MAPS 4 to fill gaps along the Oklahoma River
The Oklahoma River, now 20 years into a transformation from being a drainage channel and eyesore, is set to undergo even more changes with the passage last week of MAPS 4.
To date, the river’s revival has been centered along three areas.
The Boathouse District, between Interstate 35 and SE 15, has emerged as an outdoor recreational destination along the north shore with a direct connection to Bricktown and a downtown skyline backdrop.
Wheeler, meanwhile, is rising up as a mixed-use neighborhood built around a Ferris Wheel overlooking the south shore at Western Avenue.
A final hub, on the south shore at Meridian Avenue, is an extension of the airport hotel corridor.
An upcoming fourth hub, the renamed First Americans Museum, provides the first and best shot at creating a real link between the hubs beyond the riverside trails. After a rescue from indecisive lawmakers who abandoned an already $90 million project, the city and the Chickasaw Nation teamed up to get construction restarted with an opening set for 2021.
The $175 million, 175,000-square-foot museum is designed to Smithsonian Institution standards and will represent the state’s 39 tribes. Features will include Smithsonian and Tribal Nations galleries; artifacts from the Smithsonian collections will be displayed.
The museum, with visibility from Interstates 35 and 40, is expected to be a major visitor draw. But currently the site is connected to Bricktown via Reno Avenue, which has an unsightly stretch of scrap yards and old industrial properties.
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The location of the museum on the south shore just west of Eastern Avenue, meanwhile, has no nearby pedestrian crossing to the Boathouse District. And the beauty of the Oklahoma River ends at the Eastern Avenue dam.
At the recent Downtown Year in Review hosted by The Oklahoman, Chickasaw Gov. Bill Anoatubby revealed the tribe’s future commercial development around the museum will likely involve a Native American crafts village.
Back on the north shore, Boathouse Foundation Director Mike Knopp recently told The Oklahoman negotiations are underway for the first commercial development on the north shore with more to follow, including a possible hotel.
Thanks to MAPS 4, a pedestrian bridge is set to link these two areas while the sales tax also is planned to fund a beautification of Reno Avenue between Bricktown and the museum. A low-water dam, meanwhile, is included at Bryant Avenue to extend the scenic Oklahoma River corridor.
A landing for the Oklahoma River Cruisers is also part of the proposed MAPS 4 improvements along the river. Not every gap is being filled — crossings are still needed over river tributaries east of the Boathouse District. Directional signage and communication about the areas of interest along the entire 7-mile segment of the river is lacking.
The momentum and focus, meanwhile, is in the right direction for those wanting to see the Oklahoma River reach its full potential as the link that brings north and south Oklahoma City pride and not shame.