History Of Creating Green Spaces In Oklahoma City

Thursday, September 12th 2019, 7:57 pm

By: News 9

Scissortail Park opens on Sept. 27, but the idea of green spaces in urban areas has been a dream of city leaders for decades. In fact, it all began with the Myriad Botanical Gardens.

"It's been a wonderful experience for me," said James R. Tolbert III, a member of the Myriad Gardens Foundation.

James Tolbert, to many, is considered the Godfather of the Gardens. He has served many years at the Gardens, as the chairman of the board of directors. In the early 1960s, he and the late Dean A. McGee, leader of Kerr-McGee corporation, worked with other cities leaders to create a vision for the Myriad Botanical Gardens.

"McGee called it the 'Garden In The City,'" recalls Tolbert.

Modeled after the Tivoli Gardens in Denmark, the 17-acre property took years to develop due to land acquisitions and money troubles. McGee and the Myriad Gardens Foundation raised millions of dollars to finish the construction of the park and its 224-foot-long round glass conservatory.

"I think the idea of having the gardens as a center of a redevelopment was quickly understood as a potential to drive the whole redevelopment of the downtown," he said.

It finally opened in 1988, 25 years after the idea was born. Today, thousands of people visit the Gardens each year -- to walk through the trails of lush greenery dotted with peaceful water features. There's also a children's garden, playground, splash pads and stages for entertainment. It all surrounds a sunken lake that sits below the Crystal Bridge tropical conservatory.

"It really is nice to feel that there is something of a legacy, and I do feel good about that," Tolbert said.

Following the success of the Myriad Botanical Gardens, another dream has been realized -- to expand the green space south to the river.

"We wanted something that could stand with the great parks of the world," said former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett.

Now, Cornett is seeing that vision come to life at Scissortail Park.

"I think it's going to meet or exceed expectations and, fortunately, that's been the case with all of the MAPS projects ever since 1994," he said.

The park was built debt-free through MAPS 3, the city's penny sales tax program. It encompasses 70 urban acres over an area revealed when the elevated portion of I-40 was moved three blocks south of downtown.

"We realized that we had a part of downtown that had kind of been overlooked," Cornett said.

The park would be built in two phases, connected by the Skydance Bridge, a pedestrian-friendly connection that spans across I-40.

"It will make much more sense when both halves of the park are open and the Skydance bridge is the centerpiece to connect the northern part of the park with the southern part of the park," he said.

Until then, the upper park will offer a great lawn for concerts, a boathouse with a dock, a children's area and more.

"Whether it's a concert on a weekend night or just a walk in the park with your grandkids, I think people are going to look at this and say 'Wow, we've needed this for a long, long time, and we didn't even know it," Cornett said.

The new crown jewel of public spaces, for everyone.

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