’s visual prominence.


A visitor’s information center is built right into the side of the square and surrounded by a large water feature.


Providing not only a great destination, but also the perfect place to stroll while passing through

Whether you are catching a concert, eating lunch, or just people watching; the space’s flexible design provides plenty of seating.

The layout provides an excellent space for community festivals, performances, and movie nights!

The Square is considered the nerve center of downtown Portland—with some 26,000 residents, workers, and tourists interacting with it daily. And holds as many as 191 events in a single year!

MAX Light Rail

Pioneer Courthouse Square’s success was in many ways buoyed by a partnership with the local transit authority. Planned concurrently with the MAX light rail system, the Square functions as a vibrant transit hub.


The Square sits on a site that was once occupied by the “glorious Portland Hotel”, but that building was torn-down in 1951 to make way for a new surface parking lot. Pioneer Courthouse Square was officially opened on April 6, 1984 after years of planning and fundraising – including the sale of thousands of personalized bricks with which the Square was ultimately constructed.



What do you think? Would people in Oklahoma City use a public space like Pioneer Courthouse Square? Do you think we already have a downtown public space of this caliber? If we did try to build such a space, where should it go? What should it be near? Could it be built alongside the transit being considered for Maps3?

Oklahoman Park: OKC’S First Great Public Space

February 13th, 2009

In December 1902 Edward King Gaylord, upon the advice of Chicago Mayor Carter Harrison, ventured from St. Louis to Oklahoma City and purchased an interest from Roy Stafford in The Daily Oklahoman. He quickly set to work, applying his talent and expertise to improve and expand the paper.  By 1909 he had established himself as a valued civic leader, working with men like John Shartel and Anton Classen to establish Oklahoma City as the capitol of the new state and participating in other efforts that brought railroads and industry to the burgeoning prairie city.  He had also proved his abilities as a newspaper man, growing the business at a rapid pace.

A New Headquarters Building

The expanding paper outgrew its previous building, and in 1909 began construction of a new 5-story headquarters at the corner of 4th and Broadway. Designed by Layton & Smith, the same firm credited with the design of the Oklahoma State Capitol building,  the Oklahoman Building offers a majestic neo-classical facade that’s beauty endures to the present day. The paper continued to thrive and by 1923 was considering its future facility needs, buying up a series of lots between the Oklahoman Building and the Santa Fe tracks. This is the land that would become Oklahoma City’s first great public space!

On March 18, 1923, Edward King Gaylord offered company land to serve as Oklahoma City’s first downtown park (click to read)


In the 1920s Oklahoma City’s population doubled from 91,295 to 185,389 – moving up from the 80th to the 43rd largest city in the United States.  Despite the addition of large parks on the edge of town constructed as part of the 1910 Parks and Boulevard Plan and the existence of other quality open spaces, such as Belle Isle Amusement Park north of the city and Wheeler Park on the banks of the North Canadian River, the city still failed to provide the adequate public space for people living and working downtown.  This fact was not lost on E.K. Gaylord.  On March 18, 1923 he made this announcement on the front page of his paper:

“One of Oklahoma City’s greatest needs is a close in park.”

A search of the files of The Daily Oklahoman disclosed the fact that that statement had been published editorially more than a score of times in the last ten years.

And in order to “practice what it preaches,” The Oklahoma Publishing company has decided to help establish teh first down town park immediately

The park was located on the half block behind the Oklahoman building, starting at the alley on the west and extending east 275 feet to the publisher’s warehouse along the Santa Fe tracks. The depth of the park, from 4th street on the south to what used to be an alley running east-west through the center of the block on the north, was 140 feet, resulting in a park just under one acre in size.

This rendering shows the location of Oklahoman Park and the surrounding development (based on 1922 Sanborn Map – PDF).

Over the next six years Oklahoman Park greatly enhanced the quality of life in downtown, serving residents as an everyday park, and also as a central meeting place that hosted numerous downtown events, such as: sports broadcast, concerts, memorial services, and more.  It was so popular in fact that it once attracted more than 15,000 people for a single event, with crowds overflowing into the streets and blocking traffic.

Oklahoman Park Time Line

To give you an idea of how this park space served Oklahoma City over the years, I have put together a time line of some notable events.

OPENING DAY / July 11, 1923

On Wednesday, July 11, 1923 at 4:00pm, Oklahoman Park officially opened and treated those in attendance to a play-by-play presentation of the Oklahoma City Indians game versus Wichita, on a large “magnetic baseball board” that relayed the movement of the game from information provided by direct wire service.  The park was an instant success, as demonstrated by this photo of the crowd that was published in the next days paper.

MEMORIAL SERVICE / August 10, 1923

On this day Oklahoma Citians gathered in Oklahoman Park to pay tribute to President Warren G. Harding following his death.


The introduction of a new Football Gridgraph, a magnetic football board that displayed the game between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State to the sound of the radio broadcast.  The Football Gridgraph (see below) was  used to display all of the college football games for the fans that couldn’t catch the train to Norman.


Oklahoman Park covered in snow.  This is only the second picture I have found of the park and gives some sense of how it fit behind the OPUBCO headquarters.

WORLD SERIES / October 6, 1926

Each year fans would gather to watch and listen to the broadcast of the World Series.  On this day they got a special treat as Babe Ruth set a World Series record by hitting three home runs in Game 4 of the series.

THE BATTLE OF THE LONG COUNT / September 22, 1927

On this day, crowds of Oklahoma City residents – between fifteen and sixteen thousand – turned out to listen to a broadcast of what would be known as The Battle of the Long Count, a boxing rematch between Heavyweight champion Gene Tunney and former champion Jack Dempsey, that was broadcast live from Soldier Field in Chicago.  The crowd was so large in fact that “long before the gong sounded on the first round, the crowds had overflowed across the streets,” blocking traffic on surround streets.  “It was an outing for Oklahoma City.”


From the start Mr. Gaylord knew that as some point the Oklahoman would need the land for the expansion of their facilities.  In 1929 that day finally came when the paper announced that construction of a new modern publishing plant was set to take place on the site of Oklahoman Park.  Oklahoman Park served the City’s residents for six years thanks to the generosity and vision of a great city leader.


This great public space was a major amenity to downtown Oklahoma City.  It was more than just another park.   It helped meet the public space needs for surrounding residents and broader Oklahoma City community.  Just as E.K. Gaylord noted of the city in 1923, today Oklahoma City lacks high quality urban spaces like the Oklahoman Park. While we may no longer gather for radio broadcast or magnetic board displays, a small urban park at the corner of 4th and Broadway would be a welcome amenity to this area of downtown and would be utilized both on a daily basis and for numerous events and festivals.

Thankfully, the construction of the new Chamber Building provides the perfect opportunity to create a great new public space.  We can create a place that helps us meet our planning objectives and captures the essence of OKC’s first urban public space.  This public space will not compete with the planned Core 2 Shore park as it is quite some distance away and much, much smaller in scale.  What this place can do is improve pedestrian connectivity, provide a gathering place for festivals and events and offer a great place to eat lunch for CBD workers. This park would redefine this portion of downtown and enhance the potential for new development in all of the adjoining districts – especially Automobile Alley!

To get a better idea of how public spaces of this size can benefit urban communities today, we will next take a look at one of the United State’s great public spaces.

For more on the planning of the Chamber site:

1. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal
2. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II
3. Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives
4. Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space


1. “Close In Park Offer of Paper to Citizens,” The Oklahoman, Mar 18, 1923, page 35
2. “Chance to See Ball Game Free is Offered in Daily Oklahoman Park,” The Oklahoman, Jul 11, 1923, page 1
3. “Crowd See Action of Game at Oklahoman Park,” The Oklahoman, Jul 12, 1923, page 1
4. “Heads to Bow for Memorial,” The Oklahoman, Aug 9, 1923, page 1
5. “Something New for Football Fans,” The Oklahoman, Oct 23, 1923, page 12
6. “Draped in Winter Raiments,” The Oklahoman, Jan 11, 1925, page 41
7. “Super-Service For Super-Series,” The Oklahoman, Oct 1, 1926, page 1
8. “Crowd in Park Cheers for Fight Winner,” The Oklahoman, Sep 23, 1927, page 1
9. “Modern Newspaper Home Soon to Rise in Oklahoman Park,” The Oklahoman, Jul 7, 1929, page 1

Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives

February 13th, 2009

Okay, lets get down to it. In the first post I argued that the current Chamber building proposal is flawed and requires a new approach. Part II laid out some basic information on the site and hopefully convinced you of its importance to downtown as the nexus between multiple urban districts.

Now, lets establish what the Chamber site should be; laying out what the plan for the site needs to accomplish and what elements must be incorporated into this plan.


It is impossible to plan the site without a clear understanding of what we are trying to achieve. Here, two things matter. First, there are the objectives of the Chamber, made up of their needs and desires for the building and site. But these objectives cannot be established in isolation; they must relate to the broader goals we are pursuing within downtown and the areas surrounding the site. An understanding of these broader goals combined with the requirements of the Chamber should give us the information needed to put forth a realistic proposal that meets the objectives of all parties.

One element the Chamber hopes to incorporate into their plan is a public space to honor OKC business leaders.


The Chamber has expressed a number of goals for the project that are specific to their needs, mission and prominent role in Oklahoma City. Based on the information about the project that has appeared thus far, I have created this list of objectives and requirements:

  • building of approx. 50,000 square feet
  • maintain views of historic Oklahoman Building
  • create a “front door” for the community
  • allow people to walk from convention center
  • an iconic design
  • includes a public space/plaza to honor business leaders
  • convenient parking


It requires a lengthy process, collaborating with multiple stakeholder groups, to establish a set of broader goals for a community, a process that this blog has neither the time nor capacity to take on. Thankfully though, such a process has already taken place and provides an acceptable framework to guide the broader objectives of our plan.

One of the most repeated goals stated by leaders of the OKC community is to make Downtown more pedestrian-friendly.

The Downtown Design District (§ 59-7200) guidelines have these five stated objectives:

(1) promote the development and redevelopment of the downtown area in a manner consistent with the unique and diverse design elements of downtown;

(2) ensure that a DBD use is compatible with the commercial, cultural, historical, and governmental significance of downtown;

(3) promote the downtown area as a vital mixed-use area;

(4) create a network of pleasant public spaces and pedestrian amenities in the downtown area, and;

(5) enhance existing structures, preserve and restore historic features, and circulation patterns in the downtown area.

It is probably not fair to judge by legal language alone. However, the message from the downtown community has been very consistent in supporting these goals across the board. For instance, a quick scan of the internet found quotes from city leaders, real estate professionals, planners and more; all reaffirming that #4 – making the city more “pedestrian-friendly” – is not only one of the codified objectives, but a genuine goal of people from across the downtown community.

Here are a range of quotes from across the city that echo the priorities of the Downtown Design guidelines:

…The city is trying to change into a city that is less sprawling, has more density and is more pedestrian friendly…

– Mick Cornett, Mayor of Oklahoma City

Pedestrian traffic has to be addressed. For two years, I have been a downtown walker from West Main to Midtown to Bricktown all the way to the river. We need to improve our core to make it more pedestrian friendly. This also includes bicycles now. The new bike rack plan for Bricktown is a step in the right direction…I am a proponent of walking outside. I think it creates energy on the streets. Although the Underground is a nice alternative for very windy or cold or rainy days, I like to see people on the streets. This is also good for our tourism. We need to encourage people to walk … might help their health, too….improving our pedestrian traffic needs to be on the agenda for further discussion including input from urban neighbors and downtown workers.

– Judy Hatfield, Downtown Developer

Pedestrian issues are very big on our priority list.

– Jeff Bezdek, Urban Neighbors (Downtown’s Neighborhood Association)

Pedestrian flow is the real key to the overall success of not only Core to Shore, but also the sustained viability of the other points of interest our city has to offer to locals and out-of-towners as well. We have the ability in Oklahoma City to mitigate a lot of the horror stories other markets have seen by learning from their mistakes and being proactive. Our CBD is small enough that if you’re a tourist and coming into town for an NBA game, or an NCAA event, you could conceivably take in everything from Bricktown to Midtown to Core to Shore on foot over the course of a weekend.

– Brent Conway, CB Richard Ellis

We want to create more of an urban feeling. – Framing the streets and providing for a more secure sense of a pedestrian life. It’s not suburban in style.

– Terry Taylor, formerly of the Oklahoma City Planning Department


Reading through the objectives of both the Chamber and the broader downtown community, you see that at a base-level there is not much conflict. The requirements for the building do not indicate that it would have to, in anyway, detract from the type of downtown we desire. In fact, the Chamber is more or less the ideal partner, hoping to create a high quality building, include public space, provide for pedestrian connectivity, and preserve historic assets. The only element that there is not a conclusive agreement on is the mixture of uses within the building. The city rightly encourages “mixed-use” because it contributes to a thriving downtown and creates opportunities for urban retail. However, the Chamber building is in some ways a true civic building – not dissimilar from a courthouse or city hall. So perhaps the absence of a mixture of uses in the Chamber building is not only acceptable, but appropriate.

Now that we have identified the objectives of all parties and established that there are no conflicts to resolve, it is fairly simple to construct a list of what the Chamber site plan should include.

Designed by Layton & Smith and constructed in 1909, the Oklahoman Building remains one of OKC’s most beautiful buildings.


(1) Provide for a prominently positioned “iconic” building – 50,000 sf in size – welcoming visitors to the city

(2) Preserve views of the historic Oklahoman Building on the northeast corner of 4th and Broadway

(3) Create suitable pedestrian connections, especially along Broadway between the CBD/Bricktown areas and the Automobile Alley/Memorial area, and between the residential neighborhoods east of the site and the rest of downtown, along 3rd and/or 4th street

(4) Serve as the impetus for additional development adjacent to the Site to create a vital mixed-use area. Opportunities include the redevelopment of the drive-thru bank south of the site, the development of the parking lot northwest of the site, and the potential enhancement of Automobile Alley as a retail/mixed-use corridor.

(5) Provide convenient parking that is appropriate within the urban context of the site

(6) Allow room for a great public space that not only provides an opportunity to honor Oklahoma City’s business leaders, but significantly enhances the civic quality of life for the entire community. Its a place to congregate, to celebrate, to relax, or to play. It should be a great urban public space – an outdoor community living room!

Oddly enough, Oklahoma City once had just such a public space – our first downtown park – and it was located at 4th and Broadway.

Continue reading: Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space!

For more on the planning of the Chamber site:

1. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal
2. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II
3. Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives
4. Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space

Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II

February 9th, 2009

In my first post on the new Chamber building, I argued that the Chamber’s current proposal is wholly inadequate given the objectives of the City, the Chamber, and the downtown community as a whole. The site on which the building will be constructed is incredibly important to the future of not just the immediate surroundings, but to multiple adjoining districts and the whole of downtown. The importance of this site warrants taking whatever time is necessary to rethink the design in hopes of producing an alternative vision that will contribute to the vitality of the community now and into the future.

So today we are starting the process over.  We are wiping the slate clean!  Lets break free of what is clearly a flawed proposal and begin a process that looks for fresh solutions and ideas, producing a new plan that meets the Chamber’s objectives while enhancing downtown Oklahoma City for decades to come. I have found that the best plans are produced through collaboration, so I hope you will join me in this re-visioning effort!

To get things started, we are going to quickly overview the site, its location within downtown and how it relates to the districts that surround it. Many of you already know all of this, but I think it is worth posting for the people that aren’t overly familiar with the site. Plus, it gives us a shared foundation on which we can base the rest of our analysis and discussion.


The Site is framed-in by Broadway on the west, E.K. Gaylord on the southwest, and the Santa Fe railroad on the east.  The north edge is defined by 4th Street and the south by a small segment of 3rd Street.

In addition to the site itself, three other parcels were left vacant through the efforts of Urban Renewal and the construction of E.K. Gaylord.  Of the three residual parcels, only the westernmost piece serves any identifiable purpose, offering a small brick plaza that is isolated and rarely used.

The Site is approximately 3 acres in size, not including the adjacent residual parcels

Surrounding the site is a mix of buildings, including: The Oklahoman building and Downtown YMCA to the north, the Pioneer Building/AT&T Tower and TAP Architecture building to the west, and a drive-through bank and Kerr parking garage to the south.


This map shows the importance of the Site’s locations within the overall context of downtown.  The Site is positioned at the nexus of multiple districts.  It sits directly in between the CBD and the new housing that has been and continues to be constructed east of the Santa Fe tracks in the Deep Deuce – Maywood – Flatiron area.  Plus, new housing has been added to the west of the Site along 3rd Street with construction of Legacy at Arts Quarter apartments and more is on the way with the redevelopment of the Carnegie Centre, adding to a density of residences within close proximity that is likely unparalleled by any undeveloped site in downtown.

The Site is located along Broadway, the historic “mainstreet” heading north out of downtown that continues to play an important role in the development of the city.  A mixture of new offices, restaurants, and retail have sprung up along Automobile Alley, the district surrounding Broadway north of 4th street.  While the section of Broadway south of 3rd Street has just recently been energized through the opening of the wonderfully restored Skirvin Hotel and new retail street presence of B.C. Clark.  Ongoing redevelopment of the new Sandridge headquarters west of Broadway between 2nd and 3rd will likely further contribute to the vitality of this corridor.

Additionally, the Site sits between major centers of tourist activity: the convention center, Bricktown, and adjacent hotels; and the Oklahoma City National Memorial – our most frequented tourist destination.

This site has the potential to not only meet the needs of the Chamber, but to fulfill its natural role as a nexus to the surrounding districts and neighborhoods.  Providing connections where none currently exist and incorporating uses that serve the broader needs of those that live, work, and visit downtown.  Designing the Site correctly should not only lead to a better building, or even a better block, but an altogether better downtown!


This interface provides a great opportunity for us to practice an open process with plenty of room for discussion and brainstorming.  I will try to facilitate by providing a series of short post (like the one above), each of which will provide some information and/or ideas to drive the discussion.  Like I said, I find that the best solutions are found through collaboration.  So while I won’t be shy about telling you what I think, I sincerely hope you will chime in if you have something to add – even if you disagree with me.

By the way, I have set it up so that you can comment anonymously.  While it is not my preference, please feel free to do so at your own discretion.

So what do you think?  This overview was certainly not comprehensive.  Is there anything important that you think needs to be added?


I am going to try and post something related to the re-visioning of the new Chamber building every few days. Next, we will explore the different aspects of the site and its surroundings that should be addressed as part of our new design.

Continue reading: Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives

For more on the planning of the Chamber site:

1. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal
2. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II
3. Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives
4. Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space

Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal

January 30th, 2009

By Blair Humphreys
August 2008
(for an explanation of the delayed posting, see here)

In 1939 Angelo C. Scott, an ’89er and early civic leader, wrote in his book The Story of Oklahoma City:

“The Chamber of Commerce is the heart that pumps the life blood into the veins of the city. It is the hand-maid and the agent of the city, as vital to its progress as the city government is to its protection and control.”

These words are as true today as they were the day they were written. Following in the footsteps of men like Anton Classen, John Shartel, and Stanley Draper, today’s Chamber leadership has helped push Oklahoma City to new heights. The Chamber has been at the forefront of the City’s dramatic renaissance over the last fifteen years and now hopes to contribute directly to the revitalization of downtown by building a new headquarter’s building at the corner of Fourth and N. Broadway. Their vision calls for an iconic design capable of elevating the status of the Chamber and the City alike, while utilizing a site plan and layout that integrates the project into a rejuvenated downtown and provides for the growing needs of a 24/7 urban community.

The successful development of the new chamber building is critical to the sustained success of Oklahoma City’s ongoing renaissance. For many visitors to Downtown, the new Chamber building will shape their initial impressions of the City, as pointed out by civic leader and current Chamber Chairman Larry Nichols:

“The chamber is often the first place a new company comes when they look at investing in Oklahoma City, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau welcomes tourists from all over the world.  The new chamber building will truly be a front door to our community, a way to make a lasting first impression of this dynamic and vibrant city.”

More importantly, the Chamber building will be a model for future downtown development. This is one of the first major projects to be implemented under the City’s new Downtown Design Guidelines and will establish precedents responsible for shaping the future of Downtown’s urban environment. While the soon-to-be-constructed Devon Tower will certainly have a more noticeable effect on the City’s skyline, the new chamber building’s potential to positively influence the experience of pedestrians downtown is unmatched. The building will sit in a pivotal location at the nexus of multiple centers of downtown activity and the project presents a rare opportunity to improve downtown mobility by mending the historic urban fabric that was severed nearly four decades ago by the Pei Plan.

It is clear that improving the pedestrian experience downtown is now a major priority of the city. The aforementioned Downtown Design Guidelines were adopted with the intention of making OKC’s downtown a “vital mixed-use area” containing “a network of pleasant public spaces and pedestrian amenities.” The Chamber has thus far embraced this idea; Chamber President Roy Williams has indicated that he wants this project to be the start of a discussion on how to make the area more pedestrian friendly.

“The reality is that’s a troublesome intersection there,” Williams said. “When Gaylord was put through (in the early 1970s) it created unusual pieces of property and an unusual traffic configuration. It’s not pedestrian friendly. It’s not friendly for crossing. And we see where people might want to walk to us from their offices downtown or from the convention center.”

The Chamber has gone out of their way to ensure that the design for the site would live up to these lofty expectations. They reviewed design concepts from a handful of architects before selecting Allen Brown with Frankfurt-Short-Bruza. Brown’s architectural talent has already been demonstrated by his design for the Donald W. Reyolds Visual Arts Center. The project, which was completed in 2002, is home to the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and can be credited with helping to rejuvenate the city’s Arts District.

Despite the best efforts of the Chamber, the recently released designs for the new building (see below) do not meet their stated expectations, nor are they in keeping with the spirit of the city’s Downtown Design Guidelines.

The proposal calls for a 50,000 square foot building to be positioned away from the street, near the center of the three-acre site, and flanked by an expansive surface parking lot. The resulting density is problematic. With a floor area ratio (FAR) less that 0.40, the site will be less dense than a typical two-story suburban office complex. Further, the area’s need for pedestrian amenities and usable public space are not effectively met. The lack of density seemingly leaves a significant amount of area for this public space, but instead the land is either utilized for surface parking or is rendered useless to pedestrians as one of the small landscape buffers, each isolated by retaining walls that will prevent pedestrian use.

While the “Commerce Circle” appears to represent a significant pedestrian improvement, it is little more than an attempt to dress-up the six lanes of traffic that pedestrians will still be forced to cross. [Note: This aspect of the original plan is not present in the most recent site plan (shown above) and what remains of the circle has been renamed “Commerce Plaza”.]  In the end, the proposal does little to improve pedestrian friendliness in the area and may even be seen to exacerbate the existing problems for persons walking to downtown from the Flatiron District by adding more surface parking and creating new barriers.

In truth, the majority of the responsibility for the current proposal’s problems belongs to neither the Chamber nor their very capable architect, rather it is a result of the fundamentally flawed planning done by I.M. Pei all those years ago. Pei’s plan was focused on making the central business district car-accessible. He never imagined that pedestrians would be attempting to cross what is now E.K Gaylord, so while he envisioned a pedestrian friendly central business district, the area east of Broadway was planned for cars. Fred Kent, the Founder and President of Project for Public Spaces, who spoke at Oklahoma City’s 2007 Mayor’s Development Round Table says:

“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.”

This has certainly been the case with this area of Oklahoma City. The only way for the objectives of the Downtown Design Guidelines to be met and the full vision of the Chamber leadership be realized is for I.M. Pei’s planning for “cars and traffic” to give way to new planning for “people and places.” The Chamber cannot be expected to fix these problems alone, but requires the partnership of the City – and the support of all those that desire a vital urban center – in boldly re-visioning this portion of downtown. Time is certainly an issue, and such a re-visioning will require some delays, but the new chamber building is of such importance that we must take whatever time is necessary to ensure that it is done right!

Continue reading: Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II

For more on the planning of the Chamber site:

1. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal
2. Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal, part II
3. Re-visioning the Chamber: Defining Objectives
4. Oklahoman Park: OKC’s First Great Public Space

Beginning a Conversation

January 30th, 2009

Discovery of the Chamber building’s new name got me to thinking, and I now realize that I made a mistake last August, one which I wish I could have back. I wrote “Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal” on August 3rd, 2008, but never released it. At the time, the proposal was still weeks away from initial urban design review and I hoped to contribute to the dialogue, or more accurately, initiate a dialogue about the proposal and the constraints placed on the project by the flawed planning of the I.M. Pei Plan. But then, after receiving advice that it would damage my future job prospects in OKC, I chose to stay silent.

It is a tough deal because I love Oklahoma City. I have always dreamed of helping to shape the future of the city and want to make it great – that is why I left development to pursue a career in planning. As a student of history I appreciate and respect the vital role the Chamber has played – and continues to play – in Oklahoma City’s rise from train depot, to State Capitol, to Big League City. However, I have never felt right about the way I stayed quiet on this issue. From now on, I will not back down from contributing my thoughts on contentious issues, but I will try to do so in the most respectful manner possible.

So, is it even worth talking about now?…yes, I think so! While the Chamber has all of the necessary approvals to move forward, construction has yet to start and still looks to be months away, providing an opportunity to reconsider whether the current proposal is the best we can do. While this conversation begins much later than it should have…perhaps it is not too late!

Continue to Re-visioning the Chamber Proposal

The Chamber Forum

January 30th, 2009

Looks like the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce has come up with a name for their soon-to-be-built downtown headquarters. Not sure which particular definition they are intending to reference (see below), but either way, an iconic new title to go with an iconic design!


Main Entry: fo·rum           Listen to the pronunciation of forum
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural forums also fo·ra           Listen to the pronunciation of fora
Etymology: Latin; akin to Latin foris outside, fores door — more at door
Date: 15th century

1 a: the marketplace or public place of an ancient Roman city forming the center of judicial and public business b: a public meeting place for open discussion c: a medium (as a newspaper or online service) of open discussion or expression of ideas

2: a judicial body or assembly : court

3 a: a public meeting or lecture involving audience discussion b: a program (as on radio or television) involving discussion of a problem usually by several authorities

If you are looking for more information on the new Chamber building, go here.

So…what do you think of the new name?