Juli Anne Patty 2013-02-22 10:33:23
Oklahoma City’s Big River Future IN 1993, OKLAHOMA CITY (OKC) WAS STRUGGLING. Its citizens, hoping to launch their city into a new era, took an unusual step: they taxed themselves. The new MAPS (Metropolitan Area Projects) sales tax funded a $350 million initiative that revitalized OKC’s historical downtown, improved the city’s national image and provided new and upgraded cultural, sports, recreation, entertainment and convention facilities. But OKC’s citizens weren’t finished. That first successful initiative inspired a second MAPS, “MAPS for Kids,” which funded school facility improvements, technology and transportation projects, and, in 2010, MAPS 3, which is funding a number of in-process projects, including a new downtown public park, a modern streetcar public transit line, and a new trail system, among other developments. But the water sports world is buzzing about one particular part of OKC’s MAPS 3 initiative. Led by the Oklahoma City Boathouse Foundation (OKCBF), a series of developments along the Oklahoma River are turning the already popular riverfront into a world-class river sports destination. Making the Best Even Better OKC and its riverfront potential have earned the attention of river athletes and event owners nationwide, including the leaders at USA Canoe/Kayak, national governing body for canoe and kayak racing. Those leaders saw something special happening in OKC and made sure their athletes got in on the action. “Your job when paddling is to align yourself and your boat with the most momentum that the river gives you. This analogy speaks to our choosing Oklahoma City as USA Canoe/Kayak’s home and national headquarters,” says Joe Jacobi, Olympic Gold Medal winning whitewater canoeist and USA Canoe/Kayak’s chief executive officer. “Not only are we aligning with game-changing infrastructural investment in paddlesports, but we’re partnering with the new visionaries of the canoeing and kayaking who are doing the right things for the sport the right way.” That infrastructural investment, funded by MAPS 3, represents $60 million in new projects, including grandstands, a floating stage, permanent lighting and windscreens that will create a river stadium ideal for race events as well as community activities. MAPS 3 funding will also be used to create a world-class whitewater rafting and kayaking center. A Riverfront City These current developments aren’t the beginning of OKC’s river story, however. OKC has long been enamored with its urban riverfront, and the commitment to enhancing and preserving this asset was seen long before the current developments, both from OKC’s citizens and its businesses. The vision for the Oklahoma River began with construction of the Chesapeake Boathouse in 2006 and has since been powered by a group of corporate sponsors led by the OKCBF’s POWER 10 Partners: Chesapeake Energy, Devon Energy, OGE and The Chickasaw Nation. Today, the area has become a center of community activity as well as a stage for high-profile water sports competitions, and investments and improvements continue. The waterfront, which has become known as the “Boathouse District” is more than just eminently functional; it’s also a stunning architectural showcase, displaying iconic building designs by Rand Elliott, Elliott & Associates. Current and future buildings include the following: Chesapeake Boathouse – Opened in 2006 as OKC’s community boathouse, the Chesapeake Boathouse anchors the district and is headquarters for RIVERSPORT community rowing, kayaking, dragon boating, cycling, running, and fitness center activities. Devon Boathouse – The Devon Boathouse serves as the Oklahoma City University Boathouse, as well as headquarters for the OKC National High Performance Center. One of the world’s premier training facilities for both rowing and canoe/kayak, the $10 million boathouse houses the world’s first dynamic rowing tank, a stateof- the-art hypoxic (high altitude) training room, an indoor propulsion swim pool, a wide variety of cross training apparatus, and extensive strength and conditioning equipment. Offering incredible views of the Oklahoma River, the Devon Boathouse is available for private rental and offers an extraordinary space for events. Chesapeake Finish Line Tower – Soaring 70 feet above the Oklahoma River with the downtown skyline as its backdrop, the Chesapeake Finish Line Tower is a focal point on the river. This four-story finish tower meets both International Canoe Federation (ICF) and FISA (the International Federation of Rowing Associations) racing standards and features meeting and event spaces with 360-degree views of the OKC metro, available for private rental. SandRidge Youth Pavilion – Oklahoma City-area youth will soon have access to a variety of adventure activities, including a Sky Trail™ course, a zip line across the Oklahoma River, an outdoor climbing wall and indoor surf park, at this new youth pavilion planned for the Boathouse District. University of Oklahoma Boathouse – Construction drawings are being finalized on this university boathouse which will be home to OU Women’s Rowing. University of Central Oklahoma Boathouse – Each of the District’s boathouses has a unique personality, and the plans for the UCO boathouse, currently being finalized, aim to bring arts to the river with the addition of a Jazz Lab and art space. Into the Future and Beyond The Chesapeake Boathouse ushered in a new era of OKC’s riverfront romance, a saga that continues as the city’s MAPS 3 investments earn the Oklahoma River a place at the center of the hearts and imaginations of a whole new generation of athletes. “When you look at the impact of the MAPS 3 investment in the Oklahoma River combined with private sector investment, you create a futuristic boathouse district that not only caters to Olympic athletes, but every kind of paddling audience imaginable – all abilities, all disciplines and all ages,” says Jacobi. “Once completed, kids, collegiate, elite, corporate and masters paddlers interested in flatwater or whitewater paddling in canoes, kayaks, Stand Up Paddleboards and Dragon Boats will all be served. It’s the most engaging and integrated top to bottom paddling community paddling project our sport has ever seen.” As part of the MAPS 3 projects, a $35 million whitewater rafting and kayaking center, geared for both elite athlete training and family fun, will be built adjacent to the Oklahoma River. Lighting for the entire river racecourse is currently being installed, while bids are in development for the riverfront grandstands, as well as a 40- foot-tall windscreen that will extend over the last 500 meters of the race course. “The idea is based on sand screen used in Iraq and Afghanistan,” says Sue Hollenbeck. “The screen will offer wind protection, ensuring an even playing field no matter what lane you’re in on the course.” A River Runs Through It Oklahoma City’s citizens have always taken an active and enthusiastic role in ensuring a positive future for their city, and they know that it takes more than a river or buildings to create the kind of synergy that can transform a community. People are the center of a community. They are also, not coincidentally, the center of a successful sports event, which is why OKC’s sports-centric, community- building initiatives are just as important to event owners and planners as they are to the people of Oklahoma City. One such effort, OKC RIVERSPORT, offers rowing, kayaking, cycling, running, fitness and more to hundreds of people from across the metro. The Corporate Rowing League has grown to more than 40 teams, and a new Dragon Boat League is being launched. The city is also expanding youth outreach programs, which provide life-changing opportunities, and adult and youth rowing teams are on the water daily. When racing events are held, the city turns out: take for example the Oklahoma Regatta Festival, which draws as many as 50,000 people each year.” Bringing the World to OKC Thousands of rowers and kayakers have converged on Oklahoma City to race in events ranging from the annual Head of the Oklahoma rowing regatta to the USA Canoe/Kayak Olympic Trials for Flatwater Sprint in 2008. International athletes compete at the Oklahoma River on a regular basis, including the 2007 and 2011 USA Rowing World Challenge, which returns in 2015. In July, 2009, the Oklahoma River and OKC Boathouse Foundation were named a U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site, and the OKC National High Performance Center is currently training Olympic hopefuls in both rowing and canoe/ kayak. Visit www.visitokc.com for more information about sports events the OKC way.
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