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Where is Park Union? New districts, boundary lines being formed amidst downtown growth

The future Omni Hotel, convention center, Scissortail Park and streetcar station are shown in this rendering of a rapidly developing new district being branded as “Park Union.” [IMAGE PROVIDED]
The future Omni Hotel, convention center, Scissortail Park and streetcar station are shown in this rendering of a rapidly developing new district being branded as “Park Union.” [IMAGE PROVIDED]

Almost 20 years have passed since downtown Oklahoma City was divided into seven districts that cover an area between the Oklahoma River, Interstate 235, NW 13 and Classen Boulevard.

Some of the districts were simply formal acknowledgement of historic identities like Midtown, Deep Deuce, Film Row, Automobile Alley and the Central Business District.

Bricktown came into being in the early 1980s as the old warehouse hub was redeveloped into an entertainment district. The Arts District was a less than successful effort to acknowledge the proximity of the Civic Center Music Hall, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art and the Choral Directors headquarters.

The one district attempt that had no connection to any history, branding or place-making was the creation of “Park Plaza” along what was historically considered the southern edge of Midtown. Blame politics, or chalk it up to the independent streak displayed by the prominent property owner in the Park Plaza area, Rick Dowell. But Park Plaza doesn’t really exist.

Ask most folks about the OCU Law School and the Oklahoma City Memorial and they will say these institutions are in Midtown, not the non-existent Park Plaza.

Now the lines are being redrawn, and with downtown growing west and south, it’s time to contemplate some new boundaries and new names.

The process of district naming is not a well understood exercise or one that really has any binding force. Some of it is done through the design review ordinances created by city planners, while other boundaries are created by Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership as part of organizing service levels and assessments in the downtown business improvement district.

And then there is common sense. Let’s get Park Plaza out of the way. It has no basis in reality and is the result of rivalries and misunderstandings among property owners and developers. Any honest definition of Midtown is one that is goes from NW 13 to NW 4 and a half block west of Broadway to Western Avenue.

Currently there is no final determination as to whether Park Plaza will continue even on the maps created by Downtown Oklahoma City

Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership after years of struggling with this failed brand. Expect possible changes over the next few months.

Let’s also say goodbye to the area between the Oklahoma River, Reno Avenue, E.K. Gaylord Boulevard and Western Avenue known to date as “Core to Shore.” The folks at Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership consulted with city planners, representatives of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City and 20 local branding firms.

“Core to Shore” was never meant to be a permanent branding, but rather was a placeholder name used in planning for the formerly blighted area. With Scissortail Park opening in September and the new convention center rising up in the air, the new district name for the area between Shartel, E.K. Gaylord Boulevard, the Oklahoma City Boulevard and Interstate 40 will be Park Union.

The inspiration is simple and it makes sense; the park and its historic Union Station are the jewels of this new district.

History plays into the decision to formally draw boundaries for the Farmer’s Market District between Shartel Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Reno and I-40. Drawn around the historic Farmer’s Public Market, this is an area that is on the cusp of fully coming back to life with anchors including Urban Agrarian, The Loaded Bowl and The Power House.

Another historic name is being revived, with the area between I-40, the river, the Boathouse District along Lincoln Boulevard and Western Avenue being branded as Riverside. This area will include the lower segment of Scissortail Park and potentially a $20 million Oklahoma Humane Society campus.

The final part of the old Core to Shore, the now cleared cotton oil mill south of Bricktown, gets a tentative name of the Mill District. With no development yet to be announced for the area, time will tell whether this name sticks.

One more name is popping out in an area still in early stages of development but showing promise, a forgotten industrial cluster between Virginia Avenue, Classen Boulevard, Reno Avenue and NW 5. The first name to pop out has been “Iron Works” and it is the one added to the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership.

The area includes a cluster of brick warehouses and former steelworks buildings mostly constructed in the 1920s and 1930s. The area is largely unknown to the public now, but it is in play and deals are being made with development to follow fairly soon. The renovated former Sunshine Cleaners at NW 1 and Classen, now home to Stone Cloud Brewing, serves as sort of a gateway to the area.

Say goodbye the Central Business District, often referred to as CBD. It’s a successful brand, and that’s the problem. It’s also the brand for the numerous cannabis oil shops opening up all over the city. So now we will refer to the heart of downtown as “city center.”

The Arts District boundaries are redrawn meanwhile to extend further west and south, taking in Film Row, home to deadCENTER Film, Carpenter Square Theater and 21c Museum Hotel, and also taking in the newly opened Banquet Cinema. The Film Row history and name will remain a part of the district. When combined with the Civic Center Music Hall, the Choral Directors headquarters and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the new boundaries make for a far more realistic branding as a true Arts District.

Ultimately the successful branding of the new districts and rebranding of old ones will depend on those marketing these areas and acceptance by the public. The new map represents a downtown that has grown and changed dramatically over the past decade with even more transformation set to follow.

Steve Lackmeyer

Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's... Read more ›