View Full Version : Opening the Oklahoma River

12-11-2004, 09:25 AM
Well, I thought that the OAR event last June was the opening. Anyway, tonight we'll have a cool holiday boat parade. Try to make it!

By Steve Lackmeyer
The Oklahoman

RAIN, snow or shine, organizers hope thousands will gather along the Oklahoma River this Saturday to celebrate the realization of a dream to make the waterway a source of pride again.

Stretching more than seven miles, the waterway has been considered the dividing line between north and south Oklahoma City since statehood.

Former Mayor Ron Norick, who led the campaign for MAPS, says the river has been among the most popular of the downtown area improvement projects.

"When we did the first poll for MAPS, before we set the ballot, there were two issues that had voter approval at the time, and that was the river and the library," Norick said. "All the other projects were in the negative."

Trees and parks once lined river
Even with that support, Norick suspects the public still doesn't grasp what's been done to the waterway. Back in the city's early days, the river was lined with trees and parks that included a Coney Island-style boardwalk, a baseball field, a zoo, a theater and an amusement park.

The waterway was reduced to a floodway in the 1950s after a series of storms caused the river to overflow, devastating nearby neighborhoods. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers straightened the river, removed most of the trees and lined the banks with rocks. All the attractions either moved or closed for good.

For the next 50 years, city leaders pitched one idea after another to fix the fix. Norick thinks the city has finally done just that.

"People have always had an interest in the river, even though they probably didn't know what we were talking about," Norick said. "I don't think I knew what we were talking about. It's just so big."

Combined funding from the MAPS penny sales tax and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided $52 million to build three dams and seven miles of trails and parking lots, plant thousands of trees and install an irrigation system to keep the landscaping alive.

The city is simultaneously opening a $684,000 skate park on the south shore along Robinson Avenue.

Norick hopes that between the skate park and the trails, the river will become a recreational hot spot rivaling Lake Hefner.

Public shows interest
Chad Huntington, manager of Water Taxi of Oklahoma, thinks public interest in the waterway is high, based on questions asked by those visiting the Bricktown Canal. Huntington's company is negotiating a contract with the city to provide ferry service on the river -- an operation he said will be much different than Bricktown's water taxis.

The taxis, he said, are enjoyed as excursion rides -- though he is seeing more passengers using the boats to get from Bass Pro Shops in lower Bricktown to restaurants in north Bricktown.

He expects the river boats could provide transportation between the Meridian Avenue hotel corridor, Bricktown, a planned American Indian Cultural Center, and a planned Dell sales and service center.

"This will set the foundation for water-based transportation in a very important corridor in Oklahoma City," Huntington said. "We're already seeing some amazing things happening there with the development of Dell and the American Indian Cultural Center.

"I think when those pieces of the puzzle come together, we may see economic development along the river eclipse what we're seeing in Bricktown."

For now, Norick is most concerned about ensuring the river enjoys the smooth opening that made the Bricktown Canal one of the city's most popular MAPS efforts.

Opening event sought
Norick, now chairman of the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, said some residents have been itching for a river grand opening for at least the past year. The last of the dams was finished more than a year ago, making the waterway look like an actual river for the first time in more than half a century.

The Oklahoma Association for Rowing has sponsored regattas and rowing classes for the past couple of years in a portion of the river south of Bricktown. With one of those regattas, the Mental Health Association pushed the riverfront authority to let it sponsor a RiverFest -- part of what the association hoped would be a grand opening.

Norick reluctantly agreed to approve the event -- but warned the parties that the event would not be a grand opening.

"If we allowed a grand opening, I was concerned people would think the whole river was open," Norick said. "The bridges weren't in, and it was still a construction site. But we didn't want to wait until next summer, either, because we already have events scheduled for then, as well."

So with the work being completed over the fall, trustees agreed to make this Saturday the official opening date. Norick admits the timing might seem odd, but he's hoping the opening will help kick off a new holiday tradition.

Inspired by his own experience in holiday boat parades at Grand Lake, Norick has asked boat dealers across the city to help sponsor a similar event on the Oklahoma River.

"For the first time, people are going to see a lot of activity on the river," Norick said. "This will be an organized event, with a lot of colors and lights, very festive, and will give people a very good first impression."

12-11-2004, 09:45 PM
Tonight, I went to the Oklahoma River opening. First of all, IT WAS PACKED! I haven't seen that many people all in one place except in Norman on gamedays. I mean, I knew there would be a lot of people, but MAN! I drove around for 15 minutes looking for a place to park. I guess it's a good problem to have if you wanted a big turnout. The boats were pretty cool. I'd like to see bigger boats or yachts out there some day. But for the first time ever, I can't complain. I didn't stay for the fireworks because I was with my brother, sister-in-law and their baby nephew who was getting restless. So we left.

I am very excited about this River.

Since my only option out was to go north to get out of traffic (and I wanted to go south), I ended up going back to downtown before getting to go south. So, I decided to stop in bricktown. Oh... my... goodness... There were as many people there as I'd ever seen. There were probably 500 (no lie) people in line to get tickets to the movies. The new Rib Crib is open. Sonic was packed. Every parking lot looked full. The Bass Pro lot was absolutely filled to the brim. I was pretty amazed because it wasn't a warm summer evening. Although it wasn't bitterly cold either. But still, Bricktown is truly a destination year round. Momentum and synergy and all that good stuff are just AWESOME down there. I love just walkin' around down there.

So, all this to say. Yay for the Oklahoma River and Yay for Bricktown and Yay for Downtown and Yay for OKC.

12-11-2004, 09:55 PM
Luke, that is GREAT to read!!! Thanks for the report -- I was wondering how it went. This is all truly exciting. I credit Lower Bricktown and Downtown in December for making Downtown a Winter Wonderland of activity!! I bet the Bricktown merchants and restauranteurs want to thank the corporate community for this early Christmas present!!!

12-11-2004, 09:58 PM
that is really nice to hear. as luke said.... yay for all of OKC.

12-11-2004, 10:04 PM
Where is the new Rib Crib in Bricktown?

12-11-2004, 10:07 PM
Oh yeah, it's not Rib Crib, it's Earl's Rib Palace. And it is in the building directly East of the Harkins Theater. Sorry about that.

12-11-2004, 10:13 PM
Luke, I was out tonight as well. I am so proud of our city right now. By the way, the arts district was also packed with visitors as well. And the downtown library looks incredible lit up at night.

Everything is going so great... wow, wow, wow. At this point, it seems anything is possible. Tonight topped July 2, 1999 (the opening of the Bricktown Canal). Unbelievable. Simply unbelievable. Wow.

- The Downtown Guy

12-11-2004, 10:15 PM
Ah, I wasn't able to make it to the Arts District, but I did wonder what the Montgomery (in the Arts District) looked like at night. I'll check it out another time. I'll bet the rink was hoppin' too!

WOW WOW WOW is right! It's like downtown can't do anything wrong (knock on wood).

12-12-2004, 09:50 AM
Yes, last night was by far the most people I have ever seen in the area, it was what OKC should be all the time. On another note Earls Rib Palace, not Rib Crib, was not open however, it was a pre opening private dinner.

12-12-2004, 09:54 AM
I think Metro was right about Earl's, because when I tried to check it out, I was given all the vibes of it being a closed party. By the way, adding to last night's excitement was a well-attended concert at Ford Center by Rascal Flatts.

12-12-2004, 11:35 PM
You guys are right about Earl's. They're currently just open to selected parties to allow their servers practice. My future father-in-law won a drawing for a free dinner for 4 at the Earls in Bricktown tonight. It's one of those "Closed parties" as you mentioned. I'll let you know how it is! I believe they open in a week or so. I'll ask for sure this evening.

By the way, I also went down to the River Parade Saturday night! Boy, was I impressed. The river was lined with people, all the way from Regatta Park to Wiley Post Park. We got there around 5:45 and the police were turning away cars at Wiley Post Park. We drove over to Bricktown, parked there, and walked to Regatta Park. Parking at Regatta Park was a mess as well.

I will say, I was very impressed. There were about 20+ boats. It wasn't too bad for the first year. The last one had Santa in a huge sleigh and had rocking (actually moving....not just moving lights) reindeer on the front! Quite impressive.

I haven't seen this many people downtown in a long was a huge success.

I happened to see the director of the event at Regatta Park....he was speaking to the New 9 folks.....he said they have twice as many floats already committed for next year! That's great news!

If anyone was able to get into Wiley Post Park, please give us an update from that end. There wasn't much excitement at Regatta Park, other than for a lot of people. What activities were going on at Wiley Post Park?