Park projects get largest chunk of MAPS 4, worries remain about maintenance costs

Rowers practice as the sunsets on the Oklahoma river in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] |

Park projects get largest chunk of MAPS 4, worries remain about maintenance costs

Many still worry about the ability of the city’s parks and recreation department to operate and maintain any new facilities or features, but Doug Kupper, the department director, said this investment is long overdue.

At the Belle Isle Park off NW 63rd and May, Lynn Garman spent years investing time and energy into planting new trees, cleaning up debris and attending events.

Garman, part of the Belle Isle West Neighborhood Association, said the park is like the local backyard. And the association has a list of fixes and improvements.

Replacing sidewalks and benches, an additional water hydrant and repairs to a gate around the tennis court have been discussed. Increased lighting, a pickleball court, a water fountain, new picnic tables and seating, upgraded trash cans and turning the walking trail into an exercise trail are also on the wish list.

“Those things would enhance the park and are reasonably priced,” Garman said. “It’s important to everyone in the neighborhood whether they use it or not … It’s a little piece of the country in the middle of the city. It’s like our shared backyard.”

Dotted across Oklahoma City are 160 parks ranging from small green spaces within neighborhoods to layouts covering dozens of acres.

If MAPS 4 passes, it’s likely most of those parks will receive some sort of upgrade as part of the $140 million dedicated to parks in the overall package, making parks the largest sector of MAPS 4 dollars. Other parks projects include soccer facilities, Oklahoma River enhancements and community gardens.

MAPS 4 is the city’s one-cent sales tax initiative meant to generate nearly $980 million in revenues to fund 16 community-improvement projects. Residents will vote on the measure Dec. 10.

Many still worry about the ability of the city’s parks and recreation department to operate and maintain any new facilities or features, but Doug Kupper, the department director, said this investment is long overdue.

“There were decades of no city-wide investments in our parks,” Kupper said. “A strong neighborhood means a strong city. We want to help be part of that by making this parks initiative happen throughout our city.”

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“I don’t want to rain on anyone’s MAPS parade. I realize this is desperately needed, and I will vote for it … But maintenance has to be a big part of it.

Lynn Garman

People walk past a playground during the unveiling for Red Andrews Park in Oklahoma City, Saturday, July 21, 2018. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman] |

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The $140 million proposal has various layers.

About $63 million would go solely to upgrade “every municipal neighborhood and community park outside of the central business district,” according to the city’s MAPS 4 resolution.

These upgrades will be decided by local community groups and neighborhood leaders, and they’ll likely include trees, furnishings, paths, splash pads, signage and possibly bathrooms or playground equipment.

“We’ll be holistic about improvements to parks,” Kupper said. “We’ll look at age of facilities, uses of the parks, have conversations about facilities and programming. But not all community parks are going to end up with restrooms.”

One bathroom structure costs about $250,000, Kupper told the city council this summer, and maintenance would be about $30,000 per year per bathroom.

Next, $16.5 million will be put into an endowment meant to provide for operations and maintenance of the park improvements.

This fund will generate about $800,000 every year, Kupper said, which won’t entirely address the maintenance needs, but is a start.

And rounding out the proposal is $60.5 million going toward a variety of specific projects:

• $29 million for additional adult and youth soccer facilities at existing locations to increase sports tourism.

• $11.5 million for Oklahoma River enhancements, including pedestrian bridges, boat landings and a community stage near the American Indian Cultural Center.

• $500,000 for community gardens. Locations have not been determined, but it’s likely there will be close to 100 gardens.

• $500,000 for outdoor basketball and pickleball courts built throughout the city.

• $2.5 million to build signs, shade structures and art for Lake Stanley Draper in southeast Oklahoma City.

• $5 million for the renovation of Booker T. Washington Park in northeast Oklahoma City to include benches, shade structures, signage and more.

• $500,000 for benches, shade structures and walking paths at Minnis Lakeview Park.

• $2 million for enhancements to the Northeast Community Center, which will be based on feedback from building tenants and others.

• $9 million for new parks in the Canadian County and Cleveland County portions of the city, as well as southeast and far northeast Oklahoma City. These will be 10-acre-or-larger parks that will likely be built in established neighborhoods without current parks.

Kupper said the parks proposal goes along well with other MAPS 4 projects like youth centers, sidewalks, bike lanes, trails, streetlights and beautification.

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Doug Kupper, Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation director, speaks during a ceremony to celebrate the revitalization of Lightning Creek Park, 801 SW 81 St., in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. A public-private partnership between the McLaughlin Family Foundation, Progress OKC and the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department turned the park into high-quality soccer practice fields. [Photo by Nate Billings/The Oklahoman] |

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Budget woes


Serious concerns about operation and maintenance funds have not been deterred by the proposal.

During the summer, former Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid filed his first initiative petition to create a one-eighth cent sales tax increase to fund park programs and improvements. He recently refiled the petition, and whether he acquired the needed signatures will be determined in early December.

Shadid said the parks are chronically underfunded, pointing to problems like bathroom maintenance and lack of robust programming. The entire Parks and Recreation Department budget is roughly $35 million, according to city documents.

Residents have been vocal about the need for money to be set aside for operations and maintenance across the board with MAPS 4.

“I don’t want to rain on anyone’s MAPS parade,” said Garman, the neighborhood leader. “I realize this is desperately needed, and I will vote for it … But maintenance has to be a big part of it.

“There are so many times where they say they’ll do park improvements, and they do – they put in walking paths or a new playground. But in five years, it looks awful and is falling apart. That’s not right. If they can’t afford to maintain it, then they shouldn’t build.”

Kupper hopes some of the upgraded features and furnishings won’t be as maintenance intensive, but he does expect to have to hire some additional parks and recreation staff members.

Expanding partnerships with organizations like the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club will allow the parks department to rent spaces for little to no cost and then have those groups provide programming and upkeep, Kupper said.

If needed, the department would request budget increases from the city’s general fund, he added.

“I’m focused on expanding our partnerships to accomplish our goal of making sure kids and their families know their options and resources to have a better life,” Kupper said. “We want to make sure that what we’re building can be for the long haul.”

Ward 6 City Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon said she sees the four new parks as something that would stretch an already thin budget, but she hopes the parks-maintenance conversation will continue.

“The current parks budget already struggles to make sure everything is updated and maintained,” Hamon said. “It does speak to the fact of needing to put more pressure on the council to prioritize parks in our budgeting processes … and to make sure we do that on a consistent basis rather than thinking MAPS covers it for the next decade.”

What will you pay?

The Oklahoman’s MAPS 4 cost calculator can help you estimate how much of your sales tax would be allocated to MAPS 4 if the project is approved. Enter in an estimated monthly amount spent on items subject to sales tax — things like groceries, clothes, home supplies, decorations or other tangible products — to see how much MAPS 4 could cost you over the next 8 years.


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