Proposed MAPS 4 river wish list includes fourth dam, equestrian park, swimming beach
A fourth dam that would extend the navigable Oklahoma River waterway east of Interstate 35 and into east Oklahoma City is among several improvements set to be added to a growing MAPS 4 wish list being assembled by Mayor David Holt.
Gary Marrs, chairman of the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority, said the proposed improvements were assembled by the trust’s river use committee.
The proposed dam is being promoted as a way to expand development and recreational opportunities along the river into northeast Oklahoma City and would cost an estimated $22.5 million.
Another item on the wish list proposes $69 million for a 409-acre prairie park on the east end of the river that would include a swimming beach that could accommodate 3,000 people, a bathhouse and concession building, lifeguard stations, a boat rental station, volleyball courts, sports fields, trails, playground, restrooms and parking.
Another $26 million is being proposed for equestrian-related amenities along the river that would include a livery stable, a multi-use indoor arena, arena polo facilities, a welcome center and expanded trailer parking.
The report on the MAPS 4 improvements proposed by the river use committee was authored by City Manager Craig Freeman and notes River Park was designated for equestrian use in 2016.
“River Park has the potential to be one of the city’s premier specialty parks,” Freeman wrote. “The amenities specified in the Equestrian Park Master Plan could make River Park a regional destination for horse enthusiasts and tourists seeking to experience ‘authentic’ Western culture in an urban environment.”
Other proposed MAPS 4 improvements include extending connections from the river to the Oklahoma City trails system, shade, water fountains, seating and other amenities along the existing trails, trail extensions to the future American Indian Cultural Center and development exploration near the Wheeler District at Western Avenue.
Mike Knopp, chairman of the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation, reported to the trust on Tuesday that season ticket sales for RiverSport Adventures along the river are up 200%. As the trust pitches its MAPS 4 list, he noted $8 million in MAPS 3 improvements still are underway.
Those improvements include a second zip line across the river, an adventure lagoon, a surfing pool and a new children’s “adventures” venue. The Better Streets, Safer City improvements approved last year by voters, meanwhile, includes funding for transforming an abandoned railroad bridge over the river into a pedestrian crossing.
Just 20 years ago, before the first dams were built as part of the first MAPS, the waterway was frequently dry riverbed that early day promoter Pat Downes joked need to be mowed three times a year.
The river is now home to regattas and outdoor recreation throughout the year, with 400,000 people visiting the boathouse district last year. Knopp said recognition of the transformation includes Oklahoma City being showcased along with San Diego, Atlanta and Grand Rapids by the Outdoor Foundation’s “Thrive Outside” campaign.
“The only way we got on their radar screen is what we’ve done,” Knopp said. “They were blown away.”
While Knopp was not involved in creating the wish list, he said the proposals are good ideas for continuing the momentum and impact of the river transformation. In addition to providing a recreational destination for the region, he noted the water rescue training at the White Water Center and rafts lent to Tulsa are helping save lives where flooding is devastating the second-largest city in the state.
“I think we’ve seen the impact of impounding water and how that has transformed the river as part of the original MAPS,” Knopp said. “And we now see ourselves as a river city.”
Holt said the timing is right for the proposals to be submitted, but cautioned the wish list for the entire city far exceeds what is possible with a MAPS 4 sales tax to be presented to voters later this year.
“We’re definitely still a blank slate,” Holt said. “Some things have progressed. We’re about to head into a phase where we have meetings and public presentations. When it comes to park land, and that encompasses the river, that is a viable discussion for MAPS 4. We want to impact our public spaces in a big way.”
Holt said the city council will be transparent in sorting through which proposals do and don’t make the cut.
“This is a hyper competitive environment for MAPS 4,” Holt said. “There are a lot of good ideas on how to make our city a better place to live. The question is whether there is room for all those ideas when there are so many competing.”