OU Explores Possibility Of Closing Park Place To Vehicles

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According to materials included in the agenda for the upcoming March 13-14 OU Board of Trustees meeting, the university will begin a conversation with the Board about options to convert Park Place between University Terrace and Baker University Center into a student commons.

In a memo to the Board, OU Vice President for Finance and Administration Stephen Golding wrote, “The street has become a much higher pedestrian traffic area since the opening of Baker University Center. It serves as a central artery linking the east, south and west sides of campus along its upper ridge with high-density sites such as Alden Library and Baker Center located in the center.”

Golding said there are several options for partial or complete redirection of vehicular traffic that are in early stage discussions.

“Transitioning sections of Park Place into a student-oriented common space could lead to other student focused programming possibilities along the boulevard,” he wrote.

Some considerations mentioned in the Board materials include the need to make the area pedestrian-friendly while maintaining access for fire trucks, utility tunnels, transit and facility servicing.

Park Place, a public city street, is home to Baker Center, Alden Library, Scripps Hall, Gordy Hall and the university president’s residence. Last year, Athens Public Transit also moved its main connecting bus stop to Mulberry Street, near the entrance of Baker Center.

There are two concept drawings included in the Board materials regarding Park Place. One would eliminate vehicular traffic altogether. The other would maintain one-way eastbound traffic in the lane in front of the president’s residence.

Athens Service-Safety Director Paula Horan Moseley said that potentially closing one lane to vehicular traffic on Park Place has been discussed with the city over the past couple years. She said that OU would have to approach Athens City Council about the closure since it is a city street.

“The city would have to be involved,” she said. Horan Moseley said that discussions with the city regarding the proposal are “fairly preliminary.”

Andy Stone, director of Athens’ Department of Engineering and Public Works, said that Park Place serves as a natural detour for vehicular traffic when Court Street or Union Street are closed for events or construction.

The Board will be asked to vote on a resolution next week that would authorize President Roderick McDavis to “engage in further study of the Park Place Student Commons concept.”