The Oklahoma City Council recently hired an architect to come up with a conceptual design for $38 million of improvements to the gardens — including work done to the lake, south entrance, and park pavilion, as well as the potential addition of a park cafe, restaurant and perimeter streetscape.

“These kinds of enhancements will elevate the gardens to make it a destination everyone must see downtown, with much more used space,” said Allen Storjohann, manager of Myriad Botanical Gardens. “Our goal is to make it more visitor-accessible, beautiful and usable — a central location for downtown events all during the week, even during workdays.”

Because of the new Devon Energy Corp. headquarters — costing $750 million to build — millions of dollars will be added to the city’s tax increment financing district to assist with public improvements. Some of that money will go to a 21/2-acre park fronting Sheridan Avenue, across from the Myriad gardens. Other funds were suggested to help the gardens directly.

James Burnett, who is currently working on the Devon project, is the landscape architect for garden improvements.

Larry Ogle, assistant director of the city’s Parks Department, said bulldozing it from curb to curb is not the solution, as it is important to preserve the culture already inside. Instead, sprucing up and preserving the 16 acres to be more pedestrian-friendly and visually inviting is the plan. With the projected 2012 completion of a new boulevard replacing Interstate 40’s current alignment downtown, the southern end of the garden will transform from a back service entrance to more of a front access point. Because of that, the gardens must become more inviting, Ogle said. Dennis Clowers, public works director, and city engineer said the gardens already see much use from visiting tourists, Shakespeare in the Park, free Sunday concerts, business and private receptions and community walking and running events.

But many times, because of the large blocking trees, it’s difficult for people to peek inside, which discourages impulse visitors. “When people can’t see into something, there is a fear factor and they think, ‘Do I want to go in there or not?’” Clowers said. “We want this place to grow and be used more for a rental space and a destination for people because we’re surrounded by so many attractions and athletic venues.” In the next 30 days, the Parks Department staff, Myriad Gardens Foundation, city engineers and other groups will conduct initial meetings to hammer out details before going to the city council for final approval.

Other proposed ideas by officials and residents included an outdoor cafe, restaurant, multistory maintenance area, redesign of a new lobby, lower level trash storage, and a gift shop.

The Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory’s window panels are set to undergo glazing preservation next May, Ogle said. Improvements have always been a topic of conversation but without funding, they have remained a thought rather than an action, said Jennifer Lindsey-McClintock, Parks Department spokeswoman.

Money from Devon’s downtown tax increment finance district changes everything.

“We’re certainly very excited about the program and what it’s going to mean to the Botanical Gardens from a tourism standpoint,” she said.

Read more in The Oklahoman.