Downtown on verge of moving up
By John Estus
Staff Writer

Oklahoma City is about to play a game of chess, with downtown skyscrapers and arenas taking the place of kings and rooks.
The expected arrival of a MAPS 3 initiative and an NBA team within the next few months is a major part of the future of downtown and the city. How those developments and others play out will dictate how officials use what Mayor Mick Cornett dubbed their "chess pieces.” Those pieces are the many elements of a framework plan for Core to Shore — the most ambitious redevelopment project in city history that seeks to turn the land between downtown and the Oklahoma River into a vibrant urban community. The heart of the 109-page plan, which was released Wednesday after more than a year of work, is a downtown park that would be surrounded by urban neighborhoods, street-level retail and a new convention center.

While Cornett said he felt reluctant to even discuss MAPS 3 and Core to Shore as the city recovers from power outages caused by last week's ice storm, he did say "the overall vision exceeds my expectation. It's probably more specific than I would've expected.” Core to Shore calls for $3 billion of development during the next three decades, with cost shared by the public and private sectors.

Long-term plan
Cornett and others are quick to note that while MAPS 3 and the arrival an NBA team are progressing month-to-month, Core to Shore remains a decade-to-decade discussion. In the meantime, Cornett said the initial building blocks for Core to Shore development will likely be a part of MAPS 3. "MAPS 3 is a funding mechanism, and Core to Shore is a visionary plan that is going to require funding,” Cornett said.Cornett said money for both the convention center and park will likely be sought with a MAPS 3 sales tax. "I think the park will be the catalyst for much of the private sector development that we would expect to occur,” Cornett said. "The park almost has to lead the way.”

Convention center
At a Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce banquet Thursday, Cornett and chamber chairman Larry Nichols discussed their desire to include a new convention center in a MAPS 3 initiative next year.
It marked the most specific public discussion confirming a MAPS 3 initiative, although Cornett's chief of staff, David Holt, said Thursday's banquet wasn't a "formal” MAPS 3 announcement. Nichols, the chief executive officer of Devon Energy, said at the banquet that MAPS 3 will be submitted to voters next year and will "undoubtedly” include a convention center project of some sort. The city has been researching the need for a new convention center and the results of that study are expected early next year. Cornett said Friday that the study will help officials decide whether to build a new convention center or expand the Cox Convention Center.

If a new center is chosen, the Core to Shore plan shows it as nearly twice the size of the Cox Center with an adjoining hotel. It is shown adjacent to the proposed downtown park that would stretch from the Oklahoma River to where Interstate 40 exists today.

Boulevard and park
Once I-40 is relocated about a mile south of its current location in 2012, a boulevard will open in its place in 2014.
The 35-member committee of area leaders from the public and private sectors that drafted the plan intended the boulevard to be a "gateway” to the city. The plan shows a tree-lined boulevard flanked by sidewalks, retail, restaurants and commercial office towers. Most boulevard developments won't be around when it opens in seven years, but Cornett said there is a small possibility the central park could be finished by then — if the money is secured. The main intention of the park is to create a pedestrian-friendly connection between the existing downtown and the Oklahoma River that can be used as a focal point to attract surrounding development. The plan features a park that includes an events center and other amenities, including a number of neighborhood greens and private green spaces.

Arena a factor
If the Oklahomans who own the Seattle SuperSonics move the team here as expected, it could alter Core to Shore and MAPS 3 planning.
The Core to Shore plan released Wednesday does not include a new arena. Earlier this month, the city hired the group that designed the Ford Center to evaluate what type of upgrades the arena needs to host an NBA team. The Sonics' ownership group, led by city businessman Clay Bennett, recently announced plans to move the team to Oklahoma City because its Seattle arena is inadequate. "That's evolving so quickly that anything I say today might be outdated next week,” Cornett said.

What's next?
The Core to Shore framework plan still needs the approval of the Oklahoma City Council, Planning Commission and other bureaucratic processes.
Even then, it's still just a plan. "Anything can happen,” said Brett Hamm, a member of the Core to Shore steering committee and president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. "But even in the next five to ten years, downtown is going to change quite a bit.” Claus said officials are now working on a proposal for phased implementation of the plan.

Cornett said he will discuss specifics about both MAPS 3 and Core to Shore during his annual State of the City address in January. In his State of the City address this year, Cornett announced the launch of a MAPS 3 Web site that allowed users to submit their MAPS 3 ideas. More than 2,700 ideas were submitted during a five-month period. The topic that produced the most ideas was mass transit, with 668 ideas submitted.