Stillwater News Press

Government

May 2, 2012

Stillwater looks at corridor plan to tie Oklahoma State campus, downtown

STILLWATER, Okla. — For many college towns, the university campus exists within a bubble often physically and socially isolated from the surrounding community.

Stillwater and Oklahoma State University planners are hoping a new plan to guide redevelopment south and east of the college campus will help connect OSU to the surrounding area and downtown.

Stillwater Planning Commission got its first chance Tuesday night to talk about the corridor redevelopment plan, which has been in the works for several months in a committee that includes representatives from OSU, city planning, Stillwater Public Schools, Realtors, developers and business owners.

Generally speaking, the area affected is southeast of the university between Washington and Main streets and Sixth and Hall of Fame avenues.

The plan includes general guidelines for what planners hope will be built as the area redevelops during the coming decades, but the plan doesn’t create strict zoning restrictions.

The most iconic feature to be included is a pedestrian corridor. The corridor follows Washington and Knoblock streets south of campus to connect with Fourth Avenue east and west. That section connects with another piece of the pedestrian corridor, which follows Husband Street from Hall of Fame Avenue into downtown Stillwater.

“(We hope the corridor) will provide not just a visual but a hard physical link between the university campus, The Strip, Campus Corner and downtown Stillwater because we think it’s just vital to have those activities and those areas linked together,” said Paula Dennison, city development services director.

The plan has guidelines for pedestrian features along that route including green space, tree shading and 8-foot sidewalks. According to the plan, the city will extend University Avenue to Duck Street, and the Planning Commission voted to add the section of Duck Street south of University to Fourth Avenue as a part of that pedestrian corridor.

Planners are hoping to encourage mixed-use development along that corridor. Mixed-use development has become popular in urban revitalization efforts and refers to multi-story buildings that house commercial businesses and offices on the ground level, with apartments or flats on the upper levels.

The corridor redevelopment plan is dependent on private investment in the area, but Dennison said the city has options, which could range from public-private partnerships to tax incentives or a business improvement district like the one downtown where area property owners pay an assessment to help fund certain improvements.

“There are a lot of opportunities out there,” Dennison told planning commissioners.

Along with downtown, the corridor redevelopment area is one of two areas within Stillwater that would be zoned for high-rise developments.

Planning commissioners recently passed a new zoning plan that included high-rise zoning, which allows dense apartment complexes such as Stillwater Flats or two similar projects that have been approved in the past year. Those zoning changes along with the corridor redevelopment plan will go before the City Council for consideration later this month.

The main principle behind urban-style high rise projects is to allow largely student residents to walk to class and to surrounding areas for food or entertainment.

One of the main issues to be resolved that planning commissioners honed in on Tuesday was how to keep pedestrians safe with the major traffic artery Duck Street running through the district.

“It’s always tough to mix cars with people,” Commissioner Dusty Lane said.

One option could be a pedestrian overpass, but Commissioner Mike Buchert said those are often better in planning than practice.

“My experience with the city of Tulsa is a pedestrian overpass is very, very expensive and very few people use them,” he said.

Commissioner Trey McCune said that while Duck Street presents a challenge, it also provides valuable traffic that should help encourage commercial growth in the region.

Commissioner Joe Merrifield said the prospect of having students walking downtown would be great for business owners like him in that region.

“I’m very excited. I think this could make us one of the most exciting small university cities in America if we are able to get it all put together,” Merrifield said.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve the corridor redevelopment plan. The plan will next go in front of the City Council at its May 21 meeting.

Click here to download the corridor redevelopment plan.

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