Laughter and shouting flood your senses. You glance up from your Instagram story, expecting to see a hundred children frolicking on the playset, carefree and wild. Strangely, the children are wearing business suits. They are taller than you expected. Their laughs are deeper, they’re shouting louder. Wait, those are adults. The grownups have taken over the playground.
Over a decade in the making, Tulsa’s newest “play at your own risk” park is now open to the public. Executive Director and Trustee for Gathering Place Jeff Stava has been working on the project since the beginning. He’s watched the project transform from a heartfelt idea to a full-fledged public park, open for people of all ages, status, ethnicity and cultures.
The heart behind the Gathering Place influenced its construction and subsequent unveiling to be a place for everyone. This inclusivity of community was modeled in the opening-day parade, as groups from various cultures celebrated their traditions and cultural pride while Tulsa citizens cheered on from the sidelines.
“I think that our city has, over time, developed silos by geography, by class and race, culture and ethnicity, and by putting it in the middle of Tulsa, right on the banks of the Arkansas River, it really provides an opportunity for it to be a hub,” said Stava. It’s kind of in the middle for everyone from all over to come and be here at the Gathering Place. We have high aspirations that this is for all of Tulsa. That was the mission starting out.”
Gathering Place is a $465 million project, and only $65 million of that came from public funds, which were used to create the public infrastructure around the park. The other $400 million came from private donors, making it the largest private donation to a city in U.S. history.
The project is a giant, very expensive “thank you” to Tulsa. People from all over the city are welcomed and encouraged to take part in the park, no matter their age.
“Of course, we are a very family and kid-focused community, so that’s why a huge amount of time and effort and money was spent on the five-acre Chapman Foundation Adventure Playground, because it’s really kind of the heart,” said Stava. “It all works together, and I think there’s something for everyone here.”
Each aspect of construction is deliberate and community oriented, with its unique Gathering Place flair.
“We wanted it to be architecturally significant. We wanted the landscape to be significant. We didn’t want it to be ordinary,” Stava said. “It really took finding a landscape architect and a master planner who could think out of the box and not do things that looked ‘corporate office park’ or looked like it was all brand new.”
After an intense competition of over 96 different architecture firms, Gathering Place hired Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates and was not disappointed.
“Michael, the way he and his team work, they really create mini spaces within a larger space. There’s tons of little rooms, and you don’t realize it, but they are landscaped rooms,” Stava said. “So you can have a relaxing, calming experience, and you can come back to the park another day and be in a new place and have a completely different experience. There’s hundreds of experiences here in this 67 acre park. It’s pretty neat.”
Even most of the Adventure Playground equipment is suitable for adults as well as children.
“I really like Adventure Playground because it’s fun. You can be like a little kid again,” said senior medical molecular biology major Essence Collins.
And for those who don’t wish to play but still love the beauty of the outdoors, Gathering Place contains various gardens and walkways, the Lodge for hanging out or studying and the Great Lawn for outdoor concerts and events, and so much more. This long awaited opening is full of experiences that should not be missed, especially for ORU students.
“It looks good, everything about it. You can have some fun; you can come and study; it can be something you could do with a floor. There’s a lot to do, and it’s just down the road. It’s not like it’s going to be far away,” said ORU alumnus Cherokee Hill.
Every area of Gathering Place is unique and provides a different adventure for every visit.
“There’s a giant table in a building with all glass and all wood and it’s a giant table you can play cards on,” said freshman communication major Blake Sprouse about the Lodge. “There’s something to do for everyone.”
To celebrate the park’s opening, Gathering Place is hosting events, concerts and more for the following 100 days after the park’s opening date. Today, Sept. 21, marks day thirteen and tonight starting at 6 p.m., Gathering Place is hosting NOLA Night, featuring Dumbstahunk, a jazz band. NOLA stands for New Orleans, Louisiana and is a night of bayou beats. Be sure to gather with friends and enjoy the funky live tunes, entertainment and food. Check out gatheringplace.org for future events.
Photos by Josh Crow