Introducing Urban Connectivity: Oklahoma City's Bricktown DistrictDecember 7, 2006 1 comment Print Article
Once a major warehouse district and the original site of the city, Bricktown is a growing entertainment district in downtown Oklahoma City. After a successful visioning effort created a navigable canal to attract tourists, Bricktown has blossomed into one of the most visited destinations in the state of Oklahoma, with over 4 million visitors in 2005. Today, the district is home to AT T Bricktown Ballpark, numerous bars and dance clubs, restaurants, hotels, live music venues, retail featuring a Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, and a Harkins Movie Theater.Bricktown is a good example of taking a decayed section of the inner city and bringing it back to life as a center of local culture and vibrancy. By promoting its history, along with carefully planning development in a fashion that makes individual projects complement their surroundings, Bricktown has become an energetic district that not only attracts tourists on a daily basis, but also local residents as well.
Oklahoma City skyline
City population 2005 estimate/land area:
Oklahoma City: 531,324 / 607 square miles
Jacksonville: 782,623 / 767 square miles
Metro population 2005 estimate:
Oklahoma City: 1,225,084
City population 1940 Census:
Oklahoma City: 204,424
Bricktown was born in 1889, when the Santa Fe Railroad came to town. For the next 40 years the Bricktown area would grow to become one of Oklahoma City’s premier industrial districts, with the use of red brick being the common thread shared among the warehouses and manufacturing facilities.
In the 1920s and 30s, Bricktown’s northern border became known as “Deep Deuce." "Deep Deuce" was an African-American commercial district where the region’s most prominent blues and jazz clubs operated. Bricktown’s prosperity would soon come to an end though, with the relocation of Douglass High School from the neighborhood in 1934 triggering a 50-year period of decline.
By 1980, this crossroad of cultural diversity and commerce had become a graveyard of abandoned buildings.
Fortunately, history proves that adversity can often create new opportunity, and Bricktown was ripe for a new beginning. The raw materials were already in place - cheap buildings, vacant lots for parking, tax credits for restoration projects, and a consumer society that was looking for something new, something more distinct than bland suburban shopping malls and faceless movie theaters. The only thing missing was vision, leadership, and a plan to make Bricktown the crossroads of renewal.
Efforts at urban revitalization in the 1960s and 1970s largely ignored the area, while commercial developers tended to stick with more cautious projects. One man finally decided to buck that trend. This man was Neal Horton, a developer who envisioned exciting new opportunities for the historic area. He created a plan, attracted partners, and coined the name "Bricktown" in order to give the old commercial district an identity. Unfortunately, the oil and banking crash of 1982 kept Horton from realizing his dreams.
Like good soldiers on the battlefield, others picked up the flag and charged on. Investors such as Jim Brewer saw bargains, and were willing to invest their time and energy into "Bricktown". Companies such as Spaghetti Warehouse moved in, paving the way for others to follow suit.
Finally – most importantly of all -- Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick, along with an army of civic leaders, hatched the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) plan. This plan would add new attractions to Bricktown, tying the entire area together with a festive canal and riverwalk. Like the mythical Phoenix, the old commercial and cultural crossroads would cast off its troubled past and emerge once again as a vital part of Oklahoma City's life.
Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS)
The greatest development plan for Oklahoma City since the Land Run of 1889 is the Metropolitan Area Projects plan. The Chamber's leadership became involved in the development of the plan, along with city officials, in the early 1990s.
In 1993, the Chamber took on the challenge of promoting the MAPS plan and leading the campaign to pass a five-year, one-cent sales tax to fund nine major projects for Oklahoma City. The projects were born in an effort to improve the quality of life for the citizens, increase tourism, and attract conventions and special events to the city. With a 54% majority vote, the citizens of Oklahoma City passed the increase in sales tax on December 14, 1993.
The MAPS plan included renovations to the Civic Center, Music Hall, Cox Convention Center and Oklahoma State Fairgrounds. MAPS also funded the construction of a new 20,000-seat indoor sports arena, the 15,000-seat SBC Southwestern Bell Bricktown Ballpark, and a new Library/Learning Center. Furthermore, MAPS provided for the development of a Trolley Transit System for transportation between the I-40/Meridian area and downtown, the development of the North Canadian Riverfront, and the construction of the Bricktown Canal -- a mile long waterway, lined with shops and restaurants, intended to showcase the district’s history.
In 1998, the Chamber managed the "Finish MAPS Right" campaign to extend the MAPS sales tax for six months. It passed with a 68% majority vote, ensuring that all nine projects would be completed debt free.
Bricktown has rapidly grown to become one of Oklahoma's top tourist attractions. Bricktown's attractions include the city's new convention center, the Downtown Library, a Bass Pro Shops, a megaplex movie cinema, a host of museums, and nearly 50 restaurants and clubs. This is all tied together be the recently constructed Bricktown Canal.
This scene would not have been possible without the MAPS plan, which was very similar to Jacksonville's Better Jacksonville Plan (BJP). The major difference between the two plans though is that the downtown projects included in MAPS were all constructed in Bricktown or in close proximity, creating a top destination, with 24/7 activity having a mix of uses attracting a diverse range of visitors. Instead of infilling gaps in the urban landscape though, Jacksonville's downtown BJP projects either replaced structurally historic buildings (leaving large, empty surface lots nearby) or were constructed in remote areas of downtown, limiting the creation of urban synergy.
The moral of the Bricktown story is as follows: As new projects are developed here in Jacksonville, they must be designed and laid out in a fashion that integrates their activities with their surroundings. And as these projects are constructed, public mass transit must be used to further tie them together.