For those who don't know, the Urban Land Institute Advisory Service Panel that was in town this week gave their report in the City Hall chambers this morning. Their task: to offer consultation regarding Core to Shore and MAPS 3, on behalf of the 21st century urban planning establishment.
And the planning establishment could certainly have a hey day in analyzing the things wrong with Core to Shore. The panel included numerous urban planning Masters', high-profile planning consultants, professors, and chaired by Bill Hudnut--who served Indianapolis as mayor for 16 years, bringing Indy to the forefront of urban planning, and also recently as mayor of Chevy Chase, MD (DC-area).
The recommendations with Core to Shore?
1. Move the convention center. They came to the same conclusions that all of us have, and even came up with one additional reason that local urban enthusiasts had overlooked: the shadow that a huge convention center would cast over the park. I'm not sure how strong of a point that would be, considering that appropriate private development would also cast something of a shadow during the morning, but the impact would be more with a convention center because it's one solid towering structure that isn't broken up at all.
2. Start the convention center first. The ULI panel recommended moving the convention center up from last to first as an economic priority and also to spur major development, especially what would probably be a boom in new hotels, including a convention hotel.
3. Convention hotel should be 700 rooms, $220 million likely, and up to 30% subsidized by OKC ($50 million). They didn't clarify on the subsidy, whether it should be a loan, a grant, or an investment share (which would entitle OKC to room revenues).
4. The envisioned boulevard is too wide, and the ULI panel has now become at least the millionth person to echo major concerns that the boulevard needs to be narrowed. The city should just accept this by now and take it as an opportunity to realize some cost savings on Core to Shore, considering that ODOT will pay for a "base thoroughfare" and any extra streetscape improvements will have to come from the city.
That's not to say that any one consultant is impervious to critiques, and surely they'll all say at least one thing that someone else can find disagreement with. But it does seem that there is a consensus developing between all of the OKC urban enthusiasts, Jeff Speck, many others, and now the ULI.
I think the ULI wants us to start thinking more about the convention center hotel, or at least, that's what I gather from this. They're not saying that the convention center is more important than streetcar or the park, but I think they're trying to send us a message to look beyond our rigid timeline. Mayor Mick and his planning croonies have cemented their positions and their plans based on the rigidity of what they see as a timeline when they HAVE to get the park finished, all based around the I-40 Crosstown Expressway relocation.
Well here's news for you, Mayor Mick: The Crosstown relocation has been a project more than ten years in the making, so no matter what, it is likely going to beat any MAPS 3 project to completion. The Core to Shore area will be an utter construction zone mess, much like downtown is fixing to become. Currently you can't even get across the Oklahoma River on hardly any N/S thoroughfare that crosses the I-40 relocation route, and it's not like the area serves a vital function that we need to minimize the construction impact at all costs. That's what Mayor Mick's timeline strives to do, is minimize construction impact. Downtown DOES however serve a vital function and it is hardly being spared construction impact. Just something to consider.
I think that the ULI also just wants us to start considering the technical ramifications of the convention hotel, in order for it to work. In a lot of cities, such as Indy, Dallas, San Antonio, and elsewhere--the convention hotel has been THE most-talked about downtown project in these cities. Obviously a convention hotel on the level of these cities in downtown OKC will hardly be "THE" downtown project, with such an abundance currently of headline projects going on right now. But this is just the perspective of the ULI panel, and in all honesty, a lot of these cities have made mistakes on the convention hotel..they see OKC joining the pack in this regard and they want OKC to avoid the same mistakes. Indy got several bids and ended up choosing the least aesthetically impressive out of 3, a mistake I hope OKC doesn't make (although just get ready for anything if OCURA has any say).
So all in all, just some things to consider. I certainly don't think that the convention center needs to be reprioritized and moved up to the top of the list, but I agree it needs to be considered more. It is the largest project of MAPS 3, and it likely will have the broadest impact, and I agree with the ULI that the project with the most economic impact should be done first. MAPS 3's timeline should be about maximizing its potential economic impact. I happen to believe that the streetcar system, with the potential to catalyze much more impressive downtown development along its route, will by far have the most economic impact.