Tulsa Transforms Blighted Recreation Centers into Quality Parks

A thriving system of urban parks has proved time and again to be a vital component of planning healthy, safe, and economically prosperous cities.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a shining example of a city that has taken the initiative through a creative and community-based approach to redevelop closed and abandoned recreation centers into vibrant local parks.

The Tulsa Park and Recreation Department has seen its share of hard times. In 2001, the local economy was struggling and municipal budgets were dwindling. Reluctantly, the department made the hard decision to close nine recreation centers because of budget constraints and low attendance.

As years went by, the budget never bounced back, but it was clear that something had to be done to provide recreational space to Tulsa residents.

In an effort to breathe new life into these forgotten spaces, we sought the community’s involvement to re-envision the city’s park system. In the process, we learned that residents wanted space for self-directed activities.

Following extensive study by community volunteers, as well as a third-party contractor, Tulsa Parks released its master plan, an ambitious roadmap to bring the community the parks it wanted and needed through a combination of local investment and partnership with local organizations.

Our first step was to remove the blighted recreation facilities we had been forced to close in 2001 and add new amenities to these sites that would bring all ages to the park. We wanted to create a safe environment for the community to gather and enjoy.

To accomplish this, Tulsa Parks initiated a discussion with the communities surrounding each recreation center to ensure residents’ needs would be reflected in the new facilities. Although most areas added a walking trail, sidewalks, and shelters, other specifics were left to discussion by the community.

Of the nine projects either under way or completed as the result of our Master Plan, I’m extremely pleased and proud to highlight two success stories.

B.C. Franklin Park

A basketball game at B.C. Franklin Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Tulsa Park and Recreation Department.

The B.C. Franklin Park received a massive transformation thanks to the community’s patience and willingness to replace the recreation center.

The namesake of the park, B.C. Franklin, a survivor of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, played a vital role for the themed playground that the community selected. The new playground features the storefront look of a grocery store, a theater, and other businesses that were a vital part of the area in the early 1920s when it was called “Black Wall Street.” Although “Black Wall Street” was destroyed during the 1921 riot, the new playground pays homage to the victims, survivors, and community in this park centerpiece.

The community also caught the attention of the Oklahoma City Thunder NBA team. Two basketball courts were constructed in the park with Thunder logos and colors for the community to enjoy.

Other site amenities include an adult workout facility and a shelter. Construction was completed in 2016. Funds for the park included $805,000 from sales tax revenue, $70,000 from the OKC Thunder Cares foundation, and $40,000 from the Oklahoma Surgical Foundation. This dynamic space has created a safe place for people to exercise, socialize, play, and relax outdoors.

Zeigler Park

Children playing in splash pad at Springdale Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Photo courtesy Tulsa Park and Recreation Department.

The Zeigler Park community and the neighborhood decided on a themed playground, sports court, and Frisbee golf to replace its unusable recreation center. A ballot with 13 playground options was prepared, and students at the adjacent elementary school voted for a fort-themed playground.

The process of determining the park's amenities reinforced the community’s ownership in its neighborhood park. The project was completed in 2014. Funding for improvements came from approximately $2.6 million in sales tax revenue and $150,000 in private donations. Zeigler Park is yet another example of a Tulsa community that came together to improve outdoor recreational opportunities for its residents.

So far, eight of Tulsa's nine recreation centers have been repurposed for community activity and development. In all instances, the community has been pleased with the transformation of their park and the beneficial implications the transformation has had on their neighborhoods.

Tulsa Parks will continue to work with the community to achieve the goals laid out in our Tulsa Parks Master Plan, which aims to create self-directed activities to keep our citizens happy and healthy.

Unfortunately, Tulsa Parks' budgetary struggles are not unique. Federal investment in urban and community parks has been extremely limited for decades.

For more information on APA’s current work on urban and community park policy and how you can get involved, check out this blog post.

About the Author

Lucy Dolman is director of the Tulsa Park and Recreation Department.

Top image: The fort at Zeigler Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The theme for this playground was chosen by the children in the community surrounding Zeigler Park. Photo courtesy Tulsa Park and Recreation Department.


August 22, 2016

By Lucy Dolman