October 11, 2011

Myriad Gardens in Oklahoma City to celebrate grand reopening on Saturday

Visitors to Myriad Gardens during the past few months have only had a glimpse of the full makeover, but this weekend marks the official grand opening with the completion of a children's play area, a dog park and a plaza that will be home to an ice skating rink next month.

The $42 million makeover was largely funded through a tax increment finance district created by the construction of the $750 million Devon Energy Center across the street. Devon Energy Executive Chairman Larry Nichols guided a tour of the park Monday as a preview of the opening set for Saturday.

“This is an amenity for everybody,” Nichols said. “When we started planning our building, one thing our architects said was this was 17 acres not very well used. There were a lot of structural limitations.”

Those limitations were addressed by the removal of a moat-like extension of the gardens lake toward Sheridan Avenue, the creation of new walkways and a grand lawn. Nichols said he has been surprised by how many visitors were attracted to a park that was half finished.

“You can see people here on a Saturday or Sunday you didn't see before, and now with the children's area and other things opening that will bring even more people,” Nichols said.

A restaurant built to overlook the gardens lake and ice skating rink will be the one major part of the park not open this weekend. An effort to attract operators in late 2010 drew only one response that was later rejected. Nichols said a new request for proposals issued over the summer is expected to fare better.

“The last time was impossible,” Nichols said. “It was difficult for a restaurant owner to understand what you had in mind when the restaurant wasn't built yet and the gardens were basically red clay. Now that the gardens and restaurant were finished, it was a lot easier to see what's available.”

Nichols said he still hopes to see the restaurant opened as an upscale eatery, but “not a suit-and-tie” operation.

Standing in front of the restaurant building, Nichols noted two years ago the site was a concrete parking lot. He said while he would like to see the restaurant open with the ice skating this winter, he's willing to be patient.

“We're more interested in doing it right than sooner,” Nichols said. “We want to get the right operator with the right concept. Ideally, we'd like to have it open today. But we want to do it right.”

Nichols on Monday also introduced the new director of the Myriad Gardens Foundation, which will be tasked with programming the park year-round.

Maureen Heffernan, the foundation's first full-time director, arrived in Oklahoma City two weeks ago and is so far impressed with what she's seeing.

“There is a lot happening,” Heffernan said. “There is a lot of momentum, a lot of construction. It's exciting to see this project picking up.”

Heffernan said her first challenges involve starting up programming and evaluating which plantings did and did not survive the brutal summer heat wave.

“I love having the chance to be a part of a start-up, to make a difference,” Heffernan said. “We want to make the horticulture exciting, the park exciting, and make it fun for people of all ages.”

Nichols said it's no coincidence that companies like Continental Resources Inc., Enogex, and SandRidge Energy Inc. are locating and expanding operations downtown as investments like the Myriad Gardens continue.

“The Myriad Gardens plus all of Project 180 makes downtown a more attractive place,” Nichols said. “It falls behind what's being done with all the MAPS projects. And that's what makes this a place where companies want to hire people — where people want to be.”

Read more in The Oklahoman

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