Undefeated, Oklahoma City Pushes Forward
Three years after the Murrah Building was bombed, a plan to revitalize the city has many here excited about the future.
Unlike most folks in this town, Richard Williams has almost no recollection of the morning of April 19, 1995, when his workplace, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, was bombed. People tell him that he was pulled out of the rubble that used to be his office, 100 feet from ground zero. They say he didn't have a pulse at the time.Skip to next paragraph
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But there is one thing that Mr. Williams has always been clear about: The people of Oklahoma City would not let their hometown be defined by one hateful event. They would rebuild.
"The rebuilding is our way of renewing our personal commitment to the community," says Williams, who was assistant building manager in 1995. "We are proving to the world that we can move on with our lives and get back to the new normal."
It's a sentiment that can take a visitor by surprise. But as Oklahoma City looks forward to a landmark new building project with anticipation, the true character of the people in this frontier town is coming out.
"When you look at towns like Birmingham [Ala.] or Grand Forks [N.D.], places that have dealt with disaster, the common thing that happens is that you really find out the best of people," says Devery Youngblood, who works to attract private investment through the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. "Outsiders tend to talk about the bombing more than we do. We think about it, but in many ways, we've just gone on with our lives."
Indeed, while few people here will ever forget what occurred on that tragic, sunny April morning three years ago, the people of Oklahoma City have an abundance of reasons to look forward to the future and not dwell on the past. The first fruits of a $350 million dollar plan to revitalize the downtown core are beginning to appear, and Oklahoma City is emerging as a success story.
"Oklahoma City has a lot to teach the nation," says Rick Horrow, president of the Miami-based Horrow Sports Ventures, which helped Oklahoma City develop its Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) plan. Under the plan, nine major new facilities - including a library, a performing arts center, and a convention center - will be built within a mile of each other in the downtown area.
A national model
Perhaps because of the media attention given to the bombing and now the rebuilding, many cities are watching how Oklahoma City redesigns itself as they contemplate similar projects. It is "the national laboratory for bundling infrastructure projects into one process," says Mr. Horrow. "I can guarantee you all eyes [are] on Oklahoma City this week" as the first of the projects, the Bricktown Ballpark, hosts its first games this weekend.
If that sounds boastful, consider this: The plan, which was approved by a referendum in 1993, is the largest comprehensive urban renewal project of its kind. Most of it is paid for by a 1 cent hike in the sales tax, and the rest will come from new businesses moving to the downtown, including a new 26-screen cinema and a new Mariott hotel.
Thirteen other cities are also considering MAPS proposals of their own, including storm-ravaged Birmingham, which will be voting on a MAPS project next autumn.