Downtown Tulsa Master Plans – An Overview 

Three recent planning efforts will contribute to the revitalization of downtown Tulsa.  First, and most importantly, a new city-wide comprehensive plan, shaped through the PlaniTULSA process, will set the tone for future growth and development throughout the City of Tulsa with a special emphasis on downtown.

Secondly, the Downtown Area Master Plan seeks to connect Vision 2025 initiatives to existing and planned development and to recommend infill projects that leverage new public-private investment.  And finally, a new small area plan for the Brady Arts District will guide growth and development in that area.

PlaniTulsa – A Comprehensive Plan for the City

With help from surveys, workshops, and growth and transportation scenarios, the shared vision for Tulsa’s future identified five key themes seeking to grow a a vibrant and dynamic economy, attract and retain young people, provide effective transportation options, provide housing choices and protect the environment and provide sustainability.

The vision guides the creation and implementation of the comprehensive plan and the strategic implementation steps.  Under the plan, Tulsa’s future land uses are broadly organized under five main building blocks:

  • Downtown
  • Corridors
  • New Centers
  • New Neighborhoods
  • Existing Neighborhoods
  • Employment

Tulsans expressed a desire to expand the housing choices downtown and to connect the central business district with other parts of the city with enhanced transportation options, and to create robust after hours cultural and entertainment options.

The plan envisions downtown’s main streets and multi-modal arterials will be some of the most intensively walked parts of the city.  They will also be the most transit-rich, with frequent bus, streetcar, and rail transit service within a couple of blocks of most businesses and homes.

Infrastructure investments, particularly in roads, mass transit, water, and sewer systems, have a tremendous impact on how land is developed.

That said, the city will need to realign its public investments in infrastructure, planning, and other basic functions of government with the strategies outlined in the new plan. 

Tulsa Downtown Area Master Plan – Connecting the dots

The three main targets of the Downtown Area Master Plan are to:

  • Revitalize downtown Tulsa
  • Connect it to the Tulsa River Park’s System
  • Initiate Rail Transit extending outward from Downtown

Like PlaniTULSA, the Downtown Area Master Planning process engaged a large cross section of citizens, businesses, governmental agencies and other stakeholders.  They concluded that while downtown Tulsa has a vibrant workday population, it will not play a primary role in the redevelopment of downtown.  They concluded that the area’s most important to that revitalization are the initiatives to attract a population to activate it between the hours of 5 P.M. to 8 A.M. and on weekends.  The Plan directly links land use, development and transportation to achieve that 24/7 vibrancy.

The downtown Plan is based on two axes which cross in the north central area of downtown.  The Boulder Avenue Transit Corridor is proposed to be served by a trolley like “fixed guide way” transit system.  It connects from a significant residential development site at the west end of the O.S.U. Tulsa Campus southward to a significant mixed-use development site around Veteran’s Park.

A second transit corridor axis connects a large publicly owned redevelopment property known as Evans-Fintube Site located immediately northeast of downtown to a second significant publicly owned redevelopment site at 23rd Street and Jackson Ave.

Design Guidelines Summary

The initial draft of the plan offers a summary of design guidelines which will serve as guiding principles for future development and growth.  One goal is to phase out one-way streets for better connectivity.  Another highlights the need for downtown streets to be pedestrian and transit friendly, with landscaped sidewalks, which facilitate outdoor cafes with sidewalk seating, retail shops and expansive open spaces.

The plan further suggests that alleyways should be protected and enhanced, and designed and improved to serve as attractive, safe alternative routes for pedestrians.  Another key component is the idea to enhance the connectivity to near downtown neighborhoods, activity centers and the Arkansas River via alternative transportation modes.  It also emphasizes the need for highly durable, lower maintenance landscape and street trees to provide suitable pedestrian protection from the sun and weather.

Another guideline recognizes the need to rehabilitate historic buildings that may no longer function in their original design, by converting them to mixed use or residential uses to increase the rooftops downtown.  And it further suggests that new developments should enhance the historic character of downtown, by respecting building massing, rhythm, design features, context, and building setback lines should be respected.

The plan discourages surface parking lots and encourages structured parking at the rear or below or above mixed-use buildings when possible.  It suggests that materials and architectural detailing selected for screening and buffers on parking structures should be complimentary to the character and materials of adjacent buildings.  It also encourages on-street curbside parking to serve as a buffer between pedestrians and traffic.

A key element of the plan emphasizes the importance of making substantial streetscape improvements in the way of new art, fountains, green space, pathways, lighting, and high quality and durable benches and furniture designed to provide a unified visual appearance throughout downtown.  It also champions proposed investments in developing attractive “gateways” which serve as the front doors to downtown, by the use of landscaping, signs, fountains, green space, art and other appropriate urban design features, citing the recently completed Route 66 Skywalk and Cyrus Avery Plaza as an example.

Other policy issues gaining attention

Tulsa’s new Downtown Area Master Plan concludes that public improvements should be sustainable and designed and constructed of the highest quality materials to set the tone for equally inspiring, first class and innovative private investment.  It suggests that we need to create more density downtown, by adding buildings, providing fewer surface parking lots and creating a more mixed-use environment that is busy, crowded, intense, fun and interesting.   It also calls for more housing options downtown and encouraging commerce not only on privately owned property but also upon and within the sidewalks, alleys, parking facilities, plazas and parks within downtown to create street life and vitality.

And finally, the Plan argues for incentives, such as the existing tax incentive district and TIF districts, no cost/low cost building permits, enhanced building permit review processes, and speedier inspection processes to encourage new development and significant rehabilitation downtown.  At the same time, it suggests balancing the need to simplify the process with an enhanced design review for all new construction to insure proper orientation, rhythm, scale and proportion for new projects. This will obviously require a great deal of coordination to be successful.

The Tulsa Downtown Area Master Plan is made up of several sections, including a 200+ page Volume 2 – Appendices, otherwise known as “The Cookbook”, including implementation details and literally hundreds illustrative and conceptual design suggestions for many of the parcels targeted for redevelopment.

The Tulsa Arts District – A small area plan (formerly known as the The Brady Arts District)

According to the plan document, “The character of the Brady District could be described as informal, creative, historic and urban – active day and evening.  Workers, visitors, and residents comfortable tend their shops, enjoy a meal, shop, and engage in conversation.  Brady Village exists in sharp contrast to the classic and modernist skyscrapers, formal spaces, and business attire of downtown – just a short walk across one of the multiple bridges, and pedestrian pathways.

Understanding Brady’s (Tulsa Arts District) potential means understanding it as a cultural & creative centerpiece of Tulsa’s new economy, as a major asset in attracting, retaining, and rejuvenating human capital to the City and the region. With this exciting vision in mind and with the foundation of previous planning efforts underfoot, Brady leaders and stakeholders now look forward together.”

Vision Statement

With broad-based community input and many planning group meetings, a vision statement was carefully crafted, “To develop and foster an active, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhood boasting a historic feel and identity as an arts and entertainment destination.”

At the heart of the plan is an effort to establish a consistent name, image, and brand to represent the district’s character.  In the long term we suspect this will be a key to achieving the plan’s success.

Eight Desired Goals of the Plan

  • Create and maintain a historic and aesthetically distinctive area
  • Maintain and build upon district entertainment and cultural venues
  • Encourage amenities that benefit a mixed-use community
  • Create a safe environment for residents and visitors
  • Connect and cooperate constructively with neighboring assets
  • Provide mixed income residential and live / work options
  • Create a model energy efficient, sustainable community
  • Develop and support active management, promotion of the District

Required Actions

Once the goals were established, several specific planning, design and management objectives were coordinated with each of the eight goals, eventually culminating in a list of specific actions required  to reach those goals.

  • Establishing Historic Districts -increase awareness of built heritage
  • Animating the District – strengthen and attract viable cultural assets
  • Placemaking – Enhance streetscaping, lighting and visual appearance
  • Building, Owning & Investing – Offer mixed urban lifestyle options
  • Getting it Done – Set up a one-stop shop for development incentives