When we first arrived in Oklahoma City two years ago, the vision for the convention center, connecting Scissortail Park and event venue was epic in scale. The empty plots of land, defunct commercial buildings and abandoned streets were, to put it nicely, waiting patiently for some TLC. The MAPS3 trigger had been pulled just prior to our visit, and construction contracts were being negotiated for the flatlands that extended from downtown toward the revitalized Oklahoma River, home of the Boathouse District, 80 miles of interconnected greenway and a coveted training facility.
It struck us then, looking out from the top of the slender, jade crystal Devon Energy Center tower, that Oklahoma City was about to get a serious upgrade and level up to Class A. Since then, we’ve watched the urban landscape that washes toward the river from downtown transform from a chrysalis to an economic hotrod thanks to major developments like the opening of Scissortail Park, which debuted at the end of September and is highlighted in the video below.
How Scissortail Park came to be
Scissortail Park is the latest development to come out of MAPS3, a phase of a greater improvement plan that was voted on by the community almost 26 years ago. The citizens imposed a one-cent sales tax initiative upon themselves, which to date has translated to over $1 billion of community improvement projects for the city—debt-free.
The buy-in from local businesses and people played a big part in the success of this program, and we’re so smitten by the concept that we’ve become preachers for similar ideas in every city that we visit, including our own small town in Tennessee.
MAPS3 saw the introduction of the Boathouse District, which includes an Olympic training facility for kayakers and whitewater rafters, as well as Riversport OKC, home to a never-ending Class 5 rapids system that uses a conveyor belt to drop enthusiasts in at the top of the “river.” It also was responsible for the insertion of a critical transit option, the OKC Streetcar, which follows two loops in Oklahoma City’s downtown districts, connecting many neighborhoods that are popular for visitors, businesses and locals.
Ignoring the influx of vehicles in mid-sized cities that are driven by employees and those who enjoy fine restaurants, entertainment and shopping options has been the death of so many urban cores across our nation, so it enlivens our hearts to think that this smart planning and framework executed by OKC, this thinking beyond the next fiscal year, is at the tip of the spear of smart development in the United States and a harbinger of a future that sees us all spending less time in the cockpit of a car and more time enjoying life.
What to expect at Scissortail Park
The first phase of Scissortail Park opened in September 2019 with 70 acres of green space brimming with fun things for groups, families and individuals to do. In the future, Scissortail Park will be a direct channel to the convention center, which you can see going up at rapid pace directly across the street and is slated to open in spring 2021, and the adjoining Omni Hotel.
The name is derived from the scissor-tail flycatcher, which is Oklahoma’s official state bird, as well as the inspiration for the iconic city sculpture of the same name that can be seen floating above the park’s horizon.
The man-made Scissortail Lake, which doubles as a wetlands and urban street water drainage network filled with innovative features like biofiltration and a natural water replenishment system, tackles the hydraulic challenges of paving over the earth and opens up outdoor activities such as paddleboat rentals, bird-watching, picnic spots, and a scenic place to walk your dog, do yoga, bike or go for a run.
There are sculptural water features tucked across from the new hotel being built, which is a perfect way for kids (and their adult companions) to cool down during the steamy Oklahoma City summers, and the intentional greening of the urban environment of the park is ideal for hosting music events.
The opening day of Scissortail Park saw an all night-long concert on the Love’s Travel Stops Stage and Great Lawn, which was presented by the Chickasaw Nation and included performances by Republican Hair, Broncho and the Kings of Leon—not to mention, one grandiose mic drop by the city’s beloved mayor, David Holt.
On any given weekend, Scissortail is thriving; you might find free fitness classes, pop-up activations, special concerts, a traveling circus act popping by to give a free show—you just never know!
There’s also a brand new dining venue, Social Capital, directly across from the park, and a spacious rooftop from which you can watch the concerts and other park activity down below. This restaurant and beer hall boasts 120 brews on tap, a solid cocktail list, street tacos and other Mexican fare, homemade ice crean and multiple hangout spots both indoor and out.
Where to stay in Downtown OKC
In 2021, the Omni Hotel anchoring the new convention center will open right across the street from Scissortail Park, but in the meantime, there are great hotels downtown and in Bricktown within walking distance, including three of our favorites: the Colcord, the historic Skirvin Hilton Hotel where we stayed this time, and the 21c Museum Hotel, which is brimming with artwork and open to the public 24/7.
The Skirvin is one of the city’s few architectural gems remaining from the early 1900s. Spanning 13 floors and boasting 225 rooms that have been recently renovated, it’s positively massive. We had a corner suite in the 100-year-old hotel and constantly marveled at the exterior design. They just don’t do buildings like this anymore, and the double-circle columns that race up the brick sides are stunning at sunset, and convey a by-gone opulence. Plus … it’s said to be haunted by a housekeeper’s ghost!
The piano lounge has local music six nights a week, and the adjoining bar and restaurant are both great places to snatch a cocktail and host a power meeting. We had a late-night dinner at Park Avenue Grille one night after the park opening that was superb, and the vibe is casual luxury. We also dropped in on the jazz brunch, which runs every Sunday from 11am to 2pm.
There’s so much to do in Oklahoma City, and Scissortail Park is just one jumping off point. For more group travel tips, check out these past OKC posts:
- Best Group Dining Experiences in Oklahoma City
- The Best Murals in Oklahoma City
- Urban Whitewater Rafting in Oklahoma City
- 11 Reasons We’re Obsessed with OKC
- Oklahoma City’s Art Game is Strong: Check Out These Creative Stops
- How to Explore OKC by Streetcar
- Baby, It’s Cold Outside: The Best Indoor Winter Activities in Oklahoma City
- 27 Epic Summer Adventures in Oklahoma City