The George Kaiser Family Foundation has agreed to pay for an update to the city’s parks master plan, Park and Recreation Director Anna America said Tuesday.
The plan is expected to cost approximately $135,000.
“I am super excited that GKFF has agreed to underwrite that for us, because it is not something we had money in the system” to do, America said after making the announcement at the park board’s monthly meeting.
America said GKFF’s funding comes with no strings attached.
“Their goal is the same as ours,” she said. “I think they see the opportunity and need for them and for others in the community who invest in Tulsa parks. We all know it will be a smarter investment if we have a really strong plan in place.”
The city is negotiating with GreenPlay LLC to create the master plan. The Colorado-based company is the same firm that did the park system’s last plan in 2010.
The opening of the Gathering Place — a GKFF-led project — and city leaders’ renewed interest in and appreciation for the value that parks add to a community make it a perfect time to look anew at the city’s park system, America said.
“Gathering Place has really helped kind of spur this sense in this community of, ‘Oh, yeah, parks really are awesome,’” she said.
GKFF also funded River Parks Authority’s recently completed Turkey Mountain Master Plan.
The Tulsa Park and Recreation Department operates 135 parks covering approximately 8,200 acres. Its fiscal year 2020 operating budget is $20.3 million, which includes pass-through funding for the Tulsa Zoo. In addition, the city contracts with a private company to operate four golf courses.
Completion of the master plan is expected to take about a year. GreenPlay will work with the city to conduct public meetings and gather statistical information about the park system and the people who use it and about those who don’t.
America said she expects the process to include a citywide survey of what people want to see in their parks.
“If you only go by who shows up at public meetings, you can get pretty skewed” information, she said.
The master plan will also examine programming needs and possibilities. For too long, America said, the city has — often due to budget constraints — decreased programming opportunities at its parks and recreation centers.
“I will say, I think that has been a mistake by the city that we have really stepped away from that,” she said.
The goal will be to return to the days when parks were a place where neighborhood residents gathered to play basketball, take a class, or engage in some other recreational or learning activity, she said.
As part of the master planning process, the city will work with GreenPlay to create a geographic information system to identify and track every asset in the park system. The information will be used by the Park and Recreation Department to budget and plan.
America said that although the city must always be aware of its financial limitations, she wants this parks master plan to reflect exactly what Tulsans want to see from their park system rather than limiting expectations before the process even begins.
“So I want us to go out and say, ‘What should we be?’ And not some fancy dream thing. I want it to be reality-based,” she said. “But what should this park system be? What do the citizens want? What are they willing to invest in?”
America said she is all about partnering with organizations such as the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Tulsa Public Schools and others to build the best possible park system for Tulsa.
“I am always going to be open to these conversations,” she said.