It was a strange, spiky object that I could see from my window in the Colcord Hotel in downtown Oklahoma City; the colors kept changing from green to blue to red to purple.
What was this futuristic thing, and could I get closer to see it? Answers had to wait about six months after the epic Amtrak-Megabus-Greyhound trip that brought me to OKC and the Colcord.
What I saw that night was a symbol of big changes in Oklahoma City; additions to the landscape and a forward-thinking attitude that make this an intriguing place to visit. Using a redevelopment project called MAPS 3, the city is moving ahead on a huge overhaul of their downtown. It started in 2011/ 2012 and stretches all the way to 2021. OKC is going well beyond the creation of the popular Bricktown entertainment district (and the almost de rigueur attractive Triple-A ballpark) to a completely new vision of their urban core.
“Since you last visited us, we’ve moved a freeway,” joked Seth Spillman, Director of Marketing and Communications at the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Wow, um, OK. They sure had. If it feels like things keep getting dug up and moved around in OKC, it’s because they really are.
While the redevelopment includes standard fare like widened sidewalks and adding trails for a more pedestrian-friendly urban experience, OKC has also nailed more dramatic projects like the Boathouse District, which included turning the formerly dry Oklahoma River into a world-class Olympic rowing facility. The joke in town is, “We used to mow it, now we row it.”
Sometimes, though, you have to build things in what seems to be an odd order. The SkyDance Bridge in the photo above, for example, is plunked across Interstate 40 in an area that hasn’t started the redevelopment process. The soaring span (inspired by Oklahoma’s state bird, the scissor-tailed flycatcher) is surrounded right now by empty lots, fenced-in warehouses, abandoned buildings and the occasional sight of cars pulled close together doing who-knows-what sort of deals. It’s going to be part of a huge downtown park that isn’t there yet.
If you don’t know about all of the imaginative, exciting plans tied to MAPS, you could reasonably assume from looking at SkyDance that OKC city planners are a bunch of knuckleheads who funded a striking bridge that leads from nowhere TO nowhere.
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