Kerr Park's new amenities ready for unveiling
Kerr Park, located between Broadway and Robinson, was built by the nearby Kerr-McGee corporation, in the early 1970s on what was a surface parking lot. The adjoining Couch Drive Park was built in the mid-1930s with aspirations to span the stretch between the County Courthouse at Harvey Avenue and Broadway. The park is named after the city's first mayor, William L. Couch.
At first, the plan appeared to be slowly proceeding as envisioned. Early-day renderings showed a series of monuments throughout the stretch, which was built along the former Rock Island Railroad right-of-way that was removed to also make way for the Oklahoma County Courthouse, City Hall, the Civic Center Music Hall and the Oklahoma City Police headquarters and jail.
The park plan, however, never fully matched the original vision, and construction of Leadership Square at Robinson resulted in an enclosed atrium blocking off the park and creating a small surviving stub at the west end where the 45th Infantry monument stood. With that area resembling more of a service alley than a park, the monument was ultimately moved to the 45th Infantry Museum.
Another monument at the east end, the anchor from the U.S.S. Oklahoma that stood in front of the Skirvin Hilton Hotel, was also relocated a few years ago to Broadway Drive.
The park, located in the heart of Oklahoma City’s central business district, underwent a multi-million dollar renovation that was completed by SandRidge Energy in the summer of 2016. However, the space remained underutilized.
Now, Kerr Park is nearing completion on enhancements intended to reinvigorate the space and bring people back to the area.
The total budget for the upgrades was $250,000, which included $200,000 from the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program. This year's grant recipients were chosen from a competitive pool of 75 applicants representing 43 cities nationwide.
"At Southwest Airlines, we build community wherever we are, whether at our gates, in our planes, or out in the communities we serve," said Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines Vice President and Chief Communications Officer. "That is the inspiration behind Southwest Airlines' Heart of the Community program. By investing in authentic relationships and creating spaces and opportunities that bring People together, we can build connections and strengthen communities. We're excited to see the positive impact each of these spaces will have as a result of these grants."
"Our goal in working with the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community grant recipients is to help them create great public spaces where everyone in the community feels welcome," said Fred Kent, Founder and President of Project for Public Spaces. "When people in communities come together in this effort, results are tangible and immediate, and the placemaking process itself helps to strengthen the sense of belonging, sociability, and inclusion that great places naturally generate."
Additional funding was received from Downtown Oklahoma City Initiatives and the Downtown Business Improvement District. In-kind donations were made by SandRidge Energy and the Project for Public Spaces.
“We found that downtown employees and residents were unsure how to use the space and what activities might be allowed there,” Jill DeLozier, vice president at the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership, wrote in a prepared statement. “We are hoping the new architectural elements and enhanced programming bring people back to Kerr Park, and that they begin thinking of it as a place for them – for the entire community.”
Some of the new amenities that have been installed in the park include chairs, cafe tables, outdoor sofas, armchairs, loungers, play benches, picnic tables with retractable shades, planters with trees and flowers, a table tennis table, Bocce ball and table tennis equipment, trash and recycling stations and decorative lighting.
“Seating and shade were by far the most requested amenities among those we interviewed and surveyed,” said Delozier. “We wholeheartedly agree, and are adding a large pavilion and more than 84 seats to the space.
“The ultimate goal is for downtown workers and residents to think of this park their own park. In fact, we used the slogan ‘Kerr Park Your Park,’ in our promotional pieces. It would be wonderful to create opportunities for visitors to form an emotional connection to the space and to the city as a whole while visiting the park,” continued DeLozier. “Although we are planning for a high level of programming, another ideal outcome would be for the space to eventually begin self-programming. If people brought their own blankets, games, or even birthday cakes, we would consider it an enormous success.”
Nearby businesses plan to use the space on a regular basis for company and community events. The Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department manages the space with SandRidge as a maintenance partner and the Parks Department also plans to activate the space with health and fitness activities and neighborhood gatherings.
The Kerr Park Kick Off Party on August 21 will serve as the official unveiling of the park’s new amenities. It will feature a live DJ, yard games, and complimentary pizza for all guests while supplies last. At 11 a.m., there will be a short “garland cutting” ceremony and remarks from Southwest Airlines, dignitaries from the City of Oklahoma City and Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership. The event is free and open to the public and no RSVP is necessary.