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.
WHAT ARE WE TRYING TO ACCOMPLISH
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.
CHAMBER BUILDING OBJECTIVES
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
BROADER DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT OBJECTIVES
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
ELEMENTS OF THE PLAN
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.
THE CHAMBER SITE PLAN SHOULD:
(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