by Sonya Barrett & Rob Morris
Jul 05, 2012
Picture a cool Oklahoma evening with a light breeze blowing and the stars just beginning to flicker into view. You’re in a park, surrounded by hundreds of fellow Moore residents and visitors from other cities, listening to Johnny Lee and the Urban Cowboy band rock through their set of hits.
That scene will actually unfold at Buck Thomas Park on July 3rd. But city leaders are hoping for a much different scenario in the near future.
“With what we do at Buck Thomas, to some degree, we’re putting a square peg in a round hole,” director of Parks and Recreation Todd Jenson says. “That park was never designed for special events. It’s an athletic facility with a playground and a walking trail.”
Jenson paints a picture of that same scene played out at an amphitheater designed just for such events. Pull back the camera of your mind’s eye a little more and look around and you’ll see an expansive “central park” that also has a brand-new pool, community center, farmer’s market—as well as playgrounds, walking trails and plenty of parking.
“It’s a piece of the puzzle that we’re missing. That quality-of-life destination that people go to or are attracted to—not because they have to—but because they want to go,” he said.
It’s what city leaders envision when they turn through the pages of the “PATH 2022 Comprehensive Parks and Recreation Master Plan.” PATH is an acronym standing for Parks Aquatics Trails and Health, and 2022 is the target year for completion of the plan.
That central park clearly stands as the crown jewel of the PATH plan and it’s being called a game changer by many who believe it could change the face of Moore.
“It could be for Moore what MAPS has been for Oklahoma City,” Jenson said. MAPS has changed Oklahoma City, downtown especially, but also the overall attitude. We think this can change Moore.”
City manager Steve Eddy says that after spending the past 10 to 15 years focusing on infrastructure like road improvements, fire and police stations, now is the perfect time to begin to tackle these “quality of life” issues.
“Parks is something that we are beginning to look at and, hopefully, our citizens will help us on what I call our ‘nice-to-haves,’” Eddy said. “Things like that go to make our community an even better place to be and live. We’d have more opportunities for recreational things and leisure activities.”
The overall plan is an ambitious effort that will end up costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $40 million. That’s a pretty pricey neighborhood, but it’s a place city leaders believe residents are ready to move into.
“We have our existing hotel/motel tax, which is a tax people pay whenever they stay at the hotels here in town. That goes to parks and recreation,” Eddy said. “It doesn’t generate a ton of money, but it generates some. To fully implement the plan, it’s going to take a vote of the people for a bond issue and or a sales tax increase.”
But before the citizens decide, the city manager says city council has to give approval.
“That’ll be the next major step—to present a proposal to the council and then a campaign to our citizens to inform them what we’re asking for and why,” he said. “Hopefully, the citizens will support that.”
Jenson says an actual start date and timeline for development of the central park is a “moving target.” But he believes that after the decision is made on how the park will be funded, things could move fairly quickly.
First up would be choosing the location. Jenson says a spot near the core of Moore makes sense for a lot of reasons.
“While we don’t have an exact location yet, we do have some areas identified,” Jenson said. “And we’d be following a successful trend of other cities investing in their downtown or core areas.”
That trend has taken place over the past 20 to 30 years as a kind of response to the way the development of Interstates pulled business and activity away from downtown areas.
“It just makes sense,” Jenson said. “Everybody would be close to it, so it makes a lot of sense logistically and logically.”
The actual development and construction of the park would follow a logical plan as well. Jenson says that once the funds are approved, work could begin on quick projects like playgrounds and permanent restrooms. From that point the next piece of the puzzle to be put into place, in Jenson’s opinion, would be the pool.
“In my mind it would be the aquatics first, because we don’t have that—and a lot of people want that,” he said. “Then probably, the community center. And then everything else after that. The farmer’s market and the events center could be tied together.”
While the puzzle is still a few years from even beginning, all of the pieces are on the table and waiting to be put into play. And while it’s being called a game changer, Jenson believes the overall plan—especially the central park—is more than just a game.
“We have pieces around town,” Jenson said. “There are walking trails and there’s a park here or there. But this would be a destination that could draw thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands, of people every year.”