For about a year and a half, the Myriad Botanical Gardens area experienced variable accessibility due to a flurry of construction and renovation, but with the day-long festivities planned for Saturday’s grand re-opening of the park, many people will get a nearly complete look at what has been done to the downtown attraction.
The renovations and additions are financed through around $13 million in bonds to rehabilitate the Crystal Bridge passed by voters in 2001 and the downtown streetscape and park renovation undertaking — called Project 180.
All told, more than $40 million has been put toward the new Myriad Gardens, said Jim Tolbert, chairman emeritus of the nonprofit group that manages and leases the park from the city, the Myriad Gardens Foundation.
“We tell people that this is now a hybrid of a botanical garden and a park and a hybrid of an old park and a new park,” Tolbert said. “It’s going to be a place of very intense activity, which it was not previously.”
The Myriad Gardens renovations are an impressive sight: flowing water cutting through the varying types of trees, grasses and flowers that define the garden as much as its man-made structures like the Crystal Bridge, the Interactive Children’s Fountain, a computer-controlled wave pool and numerous sculptures.
A small sampling of the new features of the park include a cascading waterfall on its northeast corner that feeds into a stream that ends in another waterfall in the large pond in the park’s center. A dog park near the southeast corner is passed by an LED-lit walkway leading to the Chesapeake Energy Arena. There’s a children’s park comprising the southwest side, and a reflecting pool and restaurant on the park’s eastern side.
Overlooking the Crystal Bridge and pond, Tolbert recalled being involved with the park area since the 1960s, and said that the dream of what the park could be is now finally becoming a reality.
“I dreamed of this, but I never thought we were going to make this into what it is,” he said. “It really is exciting.”
The attractions of the garden are not just limited to the warmer months. The reflecting pool area will be converted to an ice skating rink during the winter, and the Myriad Gardens Foundation is currently negotiating with an operator, Tolbert said.
Meanwhile, the foundation is continuing negotiations with companies that want to operate the restaurant, and the foundation hopes to have it up and running by the end of the year. The foundation is hoping to find a restaurant operator that can also cater and offer food carts throughout the garden, Tolbert said.
Almost all of the new features are anticipated to be completed by the grand opening, Tolbert said. However, the harsh winter and summer this year caused some of the plants and trees to die, he said, but many of those will be replaced by summertime next year.
The designers tried to keep many of the old gardens’ berms, while making the park more open and accessible, Tolbert said, and new features such as a circle-driveway turnaround near the new main entrance of the Crystal Bridge help to better accommodate school groups that come to the gardens, giving not just a feeling of greater accessibility, but actual easier access as well.
Another new feature that organizers expect to be a major attraction is the children’s interactive fountain. The multicolored superstructure and the water system below it are capable of spraying water up or down, as well as create fog, thunder and lighting effects.
“It will be a thunderstorm in (the) making for children to play in or it can be much more tame, and all of that is computer controlled,” Tolbert said. “This is the most sophisticated thing on the property.”
Tolbert pointed out the attention to detail in the renovations, including inlaid colored glass and ceramic forming the state flower garden on the ground near the fountain.
Tolbert said the new Myriad Gardens will offer something for a wide range of people — from those looking for fun activities with the family on weekends to those just wanting a peaceful area to relax.
“There will be so much going on, and it will be so appealing. I think we’re going to have all kinds of different participation — office workers, families, every kind of folks,” Tolbert said. “It’s going to give people a whole new vision of what downtown Oklahoma City is.”