- Associated Press - Sunday, April 27, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The price of downtown Oklahoma City’s success as an event destination has turned out to be a long walk for residents.

Consider, for example, the events scheduled for May 3: the Autism Peace Walk in Bricktown, the March for Babies walkathon to benefit the March of Dimes at the Myriad Gardens, and the McNellie’s Pub Run through the neighborhoods to the north. Because of the events’ proximity and timing, participants will likely bump into each other as they seek parking space.

As City Hall’s event coordinator, John Ryan is a little antsy about how well the walks are organized. Ryan had a similar scheduling challenge hen an Easter egg hunt was held at the Myriad Botanical Gardens about the same time people were gathering to recognize the anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building and during a walkathon for the American Heart Association.

“To tie that all together, we had to overuse Park Avenue,” Ryan told The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/1i6myJC ) regarding the heart event. “It was not what we want to do; it is not a best-case scenario for us. It was a route that we worried about for a long time before it happened because we were trying to balance the other two events.”

Streets were temporarily barricaded to divert traffic, which meant some downtown residents couldn’t reach parking garages for a few hours. Volunteer ambassadors and police officers were on hand to provide guidance to drivers.

Manager Jonathan Henson at the Park Harvey Apartments on Park Avenue said he hadn’t been warned about the AHA walking event, so he couldn’t prepare the building’s approximately 225 residents for parking access disruptions.

Ryan sent an email to the apartment building.

“Affecting your building twice within one week is the not the best-case scenario,” he wrote. “I have had one resident of your building contact my office concerning (the) closures.”

In addition to the emails that Ryan sends to downtown stakeholders, he stays in contact with event organizers, urging them to notify participants about the challenges of parking in the district. He said the Embrace Our Race campaign behind the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon is an example of an organization that educates those who live and work along the route.

Marathon spokeswoman Kari Watkins said organizers expected about 25,000 participants, plus an additional one or two people per runner, many of whom will be spread out along the 26.2-mile route. Parking for the marathon hasn’t been a problem, partly because shuttles and buses help bring people to the starting line, she said.

Ryan works closely with Festival of the Arts organizers as well. The festival will end Sunday, the same day of the marathon. Parking is expected to be difficult, but not insurmountable, as the festival will open that day several hours after the marathon.

Cathy O’Connor, president of the Alliance of Economic Development of Oklahoma City, said city leaders are having a difficult time keeping up with parking demand in the Central Business District. Several parking projects are underway, somewhat ironically causing more curbside problems while they’re being finished. She said the density of the events calendar for downtown is a positive shift in the chicken-or-egg paradox, however.

“We’re getting close to the private sector deciding it’s economically feasible to fund parking structures,” she said.

Dennis Johnston at the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau said he’s pleased to be able to point visitors to plenty of homegrown events in an active, growing city. Parks and street festivals are invaluable in the tourism game.

“We don’t emphasize the hurdles; we emphasize all the positives,” Johnston said. “Tourists and leisure travelers to Oklahoma City are usually looking for stuff to do. It’s one of the first things a meeting planner asks about.”

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