Residents are moving into new homes in Oklahoma City's Wheeler District, which has been a work-in-progress for about 13 years. Officials say the building process will likely wrap up anywhere from 2020 to 2025 and will have more than 600 homes. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses the neighborhood's future and why the area's historic Ferris wheel was key to its development.
Drew Hutchinson: You’re listening to the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I’m Drew Hutchinson, and as always joining me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. Today, I’d like to talk about Oklahoma City’s Wheeler District over by downtown and the Oklahoma River. Journal Record reporter Chip Minty called this neighborhood project a “multifaceted urban-core development” and said it has seen some real progress over the last 13 years or so. Officials say the building process will likely wrap up anywhere from 2020 to 2025. But what’s the current state of this project, Russell?
Russell Ray: Well, more than 40 homes have been built or are already occupied. And $400 million in private investments continues, with home construction planned throughout the 150-acre site. Soon there will be a total of 60 homes built in the development’s first phase. And commercial development is already underway, with the construction of a brewery and taproom, which is expected to open early next year. Restoration of the airpark’s historic terminal building is also ongoing, and will be home to an all-day cafe.
Hutchinson: And the director of public life for the project said in the article that the district is getting a lot of interest from businesses, so we’ll see what else ends up there as the development progresses. As you said, on the residential side, we’re seeing people start to move into the new houses in the area. And when the development is complete, it will have more than 600 homes. And these homes will be anywhere from 600 to 3,000 square feet, with prices ranging from $148,000 to $600,000. Russell, what else can we expect to see in the Wheeler District development?
Ray: Well, in addition to homes and businesses, the Wheeler District will be home to a new charter school approved by the Oklahoma City Public School Board in August. The Western Gateway Elementary School will serve the Wheeler District and surrounding neighborhoods with bilingual educational programs. The school is expected to open in August 2020, with enrollment expected to surpass 420 students in the coming years. Officials also tell us affordable housing units will be ready by the time the district is complete.
Hutchinson: So perhaps one of the most interesting attractions in the area is the Ferris wheel, located on the Wheeler District’s riverfront plaza. And this landmark has a really interesting past -- it’s actually the historic Ferris wheel from Santa Monica Pier in California. According to the article, the purchase and placement of this Ferris wheel was an intentional decision by developer Blair Humphreys to help the area stand out.
Ray: Well that’s right Drew. Humphreys bought the Ferris wheel through eBay in 2008 and has spent $1 million on restorations. He installed the attraction near the river in 2016, and in doing so, created a magnet for the entire city.
Hutchinson: Right. So when people drive on I-40 and see that giant Ferris wheel off the highway, they’re seeing an integral part of Blair Humphrey’s development plan for the Wheeler District. Officials say that the Wheeler District’s goals are to bridge downtown OKC with other areas, as well as to give metro residents a living option that connects them to the city’s urban core -- and one that encourages walking and biking to school and to work. How does the district’s layout accomplish this?
Ray: Well, Humphreys and his development team have added amenities to the neighborhood, including tree-lined bike paths connecting directly to trails along the river. There are also parks and open spaces throughout the district.
Hutchinson: Russell Ray is editor of The Journal Record. KGOU and The Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter: @journalrecord and @KGOUnews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. While you're there, you can check out other features and podcasts produced by KGOU and our StateImpact reporting team. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Drew Hutchinson.
The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.
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