City Councilor Blake Ewing walked into a small glass room in City Hall last Thursday with a big smile on his face.
“Home run, right?” the baseball enthusiast said.
“Absolutely,” said the two architects and a businesswoman who had thrown him the pitch.
And Ewing, indeed, had hit it out of the park, drawing a throng of media and a roomful of interested folks to a council committee meeting, of all things, to hear his plan to build a transportation hub downtown.
But the Center of the Universe Expansion Concept is about more than buses and trains. It’s about a vision for downtown, a vision Ewing himself acknowledges isn’t his alone.
It also belongs to the architects and businesswoman in that glass room last week and to the handful of other employees from Kinslow, Keith & Todd, Inc., who for six weeks worked nights and weekends to put the presentation together under an ever-changing deadline.
“If he (Ewing) wasn’t presenting today, I’d still be working on it, probably,” architect Jim Boulware, who led the effort, said after Ewing excused himself from the room.
“It was a passion project,” said Debbie Jones, the company’s director of business development.
Indeed. Andrew Kinslow, a principal with the firm, said the company did the work for free.
“If we can get people interested and excited about doing things, then it is going to help us and every other architect in town to do things,” Kinslow said.
Ewing’s presentation was rooted in a conversation he had with Boulware and Kinslow about six weeks earlier. They were standing at the Center of the Universe downtown — aka the Boston Avenue bridge — with Ewing’s friend Elliot Nelson, looking east over the railroad tracks.
“Elliot and I were there painting a very loose picture to Andy,” Ewing said on Thursday. “We’re like, ‘Here is what we want to do, we want cover the railroad tracks.’ They doubled the scope of it … tripled it and added all of the amenities.”
That’s right. When historians tell the story of the Center of the Universe Expansion Concept, they’ll need to save room for Jim Boulware and his associates at Kinslow, Keith & Todd, Inc.
Ewing said he and Elliot were thinking of perhaps covering a two-block stretch of the tracks from the Center of the Universe east to Cincinnati or Detroit avenues. Boulware and his co-workers extended the concept east all the way to Elgin Avenue and a block west to Main Street.
“We wanted to create pedestrian and bike crossing so that people could get from one part of town to another” without having to deal with the huge impediment of the railroad tracks, Ewing said Tuesday.
To accomplish Ewing’s goal, Boulware and his colleagues proposed building a 26-foot-high raised platform over the width of the railroad tracks right of way (about 120 feet wide). Below the raised platform between Cincinnati and Detroit avenues would be the transit hub, where Tulsans and visitors alike could grab a taxi, train, bike or other form of transportation and be on their way.
Above the platform would be park space, dog parks, basketball courts, cafes, picnic areas, a movie theater, retails stores and raised sidewalks. And much more.
That’s the vision, anyway. Ewing stressed during his presentation that nothing about it is set in stone. The idea, he said, is to start the conversation.
For the project to work, Boulware said, more is needed than the estimated million to $175 million to $200 million public investment.
“You don’t just build the green (platform) and stop,” he said. “The private-sector development that happens because you did this, that takes the project, the whole city” to another level.
Make the project more than a bus stop, in other words.
“The thing I like the most about it is creating some sort of iconic structure in the middle of the whole park, which would be the transit hub,” Kinslow said. “Whether it’s the birds nest kind of thing we have designed (or) something very interesting and exciting that people just want to go see.”
Boulware, a life-long Tulsan, said one needs to look no further than the BOK Center or ONEOK Field to appreciate how the right structure can turn a neighborhood around.
So standing at the Center of the Universe early last month, he began to let his mind wonder. And it has been racing ever since.
“We were on board with this, and this is such a great thing for the city of Tulsa,” Boulware said. “I mean, it’s like an honor to be involved in it.”