Blair Humphreys has strong ties to Oklahoma City, so it’s fitting he had an opportunity to develop the city’s Wheeler District. The son of former OKC Mayor Kirk Humphreys, he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Oklahoma before attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for a master’s degree in city planning and urban design. After a stint with the University of Oklahoma Institute for Quality Communities, Humphreys joined Humphreys Company and took on overseeing the design and development of the Wheeler District. We recently spoke with Humphreys and got his thoughts on…
Before I was involved in the project, during the early planning in 2008, my brother Grant decided the south bank of the Oklahoma river needed something to draw visitors and take advantage of the beautiful view of the OKC skyline. When he learned that the former Santa Monica Ferris Wheel was for sale on eBay, he jumped online and pushed the bid button. It was definitely bold, even seemed a bit crazy at the time. Now, after seeing how much people enjoy the Ferris wheel and how it perfectly frames the view, I have to praise Grant’s instincts and genius at creating places people love.
The Wheeler Ferris Wheel was my first real development project. It cost more, took longer and was much harder than I expected. I’m told this is a lesson learned anytime you start developing. Of course, when you build your first house, you can always carry the lessons learned forward to your second. I imagine the same is true for Ferris wheels, but doubt we’ll ever have the chance to prove it.
The Ferris wheel plaza is just the beginning – we still have a long way to go. Over the next 10-15 years we plan to develop 2,000 housing units and over 300,000 square feet of commercial space. As the master land developers, we will be responsible for shaping the vision and developing the infrastructure, but my hope is that community partners in the form of artists, residents, proprietors, urban developers and small businesses come alongside us to turn Wheeler from a vision into a real neighborhood.
Between July 9-17, 2014, we hosted a series of co-design meetings that drew input from over 1,000 attendees from across the community and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as from stakeholders and elected officials. Dover Kohl, an award-winning planning and urban design firm, helped to facilitate the public input and incorporate it into the vision for Wheeler. We couldn’t take on a project like this without support and guidance from civic leaders, neighborhood stakeholders and a great working team that includes: Wheeler’s Director of Public Life Ashley Terry, Greg McAlister and the team at McAlister Construction, Jonathan Heusel of PATH Engineering, Sam Day of Commonworks Architecture, and local artist and developer Richard McKown.
Wheeler is only possible because of the visionary leadership and dynamic growth found in OKC. Ultimately, I think Wheeler is a development for people who love OKC and who’ve come to believe that when we dream big and work together, we can create a better city for everyone. I think Wheeler is just one piece of the bigger story about OKC’s continued transformation for the better.
We really hope to create a place people love. Since the opening of the Wheeler Ferris Wheel on July 4th, 2016, we’ve been delighted to see families and couples enjoying the new public space, taking pictures and riding the wheel. Over the past few months we’ve hosted over 100,000 visitors and had over 35,000 rides on the Ferris wheel. Many visitors come just to check it out and grab a selfie in front of Hugh Meades O-K-C sculpture, which is probably now Oklahoma’s most photographed space. Still, I think the best measure of the community’s affection is how they use it to host important moments, so the fact that we’ve already hosted a number of engagements and one wedding is pretty cool.