Gathering Place Park To Transform Tulsa

Tuesday, September 4th 2018, 10:18 am
By: News On 6

Gathering Place, Tulsa's riverfront park, opens to the public Saturday, September 8, 2018. The world-class destination is a nearly 70-acre development that's transforming Tulsa and expected to bring millions of visitors to our city.

The park includes a two-story fireplace made from Oklahoma sandstone and a sky garden that carries visitors over Riverside Drive on a carpet of green.

There are five acres of things for kids to climb on, climb up, climb under and explore.

The vision for Tulsa's Gathering Place has been more than a decade in the making. The failure of a 2007 bond issue to develop the Arkansas River left leaders at the George Kaiser Family Foundation with one big question: What can Tulsa do to take advantage of its single greatest natural resource? 

The answer has proved to be astounding.

No one in Tulsa has been more instrumental in bringing the vision of Gathering Place to life than Jeff Stava, chief operating officer for the George Kaiser Family Foundation's Tulsa Community Foundation and executive direction of Tulsa's Gathering Place LLC.

As the "face" of Gathering Place, Stava has spent the last decade overseeing the design and construction of a project the likes of which this country has never seen.

Private dollars donated for the park: $400 million. That makes it the single largest private gift to a municipality in the history of the United States

How did this all come about? What was the thought 10 years ago that led to this? 

"George realized that all great cities have central gathering places.  And so that's the premise that we started with," Stava said.

George, of course, is Tulsa philanthropist George Kaiser. From early childhood education to securing Tulsa's place as a mecca for folk music, he chooses his projects with an eye to the future of the city that is both his home and his passion.

"We can do all we are doing to help the disadvantaged. But unless we draw good jobs to Tulsa and give an opportunity for our young people to stay here and prosper here, then Tulsa can't recover," Kaiser said.

And now Kaiser is pinning his hopes for that recovery - along with 200 million of his own dollars - to a 100-acre stretch alongside the Arkansas River that he and other Tulsa leaders believe can transform the city.

Both as an economic engine for growth:

"This is what the new workforce wants," said Jeff Stava. "If you're going to have a thriving productive community and attract and recruit new talent, you need these types of amenities."

And an attraction that will bring Tulsans from all walks of life together as a community.

"It really speaks to what we're trying to do in Tulsa right now, which is get back to becoming the best city we can be - to be world class," said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.

Mayor Bynum sees Gathering Place as a continuation of the bold vision of Tulsa's founders and a project that will help reclaim the pride of Tulsa's glory days.

"This is right up there with President Coolidge opening up the water line for Tulsa or being Oil Capitol of the World or America's Most Beautiful City," he said. 

"I hope Tulsans appreciate the historic moment of this park."

For Jeff Stava, nothing means more than seeing this new vision of Tulsa reflected in the eyes of the city's youngest generation.

"Oh my gosh, the kids," he said. "It brings tears to my eyes."

Gathering Place was christened by Tulsa school children, and it is their voices that will ultimately bring it to life.

"As the buses were driving in, they'd be cheering and yelling cause they could see the towers coming out of the trees," Stava said.

"They were so excited to be here, and that's what we want."

"I don't want to be on this earth exclusively to accumulate resources but to make something happen that would otherwise not have happened that helps the lives of somebody else," said George Kaiser.