View Full Version : Couch Park update!

04-03-2007, 07:50 AM
Who wants burden of downtown park?

Steve Lackmeyer

The group of civic leaders who oversee downtown Oklahoma City's business improvement district met last week and engaged in another lengthy discussion over the future of Couch Drive Park. Once again, they could only agree that they no longer want to carry the burden of the park's upkeep. And once again, no one was eager to accept property owner Rick Dowell's offer to assume such duties.
Yet earlier during that same meeting, the board expressed enthusiasm for resumption of a farmers market they'd started last year — in Couch Drive Park. The block-long stretch between Robinson and Broadway is also increasingly visible again, thanks to the reopening of the Skirvin Hilton Hotel to the east and the new Broadway and Couch Drive location for B.C. Clark Jewelers.

We also know more about how Couch Drive Park became the orphan nobody wants to claim. According to Tom Anderson, special projects manager at City Hall, the park is actually an easement that was taken over by the Oklahoma Industries Authority back in the 1970s. The authority issued bonds to create the park, with the debt to be paid off through a lease with surrounding building owners who formed the Couch Drive Association. When those bonds were paid off, the association ceased to exist.

The owners of the properties that made up the now defunct association have changed, but as Dowell notes, the block isn't without people who could once again agree to pay for the park's upkeep. They include City Place, owned by Globe Insurance. The 76-year-old tower's first floor is occupied by the Interurban Restaurant, which has a broad view of the west half of the park. B.C. Clark's will enjoy a similar view of the east end when it reopens on the Broadway side of 101 Park Avenue, owned by Wiggin Properties. Office condos are opening at 125 Park Avenue, developed by Precor Realty. And then there's the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, which spearheaded a successful effort to restore the park's Air Force Monument.

Dowell's interest stems from his efforts to renovate Dowell Center at the northeast corner of Couch Drive and Robinson. The building has largely been empty the past decade, but he is embarking on an asbestos remediation and renovation he hopes will return it to life. Looking across the table last week, he invited Chuck Wiggin, president of Wiggin Properties, to join him in assuming responsibility for the park. Wiggin, not a man known for rushing into the unknown, responded it was something to think about.

Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., which until now has been using BID funds to care for the park, wants the arrangement to end soon. They estimate the park needs up to $75,000 a year, and it could still use a major makeover as was pitched by architect Randy Floyd a few years ago at a design contest sponsored by none other than Downtown Oklahoma City Inc.

Kerr-McGee Corp. used to take care of those sorts of things, being so close to its corporate campus. But the company is gone and its tower is due to go dark this summer when Tronox moves to Leadership Square.

And Kerr Park, adjoining Couch Park and manicured so meticulously by Kerr-McGee over the past three decades, has been turned over to the city. So not only is Couch Park's future still in doubt, but city officials say Kerr Park also will be maintained at "minimal” levels. To restore that park's standard to the Kerr-McGee days, the city will require $60,000 a year.

Thirty years ago Couch Drive Park and Kerr Park were built upon the financial generosity and goodwill of downtown's corporate giants. But legacies fade, and the question is whether their commitments can be maintained by the next generation of downtown leaders.

04-03-2007, 08:23 AM
I think it should be changed to Couch Square. It's really more of a square than a park, and that would make it less confusing since Kerr Park is attached. It also definitely needs that renovation.