Cousins Park project put on hold for bridge talks
BY KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer
Monday, October 29, 2012
10/29/12 at 7:25 AM
Design work on Grace K. Cousins Park in south Tulsa has been put on hold to give city officials time to consider how a Bixby proposal for a toll bridge across the Arkansas River would affect the project.
The proposed bridge would land just south of the park, at about 124th Street, and include an extension of South Delaware Avenue through Cousins Park to 121st Street.
"It is a disappointment, and it is not what the family intended as an honor to Grace Cousins," John Shivel said. "It would potentially destroy the value to the citizens of the possible park."
Shivel, whose deceased wife, Vicki Cousins Shivel, spent the last days of her life working to see the park constructed in honor of her mother, said city officials never notified him about the bridge project and its potential effect on the park.
"No conversation whatsoever," Shivel said.
As recently as mid-July, city officials were speaking glowingly of the proposed park and even attended a fundraising kickoff sponsored by Park Friends Inc.
Among those at the fundraiser was Dale McNamara, Tulsa Park and Recreation Board chairwoman, who said Wednesday that the board has been kept in the dark about the bridge discussions.
"There is nothing I hate more than surprises," McNamara said.
"And this change in plans is totally new, and I am at a mystery as to why we have not heard from the mayor's office."
Park and Recreation Director Lucy Dolman said the department halted the design work in late July after Tulsa City Councilor Phil Lakin and Bixby city officials presented a schematic rendering showing the proposed location of the bridge.
Dolman said her department did not notify the park board or the Cousins family because the issue is still being examined.
As part of that process, the city is creating a rendering that will show several proposed locations for the road through the park.
"The idea would be, when you get the information, you can decide what is the best-case scenario, or do we have to do something else?" Dolman said. "We are flexible; we are adaptable."
Bixby Mayor Ray Bowen has said his city would propose spending its $11.3 million share of Vision2 funds on helping to build a bridge somewhere on the river, if voters approve the initiative Nov. 6.
Bixby City Manager Doug Enevoldsen described the schematic presented to Tulsa officials in July as "a very preliminary concept for discussion purposes ... it is not set in concrete."
Enevoldsen said the proposal was created in consultation with numerous stakeholders, including those who have previously opposed construction of a south Tulsa bridge.
The proposed bridge would not be privately owned, would not back up traffic along Yale Avenue and would come with the needed infrastructure to accommodate additional traffic on the Tulsa side of the bridge - all conditions that opponents of previous bridge proposals have demanded will be met, Enevoldsen said.
"We envision this having public ownership, possibly with partnership with the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority," Enevoldsen said.
He said he expects that Tulsa County could be a partner in the project but that there are no plans now to request funding from any municipalities.
The bridge as currently proposed would land in Jenks on the west side of the Arkansas River.
Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett said discussions with the city of Bixby about a possible south Tulsa bridge have been just that - discussions and that no decisions have been made.
"This has been going on for 10, 20 years," Bartlett said. "It is just a continuation of that.
"I think what people are trying to do is come up with an idea or a concept of providing a bridge across the Arkansas River that is acceptable to the powers that be."
Bartlett said the city never intended to keep anyone in the dark about the proposed bridge or its potential impact on Cousins Park.
"There has to be a significant amount of communication between a variety of departments in the city," Bartlett said.
"Everybody has to communicate well and come to some agreement on what we should do before we get too involved in drawing up plans because things change."
Charles Cousins conceived of the park in the late 1970s or early '80s as a tribute to his wife, Grace Cousins.
The Cousins family donated 10 acres at the southwest corner of 121st and Yale to the city Park and Recreation Department in 1998, with the stipulation that it remain a conservation area and that the family be involved in its design.
A few years ago, the city bought 35 more acres bounded by 121st Street, Yale Avenue and the Arkansas River for $950,000 with the intention of eventually turning the entire site into a park.
As currently proposed, Cousins Park would be a combination nature center, nature preserve and pioneer park operated with assistance from the Oxley Nature Center Association.
Conceptual designs call for the construction of a farm house, barn, corral, orchard and a schoolhouse that could be used for conducting classes.
The city has committed $244,375 for Phase I of the project, which was scheduled to begin construction by July 2012.
The additional $2.2 million to complete the final three phases was to be raised through private donations.
Original Print Headline: Cousins Park put on hold for bridge
Kevin Canfield 918-581-8313
John Shivel: The son-in-law of Grace Cousins says a toll bridge "is not what the family intended as an honor" to Cousins.