Once labeled the worst “parking crater” in the nation, the south part of downtown Tulsa remains well-known for its sprawling asphalt lots. But community leaders hope to begin changing that Wednesday with the launch of a coalition to promote the “Cathedral District.”
Named for six historic churches located in the area, the Cathedral District will join more than half a dozen other “districts” across downtown, all trying to lure development and revitalization.
The Brady Arts District on the north side of downtown and the Blue Dome District in the northeast have been the most successful, but they had something that the Cathedral area conspicuously lacks — numerous historic buildings and shopfronts to be renovated and repurposed.
On the other hand, so-called “urban renewal” flattened much of south downtown during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, leaving relatively little infrastructure to be revitalized.
Those wide-open parking lots, however, might turn out to be the Cathedral District’s biggest asset, said Lauren Brookey, vice president of external affairs at Tulsa Community College and a co-chair of the new Cathedral District organization. The lots provide both ample parking for events and potential locations for new developments.
“The important thing,” Brookey said, “will be finding a balance between the need for parking, especially on Sunday mornings when the churches need it, and the need to address the issues of walkability and density.”
The group will officially launch itself with a public luncheon at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday in the first-floor Cyntergy Community Room at 810 S. Cincinnati Ave. The area is already known colloquially as the “Cathedral District,” but this will be the first concerted effort to organize business leaders and promote it.
The inspiration to start the group came partly from a 2014 Tulsa’s Young Professionals Street CReD contest — with CReD standing for Community Redevelopment — to develop ideas for revitalizing the area. The winning concept, proposed by a group of local architects and design consultants, envisioned a soccer field sitting atop a parking garage south of TCC’s Metro Campus, with the elevated sports complex stretching over 11th Street to connect to office and retail space and a park.
The new district won’t necessarily pick up on that specific idea, Brookey said, but organizers were inspired to begin thinking about the area’s potential.
In addition to TCC, partners include Cyntergy, Foolish Things Coffee and several churches.
“We’re going to be looking for ways that we can collaborate and work together on issues like parking, transit and branding,” Brookey said.
In 2013, Streetblogs mockingly awarded downtown Tulsa a “Golden Crater” award after asking readers to vote on U.S. cities with large swaths of surface parking. The Cathedral District, where some parking lots cover entire city blocks, easily beat the competition.
City Councilor Blake Ewing called it “the biggest field of potential development in the city.”
Encompassing a stretch of historic Route 66, the Cathedral District borders the Deco District to the north, East Village to the east and the smaller “Gunboat District” to the south, all vying for investment. But the more the merrier, Ewing said.
“Great cities have lots of different destination areas that each take on an identity of their own,” he said. “Some have historic charm. Some will be more modern.
“The Cathedral District, I think, will develop in its own unique way.”