City of Tulsa aims to develop Arkansas River

TULSA - For Tom Dittus, owning Blue Rose Cafe along the Arkansas River is a dream come true.

"I really do have a great gig," Dittus said.

He's got a busy lunch rush, a scenic view and a great location along the river, but getting a spot at 18th and Riverside wasn't easy.

"It was a very competitive process because there were 12 groups," said Dittus.

Fast forward a year and a half and Blue Rose is going strong.

"We would welcome some company down here absolutely," said Dittus.

Doing so has been a mission of the city's for a while, especially in the Festival Park area on the west side of the river.

"Initially, we attempted to get the private sector to give us some ideas on what they thought could be used for that area," said Mayor Dewey Bartlett.

But a weakened economy put that project on the back burner.

"They had other commitments -- financial commitments -- they didn't feel like they could afford another one," Bartlett.

Still, city leaders haven't given up. Now, they're starting again by hiring a firm to come up with a river master plan.

"See what they would recommend what we do regarding planning," said Bartlett. "Set some areas aside for a variety of purposes, whether it's residential or commercial or amusement related."

Under one condition, that is.

"Festival Park, River Parks, that that they be left alone. We don't want those negatively impacted," said Bartlett.

You'll also see upgrades to the river trails on south Riverside and on the west side of the river.

Another possible improvement, "River Parks is working closely with the county's consultant engineers to renovate Zink Dam," said Matt Meyer, with the Tulsa River Parks.

Meyer said that would depend on state funding.

Plus, there are big plans for the area between 26th and 31st on Riverside. The George Kaiser Foundation plans to turn the area into a park of sorts.

It has had several meetings seeking public input before releasing any final plans. It's called the Gathering Place.

The project could come in at $150 million.

"It's very well thought out, very amazing and to be mostly privately funded, so that's even more exciting," Meyer said.

Look for the Gathering Place to break ground in 2014.

So from better trails, more parks and more places to dine and visit, it looks like the plans for river development are starting to flow in.

The mayor has also formed a river task force. It's made up of people with all different backgrounds and areas of expertise.

He's hoping they'll give him some good recommendations by the end of the year.

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