View Full Version : A City of Greatness

Doug Loudenback
01-31-2008, 11:15 PM
Not so very many years ago, it would have been hard for me to have honestly posted a topic with such a bold title/description of Oklahoma City, the one I knew back in the 1970s-1990s. In that time, I was apologetic about the city that was my home. Downtown was dead after 5 pm. Downtown Oklahoma City was going nowhere. Any vitality that was spoken by some was feigned for the most part because downtown Oklahoma City was anything but. But, beginning with the clock which slowly began ticking because of Neal Horton and his then impractical vision for Bricktown (he named it that) and Mayor Ron Norick's practical dream of what Oklahoma City could become with his (and our) MAPS adventure, I'm no longer apologetic ... I have become an unabashed apologist for my city, in the best sense of that word.

When I began making this post, it was just going to be on and about some nice Core To Shore renderings, set out below. That emphasis changed as I started thinking about what these images were representative of, and how they could not have been but for the history that Horton and Norick set us upon several years back, the course that has led to the Oklahoma City we know today, and are about to become yet again.

After I'm now done editing this vastly revised post and before pressing the magic button, "Submit New Thread," I see that I've gotten a little carried away (as I'm prone to do), but, heck, seeing our city leaders' vision for this city with the upcoming Ford Center vote and the soon-to-be-on-the-platter Core To Shore, and remembering what it was like in the Okc downtown desert-like-war-zone with buildings destroyed and nothing in their place before MAPS, and compared to what has happened since, it is all enough to make a grown man cry. If I ever grow up, I'll probably do that, as an old man. For now, I'll be a young man doing that despite the signs of age, and they are all tears of joy!

I begin by apologizing if the images below have been posted before and I've not noticed them, but there are some pretty glamorous renderings of what might come to be with the Core To Shore planning/initiative at the City's website, City of Oklahoma City | Core to Shore ( , reproduced below.

Overview Showing Possible Use (we've seen this before, but included for completeness)

Overview Showing I-40 Realignment -- Larger Image:

Artist's Rendering Looking North -- Larger Image:

Artist's Rendering Looking South -- Larger Image:

For a downtown that was pretty much on the ropes before MAPS and waiting if not hoping for the bell, and combined with the March 4 Ford Center referendum, this is all pretty heady stuff ... well beyond Mayor Norick's MAPS initial vision, I think. But this sort of thing probably couldn't have happened but for the leadership he provided 13-14 years ago, a vision he tenaciously hung onto until it happened. My review of Lackmeyer & Moneys' Doug Dawgz Blog: OKC 2nd Time Around ( , describes what the Mayor said then ...

Chapter 10 -- Visions of a New Frontier. Chapter 10 is sort of a "catalyst" chapter. The Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the mayor had similar if not identical notions of what was needed to turn the tide. Not without dissension, the mayor knew his head and forged ahead, putting together a task force of both those who he thought might be adversaries and not, their purpose being to come up with a grand plan. A principle of Norick's vision was "mass" -- for most of the projects to be centered downtown so that one project could feed off of one another ... some elements of which were contrary to the wishes of formidable Oklahoma Citians and/or interests, e.g., E.L. Gaylord wanted a new arena at the Fairgrounds, some wanted a totally new cultural center and not just an updated Civic Center Music Hall, etc., etc., etc. However, Mayor Norick, firmly involved in the process, held his ground. Of course, other projects were also involved ... upgrading the Convention Center, a new library, river improvement and development through south of downtown – and – canals and stuff in that ignored part of town that Neal Horton's dreams were hooked upon, Bricktown.

Mayor Norick wanted to proceed forthwith to put the grand design to a vote of the people, asking them to impose a penny sales tax upon themselves for five years to pay for the privilege!

Prior polling suggested passage to be unlikely. "The numbers, Deck and other task members decided, were bad, and almost everyone at the table the election might need to be postponed, at least until after the next mayoral election in March 1994. Instead of going along, Mayor Norick became increasingly adamant that the election needed to be held soon. "You know what?" Norick told the group. "I don't want to be mayor if we don't at least try to do this. If we take a shot at this and it doesn't pass and that in results in me not being re-elected, then so be it."
E.L. Gaylord was not impressed. Quoting from Chapter 11,

Newspaper publisher Edward L. Gaylord was among the skeptics. "You must be crazy," Gaylord responded after hearing the plan. "You'll never get it passed. And besides, that canal is the dumbest thing I've ever heard of."
With the initial MAPS tax passed but coming to the end of its 5 year period, funding generated from the sales tax proved to be insufficient to fully fund the plan. Some council members were opposed to continuing the tax to complete the projects, notably the arena which became the Ford Center, on principle.

Mayor Norick did not seek another term of office. Before his term was done, it was evident that construction costs and/or perhaps revenue generated (maybe both) did not result in these two items of the equation being equal: Cost to Do = Resources at Hand. So, what to do? Clip the sports arena (Ford Center)? What?

Councilman Frosty Peak said, "Absolutely not!", as to asking the city to impose an extension of the penny sales tax for 6-8 months to a year. The council did not act before Norick's term expired.
Despite Frosty Peak and those sharing his views, that's where Mayor Kirk Humphreys, following an election which largely centered on "finishing MAPS" or not, came into the picture.

Humphreys said, "By golly, we've come this far – let's finish it first class." In the runoff, Humphreys won hands down, 69% to 31%. But, after he was elected and the vote for the sales tax extension was put to the people ...

But would it pass? Throughout the history of downtown and river development, the city fathers had always dreamed up big plans for the future. Early efforts to tame the river, Pei's plan for downtown urban renewal and McGee's vision of a Myriad Gardens, all moved from drawing boards to construction. Each time, however, funding fell short. And each time, the visionaries had been forced to cut their dreams short of what originally had been planned.

Humphreys was nearing a decision about whether to gamble against history.
We know the rest of that chapter. The 6 month sales tax extension passed. The Ford Center was built. And, here we are in a continuation of that same chapter today, except that we are, today, on the precipice of becoming an NBA city, one of 30 cities in the US and Canada to lay that claim and become the envy of larger cities than we who lack that status -- only New Orleans and perhaps Salt Lake City would have less metropolitan population than our city would, as an NBA city ... unless I've miscounted. Maybe there are a couple of others I've not included.

We could not have been at this point but for Mayor Ron Norick. We are given the opportunity to become what our earliest city fathers could not have possibly envisioned ... Core-To-Shore and Ford Center expansion/improvements ... by Mayor Mick Cornett.

Sorry to get so carried away. But, it's hard not to do when reflecting on the leadership this city has had since Mayor Ron Norick put on his six-guns and became the leader of this place ... his successors have been in and are in the same mold that he forged in what now seems like a long time ago. Much earlier leaders Charles Colcord, Henry and Ed Overholser, Anton Classen, John Shartel, Bill Skirvin, and many other of our illustrious city fathers, would all be proud.

The Land Run of 1889, the "Great Race" in 1930 between 1st National and Ramsey Tower, MAPS, Core to Shore ... the Ford Center vote ... they are all part of that same chain, a chain which has and is developing a city of greatness.

01-31-2008, 11:29 PM
I think, for me, the most exciting this about these plans is the downtown "Central Park". I remember when we moved here from Denver, my husband and I first looked at each other and said, "Where are the parks?" We'd spent many weekends in Cheeseman and Washington Parks in Denver, and were struck by the absence of a big, iconic downtown park in OKC. So, this is our chance to create an urban oasis primarily for our residents, but also visitors to enjoy. There's nothing like green in the midst of a city. I was delighted that the bond issue was passed so that we can begin to acquire the land for this park, and I'm hoping that the city will at least begin demolition of existing properties sooner rather than later, so we can see what we will have.

01-31-2008, 11:44 PM
I have got to agree with that. I would love to see a great Central Park in OKC. Actually my search of Core to Shore last year is what brought me to this site in the first place. This may end up being the biggest legacy our generations can give to our children and grandchildren. In my opinion we have to build up the central city before we can possible start talking about mass transit on a grand scale. The city needs a grand gathering place like Grant Park in Chicago. A place to give our city an identity to people around the country and the world when we get the NBA team here. I never in my wildest dreams thought people in OKC would dream so big. We always had such an inferiority complex and like Doug said we had to apologize for our city. Not any more. Right now, I am proud to be from OKC.

02-01-2008, 06:53 AM
That's awesome Doug.. what a great read. Yes, even in the short time I've lived here, the city/area has changed and grown so much!

I'll never forget flying in about 7 years ago. We arrived Downtown and I felt like I was in a different world... it was a ghost town! There were no people anywhere to be found!

We had reservations to stay at a decent hotel ( I thought it was a Wyndham, but did they get sold or changed?)... it was supposed to be 4 stars and it was horrible, dirty, smelled of stale smoke which wasn't surprising because people were walking around smoking everywhere inside! .. I just couldn't believe it.

My husband drove off to find a store to get a bottle of wine so we could have a glass of wine while getting ready for the party we had flown out for... lol, he came back empty handed after a long while... we had no idea that Downtown had no retail, grocery or liquor stores! Plus, we had no idea that alcohol wasn't even sold on Sundays.

I really felt like we were in the twilight zone.

A few years later, I was in awe walking through the area with crowds and crowds of people after a Hornet's game or on New Year's Eve and marveling at the fun and festive atmosphere that the once dead city had embraced.

Even though some things haven't changed there have been enough positive changes that I would easily recommend friends and family coming to OKC for a visit.

02-01-2008, 08:32 AM
This is a great video on about the C2S concepts: (

02-01-2008, 08:35 AM
Good article Doug, and just reaffirms how much the Gaylords have held OKC back from progress. I don't know if I agree with you stating that downtown was dead in the 1970's and 80's though. Although I was a tyke in the 80's, I remember it being busier than it is now during the oil boom. The underground and Kerr Park used to be hopping everyday with music, food, and more. These are some of the things we are just now getting back on a smaller scale. I do think however, we have much more momentum and potential than we've ever had before though.

02-01-2008, 09:14 AM
Great thread!

The Central Park is HUGE for OKC. We may scoff at the idea that it can be as grand as Central Park or Hyde Park or Golden Gate Park, and yes, in our lifetimes, it won't be. But all these parks had to start somewhere. In 100 years, the trees will be huge, and the city will have grown up around the park, and it will be so much a part of our culture, that people won't be able to imagine OKC without it.

Doug Loudenback
02-01-2008, 09:17 AM
Earlier downtown park, etc., plans did not fare well. Here's one that was proposed in 1946 but never got anywhere ... the riverfront proposal ...

Larger image:

And, Metro, are you saying that downtown was "hopping" after 5 pm? :dizzy:

We must have been living in 2 different Oklahoma City's! John A. Browns, Rothchilds, Katz Drug, and all the great movie houses (Criterion, Midwest, Warner, Cooper Cinerama, etc.) and much more was long gone by the time you describe, all gone quite possibly before you were born.

Doug Loudenback
02-01-2008, 09:24 AM
This is a great video on about the C2S concepts: (
Thanks, Pete! That's awesome!

02-01-2008, 10:10 AM
Great thread, Doug - thanks for the renderings!

02-01-2008, 10:18 AM
Great thread, Doug - thanks for the renderings!

Metro, before you freak out, he's got OKC Talk on his "approved links". :dizzy:

02-01-2008, 10:57 AM
The 70's, what a disaster for OKC. The demolition of all the great old building for urban renewal. I think Brown's leaving downtown was the final blow, after 5pm it was like a ghost town, with tumbleweeds included.

The old String of Pearl's, a string of parks along a large ditch.

The only thing that was jumping during the 70's and 80's was the I-40 Meridian area.

But you know, it had to hit rock bottom before someone with a grand vision could come along and sell us on a change.

Doug Loudenback
02-01-2008, 02:51 PM
Problems weren't just limited to the 70s even though the demolition of the Biltmore Hotel in 1977 (as well as other buildings around that time) does mark that decade in a particular way. Mark Klett's Photographing Oklahoma (Oklahoma City Art Museum 1991) contains some excellent photographs ... see Doug Dawgz Blog: Okc History Books ( ... his photograph of the North Canadian, taken in 1991 near Wiley Post Park (south of downtown, immediately west of Robinson), speaks in the strongest of terms ...

High resolution image:
Larger image:

02-02-2008, 08:50 PM
Dougdawg, you're the best!

Doug Loudenback
02-03-2008, 06:41 AM

02-04-2008, 10:57 AM
Earlier downtown park, etc., plans did not fare well. Here's one that was proposed in 1946 but never got anywhere ... the riverfront proposal ...


And, Metro, are you saying that downtown was "hopping" after 5 pm? :dizzy:

We must have been living in 2 different Oklahoma City's! John A. Browns, Rothchilds, Katz Drug, and all the great movie houses (Criterion, Midwest, Warner, Cooper Cinerama, etc.) and much more was long gone by the time you describe, all gone quite possibly before you were born.

Doug, perhaps so as far as after 5pm goes. But I do remember as a young kid in the 80's that downtown during the workday was much more happening than it is now, but again, it definitely has more potential NOW than ever before. I remember street vendors and musicians all over downtown (especially in the height of Kerr Park days) as well as tons of hopping shops in the ConnCourse (now Underground). Just now we only have the farmers market downtown once a week during the warmer months and musicians playing during the day in the CBD on Fridays. We have one street vendor who is occasionally in Bricktown on the nights/weekends, and another board member who is hopefully launching his street vendor cart in the CBD next month. This is stuff I remember on a much larger scale back in the 70's. As a 5 year old, I don't know much about nightlife in the inner city though so you're probably right on that one. All I remember is rolling down the hill at the old 89'ers ballpark at the fairgrounds.