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Vision for parking, healthy living

As Norman and Cleveland County have grown, so have the demands on county property and services. 

County officials have been working to save money toward major improvements that would better serve residents including more downtown parking, a more centrally-located farmers market and a courthouse expansion.

“There are space areas that we need in the courthouse. There is parking that is needed around the courthouse and in downtown Norman, and really we have some capital improvements that need to be done for our farmers market and our health department related areas,” said County Commissioner Darry Stacy. “We hired ADG to assist us with putting together a master plan.”

Prior to being hired by the county, ADG was contracted by the city of Norman and has worked with Norman schools on bond issues. Norman hired ADG in 2015 as program manager for its Norman Forward initiative.

“We are very fortunate that ADG is also doing work for the city of Norman and with Norman schools,” Stacy said. “We have an awesome collaboration that we’re able to work together on these projects.”

Courthouse area projects are closely intertwined with what the city is doing, Stacy said.

“Having somebody that has those relationships already in place and has worked through this process turned out to be a huge advantage for us,” he said.

The county’s master plan process is a three to 10 year project plan, Stacy said.

“We are saving our money and then we’re going to pay for this,” Stacy said. “We’ve been doing this for quite a few years now and all of the elected officials have worked together and agreed on our budget board to yearly save and put back for these projects and that’s exactly what we did when we did the last renovation and addition to the courthouse. That’s why this is going to be spread out over several years.” 

ADG Program Manager Leslie Tabor said the county’s plan will positively affect the downtown area and serve as an economic driver as well as promoting healthy living. 

Cleveland County serves all residents, not just Norman, Tabor said, and the master plan is designed to create a welcoming and accessible venue for everyone.

“If someone comes in from Slaughterville to get a marriage license, they should feel as part of downtown Norman as someone who maybe walks in from their office,” Tabor said. 

Part of the county’s mission was to make the area more walkable and accessible. At the start of the project, a steering committee was formed and EDSA was selected as the designer through a public request for proposals. 

“We held design workshops,” Tabor said. “We met with stakeholders.”

The master plan was formally adopted by Cleveland County Commissioners in November.

“We’re still doing community presentations so we can let people know what’s going on,” Tabor said. “We also have healthy living workshops going on as well.”

While the master plan presents a vision, it is not a construction document, Tabor said. There will be changes.

“There are three major elements: The healthy living block, the parking garage and a courthouse expansion,” Tabor said. “Intermingled in those three projects will be beautification elements such as streetscape, landscape and a plaza area.”

The parking garage will sit where the current Chase Bank building sits, across the street to the north from the courthouse at Comanche Street and Peters Avenue. That building currently houses the Cleveland County Sheriff’s Office.

The sheriff’s office will move to another site, but that location has not been determined yet, Stacy said. One possible site for those offices would be at the Cleveland County Detention Center on Franklin Road, but that is the farthest away from the courthouse and the most expensive, so it’s not the county’s first choice at this point.

The courthouse expansion would use the current west side parking lot and the space where the former jail once stood. The historical east side of the courthouse will be preserved.

Across the railroad tracks west of the courthouse is property that once housed Food and Shelter for Friends and some parking. That area will be the healthy living block.

“Our idea is relocating the farmers market from the existing fairgrounds space and then combining that with a building with indoor/outdoor multipurpose programing space to house and encourage healthy living,” Tabor said.

Stacy said safety is key, and the project architects are looking at how the county can safeguard and move people from one side of the railroad tracks to another. Those ideas include everything from decorative fencing along the tracks to a walkable bridge over the tracks, but people are already parking west of the tracks and safely crossing them to reach the courthouse, he said.

“The healthy living block will be in the Center City geographical boundaries,” Stacy said. “As I understand it, the desire of Center City is to make it more walkable and higher density housing, and this fits perfectly in that plan.”

Moving the farmer’s market also helps alleviate congestion at the fairgrounds and brings the farmers market to a more central location.

“The fairgrounds are booked all the time,” Stacy said. “This does open and provide additional opportunities at the fairgrounds.”

The plan retains a focus on The Depot, an important landmark for Norman, Tabor said.

“The healthy living block will probably be phase one because of the funding we have found in partnership with the state and the county health department,” Tabor said. “It is truly visionary and has the potential to be truly cutting edge and to have lots and lots of partnerships.”

The farmers market will be more than just a farmers market, Tabor said. It could include things like a test kitchen, for example. The site will integrate with Legacy Trail to allow for walking, running and bicycle access.

The parking garage will likely be the phase two project, Tabor said. Initial plans include retail on the first floor with three levels of parking above for four stories total.

While the Jacobs study the county participated in with the city of Norman suggested six to eight stories, county leadership did not believe that was warranted at this time.

“I really want to focus on the conservative end of that to make sure we’re not overbuilding for the needs,” Stacy said, but he believes more could be added in the future.

The courthouse expansion will be last as it will require more architectural time, programing and funding. 

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