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The Wheeler District’s Starting Line

Building a better development on OKC’s south side



 


E.B. White, the author of Charlotte’s Web, once wrote that the view from a Ferris wheel was the most promising thing in space. That is either hyperbole or White was only looking in one direction.
 

Construction is underway to install the Ferris wheel that may become the signature symbol of the Wheeler District. Situated along the south bank of the Oklahoma River, the nine-story carnival ride will provide a remarkable view of the entirety of the proposed $1.2 billion development, as well as an admittedly spectacular view of our cityscape. A passenger in one of the 20 gondolas will have an utterly different view to the west, though.

Douglas Avenue is the point of demarcation – the bright line, so to speak – between Wheeler and its nearest neighbors. Metaphors abound in any development, especially one that juxtaposes poverty and wealth as starkly as Wheeler is likely to, but along the western edge of the Downtown Airpark, the roads that would normally cross Douglas all dead-end at a fence.

Blair Humphreys hopes to bring an end to that particular visual metaphor. Humphreys, the driving force behind the Wheeler District, talks of creating “dignified access points” for people who wish to drive or walk into the new district. In other words, this will not be a gated, white enclave adjacent to a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, the two largest features of which are the Will Rogers Courts – a WPA project that is now subsidized housing with monthly rents as low as $100 – and Rotary Park, a plot of ground marred by crime and graffiti.

Developer Blair Humphreys


Bristling with idealistic energy (that’s a compliment, by the way), Humphreys speaks candidly about the challenges the district will face. He is at once likeable and believable, and a brief conversation with him provides understanding of why the Wheeler District has the imprimatur of the Latino Community Development Association.

“We are the first development south of the river that is an extension of downtown and Core to Shore,” Humphreys says. “We have a responsibility to serve as a bridge between the two communities, to create connections and new access points.”

The MIT-educated Humphreys hopes to apply the lessons learned in his city planning and urban design graduate program, and when the son of a Republican politician who grew up middle-of-the-road evangelical lands in Boston for graduate school, lessons multiply in and out of the classroom.

“I was in a real estate economics class when I became aware of how difficult this type of urban development really is,” Humphreys says. “What jumped out at me, though, was that we have a responsibility to address the issue, and a realization how difficult it can actually be.”

That point was etched more firmly in his mind when the Wheeler team offered its week-long charrette in summer 2014: Interested and potentially affected parties were invited to participate in planning sessions that allowed input into the final design of the district. Humphreys estimates approximately 1,000 people showed up across the course of the week. A painful realization set in at some point that week, though – the district’s Latino neighbors were visibly absent, in spite of what appears to have been a good-faith effort to distribute invitational fliers printed in Spanish.

Humphreys took the setback as a challenge that simply required further effort. To be fair, he had only been heading up the district planning for six months at that point, so the team was still getting a picture of what the plan to integrate the communities would mean. What do you do when you invite people to participate in civic leadership and they pass? Humphreys’ time in Boston taught him a valuable lesson that could help answer questions along this particular axis.

“We were dealing with a population who had never been integrated into our city’s civic leadership structure,” he says. “We thought we had done above and beyond what we should have, but we figured out that an extra level of effort would be required, and the good news was that we could be a positive part of the solution of integrating the community into that leadership structure.”


Urban planning on the East Coast includes a long history of gentrification – a nice way of describing displacement of the poor – and discussions about economic justice, tax structures and community services for the poor are part of any urban planning education. Creating an affluent community alongside a poor community raises questions about how the surrounding neighborhoods will be affected. The Wheeler District is a potential exception to the pattern of re-whiting urban neighborhoods, primarily because no one is being displaced.
The airpark is brownfield land, a designation for land that previously was used for industrial or non-residential purposes. There are no houses to be razed, no businesses to be pushed to the perimeter of urban renewal and no homeless communities or campsites. In many ways, it is a best-case scenario for urban development, but the challenges still exist, and our state’s sketchy history with our Latino neighbors is not the least of those challenges.

“We will always appeal to the best in people,” is how Humphreys addresses the challenge of dealing with entrenched racism and legislation that targets immigrants.

Thanks in part to his candor about these issues, Humphreys has secured the assistance of important allies in the Latino community, including the aforementioned LCDA and Calle dos Cinco in Historic Capitol Hill. Raul Font, the executive director of the LCDA, is optimistic about some of Wheeler’s potential.

“It has the potential to attract people who would never have thought of moving here,” Font says. “If everyone gets along, this could be a very good thing, but there will likely need to be some cultural sensitivity training.”

Donna Cervantes, director of Calle dos Cinco, said she sees Wheeler as a potential boost for retail in Capitol Hill and along SW 29th. “There is not one magic bullet to bring the communities together,” she says, “but I see it happening already in Capitol Hill. People come down here to try our shops and restaurants. This could attract even more retailers to the district.”


The district has always planned on having a school, and Humphreys would love to see a dual-immersion (Spanish and English) public school in the Wheeler District. It’s a model that has worked in other cities, and according to Font – a career education administrator – Shidler Elementary had a nationally recognized pilot program in the 1980s.

The developers also are in discussions with the city of Oklahoma City about possible TIF funding; Humphreys said he believes public spaces and accessible services in Wheeler should be eligible for some TIF support.

Finally, a formalized plan is near completion. By the time this article is on newsstands, the PUD (Planned Unit Development) will be filed. Humphreys said he expects it to go before the Planning Commission in April.

And then as the days get longer, the sun will rise on a new neighborhood in OKC. 

 

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Calendar

September 2019

Start your Sunday morning by perfecting your practice during our outdoor yoga class. Enjoy the beauty of yoga outdoors in the glow of the Ferris Wheel lights! This class welcomes all levels, from...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wheeler Ferris Wheel
1701 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Art Moments 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Enjoy a variety of 10-minute spotlight talks throughout the galleries to introduce different works in the Museum’s temporary exhibitions or permanent...

Cost: Free with Museum admisison

Where:
National Cowboy Western Heritage Museum
1700 NE 63rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73111
View map »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Join us at September's Lift Session for an inside look at Oklahoma's expanding local food and agriculture economy. The event will feature panelists Erick Worrell from Ghost, speaking on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Vanessa House Beer Co.
118 NW 8th Street
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: BigWing
Telephone: 405-475-3782
Contact Name: Kristin Alsup
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Art Awakening 2019 is our sixth annual art show highlighting the artistic talents of persons living with mental illness and addiction. The event is family-friendly, free to attend and open to...

Cost: FREE

Where:
NorthCare
2617 General Pershing Blvd.
Oklahoma City, OK  73107
View map »


Sponsor: NorthCare
Telephone: 405-858-2706
Contact Name: Kaitlynn Wilkinson
Website »

More information

Aging doesn’t have to mean getting old, slowing down, or dealing with falls. Aging should come with the dignity and independence of a life well lived. The risk of falling as we age is...

Cost: Free

Where:
FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers of Oklahoma City
7415 N May Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73116
View map »


Sponsor: FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Centers of Oklahoma City
Telephone: 405-400-8909
Contact Name: Sean
Website »

More information

Join us Thursday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. when Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame inductee Justin Echols helps to kick off the 19th season of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma’s acclaimed...

Cost: Free

Where:
USAO Ballroom
1727 W. Alabama Ave.
Chickasha, OK  73018
View map »


Sponsor: University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma
Telephone: 405-574-1310
Contact Name: Katie Davis
Website »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

As seen on America's Got Talent, this comedic adventure, written by opera-veteran Matthew Lord with music arranged by award-winning composer Craig Bohmler, has been said to be the closest...

Cost: $35-$40

Where:
OCCC Visual and Performing Arts Center
7777 South May Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73159
View map »


Sponsor: BancFirst

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Musical Swings is an interactive public art installation featuring 10 swings that each activate a different note, allowing participants to make music, connect to one another and have a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bicentennial Park
201 North Walker Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Community Foundation
Telephone: 405-606-2922
Contact Name: Kasey Gardner
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

Join us for a night of music under the Ferris Wheel lights. Enjoy live music from Saint Loretto, Flock of Pigs, and Sophia Massad. Come hungry: Taco Nation, Wicked Hangry, Cook'n It...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wheeler Ferris Wheel
1701 S. Western Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73109
View map »

More information

The Barber of Seville Rossini’s comic masterpiece comes to the Freede Little Theater! When Count Almaviva and his love Rosina run into an issue preventing them from being married -...

Cost: $35 or $50. Prices do not include fees.

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Painted Sky Opera
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

With Special Guest Joe Robinson “If you like guitar playing, it simply doesn’t get any better than Tommy.” – Jason Isbell Tommy Emmanuel has achieved enough musical...

Cost: Varies

Where:
Hudiburg Chevrolet Cneter
6000 Prosper Blvd
Midwest City, OK  73110
View map »


Sponsor: Emporium Presents
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

The Musical Swings is an interactive public art installation featuring 10 swings that each activate a different note, allowing participants to make music, connect to one another and have a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Bicentennial Park
201 North Walker Ave.
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Community Foundation
Telephone: 405-606-2922
Contact Name: Kasey Gardner
Website »

More information

Forms Through Language: an exhibition by San Francisco Artist Gyöngy Laky. On view September 12 – October 31. Free and open to the public. Join us for Laky's Artist Reception on...

Cost: Free

Where:
Artspace at Untitled
1 NE 3rd st
Oklahoma City, OK  73104
View map »


Telephone: 405-815-9995
Website »

More information

Featuring more than 70 works by French and European masters such as Degas, Manet, Monet, Rousseau and Van Gogh, this exhibition celebrates Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon’s extraordinary gift of...

Cost: $15

Where:
Oklahoma City Museum of Art
415 Couch Drive
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Telephone: 405.236.3100
Website »

More information

A Texas State of Mind, featuring the art of Larry G. Lemons of Nocona, TX, is coming to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center in Duncan, OK.  A meet the artist reception will be 3:30 - 6:30...

Cost: $4-$6

Where:
Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
1000 Chisholm Trail Parkway
www.onthechisholmtrail.com
Duncan, OK  73533
View map »


Sponsor: Chisholm Trail Heritage Center
Telephone: 580.252.6692
Contact Name: Toni Hopper
Website »

More information

The Hennessey Wine & Chocolate Festival has become legendary in Oklahoma, drawing thousands of wine and chocolate connoisseurs. Spend the afternoon in the beautiful Hennessey Memorial...

Cost: $15

Where:
Memorial Park
204 N Main St
Hennessey, OK  73742
View map »


Sponsor: Hennessey United
Telephone: 580-484-1682
Contact Name: Angela Bruner
Website »

More information

We're poppin' champagne on the patio this Saturday and raffling off a bottle of Perrier-Jouet valued at $300! Come pre-party with us and DJ Catherine Ouellette from 6pm-10pm -...

Cost: Free

Where:
Sheraton Oklahoma City Downtown Hotel
1, N Broadway Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

Produced and Organized, Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co. presents an all-Oklahoma, all-Original Music festival located in Bricktown. This is a free event for the community, featuring Oklahoma-original...

Cost: free

Where:
Bricktown
Oklahoma City, OK


Sponsor: Gwinner Studios Ltd. Co.
Telephone: 405-740-9618
Contact Name: Jessica Gwinner
Website »

More information

America’s largest interactive comedy murder mystery dinner show is now playing at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. At The Dinner Detective, you’ll tackle a challenging crime while you...

Cost: $59.95

Where:
The Skirvin Hilton
1 Park Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: The Dinner Detective
Telephone: 866.496.0535
Website »

More information

The evening Cocktail Cruise offers stunning views of the downtown skyline, the Boathouse District & Finish Line Tower, the Wheeler Ferris wheel and, quite possibly, an amazing...

Cost: Adult: $20 Seniors and Children: $15

Where:
Regatta Park Landing
701 S. Lincoln Blvd
Oklahoma City, OK  73119
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma River Cruises
Telephone: 405-702-7755
Contact Name: Che Loessberg
Website »

More information

EVERY BRILLIANT THING strikes a delicate balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter as it recounts a life lived in the shadow of suicide.  By Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe,...

Cost: 40.00

Where:
Civic Center Music Hall
201 N Walker Ave
Oklahoma City, OK  73102
View map »


Sponsor: Oklahoma City Rep
Telephone: 405-594-8300
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
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