New vision emerges for Broken Arrow’s riverfront
By John Dobberstein, Editor
Broken Arrow’s underutilized frontage along the Arkansas River could be home to winding trails, more parks and sports fields, restaurants, a pier, zip lining, floating “tiki houses” and more if the recommendations of a recent study can be funded and put into action.
The Broken Arrow Planning Commission recently got a first look at the proposed “Aspen Landing” project that would include a major upgrade to the Indian Springs Sports Complex and potentially other undeveloped land along the riverfront.
The plan was developed over the last 8 months by the Urban Design Studio at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, which was tapped by the city early last year to study the sports complex, Arkansas riverbank and Aspen Avenue.
OU-Tulsa also worked with a steering committee comprised of local government, business owners, local residents and outside experts.
The Studio’s research and community engagement included collecting data, developing base drawings, reviewing existing recreation and park plans, organizing community engagement events and analyzing the findings.
The development of a regional sports complex and recreational destination became the goal after the group studied the site’s assets and limitations and getting input from residents and sports participants.
A zip line, walking trails, bicycle track, splash pad, outdoor theater and observation deck were among the entities favored, and the Broken Arrow Soccer Club asked the city to consider additional fields, which could be located on 60 acres to the west of the sports complex but is not owned by the city. The idea is to draw regional soccer tournaments to the city.
“There is enough land here to do things with and it’s a substantial asset,” said Farhad Duroga, the city of Broken Arrow’s Placemaking Manager.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the study and it will go before the Broken Arrow City Council on July 17.
“There’s no doubt it would be something nice to have. Tulsa has their stuff, Jenks has their stuff, and it would be cool to have something down there,” added Planning Commission member Bob Goranson.
An underutilized asset
Even though the Arkansas River flows through far southern Broken Arrow, it would not be obvious to most visitors.
Despite the sports complex’s close proximity to the river, visitors to the park are unable to access or view it due to several barriers that separate the area from the waterfront.
The park is intersected by a few streams, most notably the mouth of Haikey Creek, which runs parallel to the river.
The Indian Springs complex currently has 39 soccer fields and 11 baseball fields and attracts 3,000 to 4,000 people between Thursdays and Sundays for activities. The city owns 215 acres of land in the area -- some of it purchased in the late 1970s after flooding events and the rest, mostly west of Aspen, acquired in the early 2000s.
The city has made a substantial investment in electrical infrastructure at Indian Springs for lighting and security.
But there is a clear lack of amenities otherwise. Most of the sports competitors and spectators are there for 90 to 100 minutes and then leave. Those from out of town who do remain are most likely to stay and eat in Bixby or Tulsa.
Even though there are 1,500 parking spots at the park, the high churn of traffic coming and going has created traffic and parking issues. Sports league organizers have voiced a need for additional parking.
The Indian Springs area is a flood risk due to being in Levee Zone D and subject to the affects of Keystone Dam releases.
OU-Tulsa discussed the issue with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which said discussions about the project should continue if the regulations and best uses are followed — including placing floors of all the design structures 5 feet above floodplain level and “not interfering with the natural gradient and drainage of the site.”
The Army Corps said flood events from the Keystone Dam affecting the complex are predictable 18-24 hours in advance.
The first steps to the project would be optimizing the existing park by improving the view the river, providing better signage and increasing lighting. Changing the road and parking arrangement, rearranging the soccer fields and improving traffic circulation inside the park are included in the early phase.
Another step is to improve the park’s trail system — which now only includes a few sidewalks — to improve trail connections between fields and among different features in the park, as well as connect new paths in the park to nearby locations
A final goal is improving river access for attractions like food trucks and restaurants. A boardwalk and amphitheater with a beer garden is proposed.
The group also encouraged streetscaping and possibly a side path along the east side of Aspen to enhance the Aspen corridor and appeal to pedestrians traveling to the park.
The bottom line
The project’s cost would be substantial and the city has yet to establish which phases would be a priority, but Planning Commission members seemed to favor implementing some of the roadway and access improvements and trail work done sooner rather than later.
A variety of funding sources may be needed to pay for the project or at least get it started. In 2014, a little over $10 million was allocated for Broken Arrow park improvements. Proposition 3 of the 2018 bond issue set aside $2.7 million for parks and recreation projects.
Funding could also come from park visiting fees, revenue from concerts arranged at the amphitheater, negotiated lease agreements with organizations and vendors, promotional opportunities for business to raise their exposure and draw in additional visitors, private organizations and state or federal grants.
“Elam Park is being built 2 miles to the north, which is an expensive project that will use park funds for next several years,” Duroga noted.
Members of the steering committee include Daroga; Jill Ferenc - Interim Director of Community Development; Vice Mayor Christi Gillespie; Phil Hink, Parks Superintendent, City of Broken Arrow; Lori Hill, Director of Tourism & Economic Development; Travis Kelly, General Manager of BA Youth Baseball; JoAnne Oxford, resident near Indian Springs Sports Complex; Barbara Wilson, General Manager of Broken Arrow Soccer Club; and Amanda Yamaguchi, Planning Section Manager, City of Broken Arrow.
The consulting team consists of faculty and graduate students from the University of Oklahoma Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture, Urban Design Studio: Schaefer; Greg Warren, professor, OU Urban Design Studio; and
Master of Urban Design students Sonu Malla, Dylan Siers, Tyler Duncan, Preslie Anderson, Roshita Taylor and Marshall Berry.