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Children enjoy a Reading Partners event in June at Gathering Place. JOEY JOHNSON/for the Tulsa World

Gathering Place, Tulsa’s unique park along Riverside Drive, opened one year ago Sunday with what seemed like an audacious goal: 1 million visitors in its first year.

When 55,000 people showed up the first weekend, we got the idea that it wasn’t all audacious after all, and, as it turned out, the privately built public park blew past 1 million months ahead of time.

It’s time to celebrate Gathering Place’s first anniversary, and what a year it has been!

Beyond the numbers of bodies watching events on the Great Lawn or riding on the BMX Pump Track or watching their children play on the fabulous playgrounds, Gathering Place had two related ideas at its core, both of which were intrinsic in its name.

First, the park’s funders, led by visionary philanthropist George Kaiser, were looking to create a gathering place for the community: A unifying place along the Arkansas River that brings together north, south, east and west; rich and poor; red and blue. Tulsa is a vibrant, diverse community with its share of friction points, but maybe we’re all the same when we’re eating lunch at the Picnic Grove or cooling off at Charlie’s Water Mountain.

Second, the park was built as a talent magnet to new talent, an attraction to the next generation of Tulsans who would see a city where they wanted to work, create, live, raise families and stay. It was meant to be a gathering place for the next wave of engineers and accountants and computer innovators who otherwise would have flown over Tulsa on their way to Colorado, California or places east.

Those are heavy expectations to lay on a park. Has Gathering Place fulfilled its promises? We don’t know and may not know for a generation.

But we do know this: As of Friday afteroon morning, Gathering Place had attracted 2,828,359 guests, and, along the way, it has put a new spring in the steps of Tulsans. It has given us a point of pride, something they can’t come close to matching down the turnpike, off in Dallas or, frankly, anywhere else.

We believe in the transformative promise of Gathering Place, the ideals that made it more than just a park. Only time will tell if that belief is realistic; but if hard work, consistent effort and the best attractions money can buy make a difference, it’s well on its way. Or perhaps we should say we’re well on our way.


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