November 15, 2012

OKC leaders: Downtown revitalization a ‘work in progress’

Kirk Humphreys said it looks to him like Wichita is doing a good job revitalizing its downtown.

Kirk Humphreys said it looks to him like Wichita is doing a good job revitalizing its downtown.

Humphreys knows a thing or two about downtown revitalization and development. He was the second of three Oklahoma City mayors who oversaw redevelopment of that city’s downtown and its adjacent Bricktown entertainment district. Humphreys is now a real estate developer.

He and his son Blair, an urban designer and executive director of the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma, were in Wichita on Wednesday. Kirk Humphreys was in town to speak at the Wichita Downtown Development Corp.’s lecture luncheon series, while Blair was meeting with local design professionals.

In an interview with The Eagle before his speech, Humphreys said he has long been familiar with Wichita because he and his father have owned property here going back more than 40 years. But he admitted it had been years since he had been in downtown Wichita. A few weeks ago, he and Blair drove up to Wichita to have a look on their own at downtown and Old Town.

Humphreys said his impressions are that development in Old Town has been more cohesive than in Bricktown. And Wichita is doing “a far better job of housing in Old Town” and downtown than is Oklahoma City. Added Blair Humphreys: “I would say it’s an incredible amount of downtown housing in terms of quality and variety of product.”

But Humphreys said his main message was not to gush on Wichita’s downtown revitalization.

He said he wanted to emphasize that no matter the city, downtowns are a continuous “work in progress,” and that the accomplishments that have been made in Oklahoma City’s downtown and Bricktown redevelopment took many years.

“The maturation process is a 10- to 20-year time frame,” Kirk Humphreys said.

Humphreys said there were several critical elements for success in Oklahoma City’s downtown revitalization and Bricktown development. One was unified leadership, that is the mayor, city council, business community and other constituencies such as the arts community all worked together.

He also said a city has to identify its pressing redevelopment needs, but also realize that it can’t make everyone happy. “Mayors and councils have a tendency to, when putting a package together,” try for accommodations that satisfy everyone, and in the end, satisfy no one, he said.

Cities also need leaders “with political capital who are willing to deploy it,” he said.

In Oklahoma City’s case, that leader was former mayor Ron Norick, Humphreys said. He said the idea for the projects central to Oklahoma City’s downtown revitalization, or Metropolitan Area Projects Plan, was born at a Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce retreat.

MAPS was approved by Oklahoma City voters in 1993 and funded by a 1-cent sales tax that expired in 1999. It involved nine major projects, including construction of the Chesapeake Energy Arena, the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark and the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, and renovations to the Cox Business Services Convention Center and the Civic Center Music Hall.

The idea for MAPS wasn’t Norick’s, Humphreys said, but it was Norick “who said we must do this now.”

“And voters, by 54 percent, said yes,” he said.

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