- Associated Press - Monday, February 8, 2016

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Aubrey McClendon’s prediction was bold and daring.

The Oklahoma River south of downtown had for decades been seen as an eyesore, yet 10 years ago McClendon was declaring the opening of the Chesapeake Boathouse as “not only the opening of world-class rowing, but also a new relationship with this historic river.”

The Oklahoman (https://bit.ly/1L0Etwk ) reports that a decade later, McClendon has long been proven right.

The Chesapeake Boathouse, designed by longtime friend and architectural collaborator Rand Elliott, has been showcased in publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Southern Living and Men’s Health.

Charles Barkley clowned around at the boathouse on TNT during Oklahoma City’s appearance in the NBA Finals. Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler visited the facility during the filming of “American Idol.”

The success of the boathouse inspired growth of the area into an unrivaled destination for rowing. The river now also is home to Devon Energy Boathouse, the Chesapeake Finish-Line Tower, the CHK/UCO Boathouse, the SandRidge Skytrail, and soon, the RiverSport Rapids white water center. The river also is promoted as the only competitive rowing waterway in the country lined with stadium lighting.

Rowing wasn’t an active, organized sport when in 1997 a University of Oklahoma law student, Mike Knopp, sought to reorganize a rowing club at Lake Overholser. A few years later, Knopp showed up with a dozen fellow rowers at the groundbreaking for a MAPS-funded dam at Eastern Avenue intended to revive a waterway that was dry more often than not.

The rowers put their boats in water that remained in the river from recent rains and shared their dream of building a boathouse.

“We had this very basic concept of a metal building with some wood on the outside - basically a storage shed,” Knopp said. “I told people we had an opportunity, and because of the river’s location, this could be world class. We could send a message. And that became my story.”

Talks followed with veteran advertising man and civic leader Ray Ackerman, who had championed adding the river to the 1993 MAPS ballot. And then McClendon got involved.

McClendon, then CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp., and Martha Burger, then a senior vice president of that company, introduced Elliott and Knopp after agreeing to hear Knopp’s pitch for what he envisioned as a $300,000 boathouse.

“Martha Burger met Mike Knopp while she was rowing at Overholser,” Elliott said. “Aubrey had said, ‘If you see people out in the community, doing good things, I want to know about it.’”

Elliott said McClendon did not think the $300,000 would be enough to get the job done right. The foursome raised $3.5 million to build what they hoped would make a statement worldwide about Oklahoma City as a rowing venue.

“Aubrey McClendon got it, understood it and helped make it a reality,” Knopp said. “Rand was brought in by Aubrey. It was as much about sending a message to our own community, which had such a bad perception of the river. The whole idea was not about what goes on inside, but what it does to generate activity along the river.”

The river is now host to annual regattas that draw teams from Harvard and Princeton. The University of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University and OU all have rowing teams on the river. And later this year, when RiverSport Rapids opens, it will first be part of the Road to Rio Olympic trails.

When Knopp envisioned rowing in Oklahoma City, he suggested the river could someday host teams from local high schools. Oakdale Schools is organizing the first middle school rowing team later this year.

Elliott, whose portfolio has won numerous awards, has overseen master planning and design over the entire boathouse row and is happy if that’s what he is best remembered for in years to come.

“People in the industry say Oklahoma City changed the face of rowing,” Elliott said. “It became accessible, it became something men, women and children could all do. It was a perfect fit for Oklahoma City. . I don’t think any of us knew it would be this much of a game changer.”

___

Information from: The Oklahoman, https://www.newsok.com

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