By KEVIN CANFIELD
The roughly $6 million renovation of River West Festival Park is almost done, but don’t head that way yet.
And certainly don’t plan on watching the Fourth of July fireworks from that prime viewing spot along the Arkansas River.
“All activities and entertainment on July 4 will take place at Veterans Park,” said Tonja Carrigg, community relations director for River Parks. “River West Festival Park and trails adjacent to the park are closed and not accessible due to construction.”
When the park does reopen in time for the ScotFest on Sept. 18, visitors will notice subtle but significant changes.
Gone are the electric boxes that once dotted the park. Gone are the underground water pipes, electric lines and waste-water and water pipes that were long overdue for replacement. Gone are the old restrooms.
In their place are smaller electrical outlets, strategically placed on every third light post, new infrastructure buried deep under the 660,000 square feet of new sod, and new restrooms.
Nothing exciting, for sure, but they are the foundation for the park’s real wow factor – its design.
Simple and clean, the layout provides unobstructed views of the Tulsa skyline from the new entrance off Jackson Street to the new stage near the river’s edge.
Once nothing more than stone and gravel, the entrance has been transformed into a paved roundabout that can accommodate cars and buses. Parking lots line the north, south and west edges of the property.
“So you’ll have these inflatable sculptures and colorful banners all the way around the entrance for every festival,”said Dominic Spadafore, an architect for Dewberry, which designed the renovation project. “Oh, it’s so cool.”
The park’s most striking feature is one visitors will find under foot – a wide walkway that runs from the entrance east to the park’s new stage near the river. The walkway includes “pearls” — or large circles of concrete — that can be used for ticket booths, concession stands or gathering places.
“What I did was I lined this (sidewalk) up with what I thought was the most identifiable building, which is the Mid-Continent Building,” Spadafore said.
The back side of the stage, which faces east toward downtown, will have LED lights that can be programmed to show messages or images.
“The idea is, it is a beacon for the other side of the river,” Spadafore said. “You’ll see it from most of the buildings downtown and most of Riverside Drive.”
The old concrete amphitheater seating that faced the river will remain in place, Spadafore said, offering a “place of calm and tranquility as opposed to a stage area.”
During a recent tour of the park, he spoke often of how the park’s new design is intended to make the area more than just a home to festivals. That is accomplished not only with the large swath of green space but with the separate pedestrian and bike trails and the playground along the northern edge of the property, Spadafore said.
“I think it is going to be one of the really great assets of this park,” he said. “On the other side (of the playground), there will be trees and benches so mom and dad can watch.”
River West Festival Park was constructed in the late 1970s using an $821,000 federal economic development grant. The park is best known as the home of Oktoberfest, but it is also the venue for a number of other events throughout the year.
The idea of improving the park has been around since at least 2006, when voters approved third-penny sales tax funding for the project.
The renovation was scheduled to begin after the 2013 Oktoberfest but was postponed after the city determined a planned bridge could be susceptible to flooding.
That — and the need for an on-site storage facility — prompted a change in the park’s design.