Springing Up on the South Bank of the Oklahoma River

A new community is springing up on the south bank of the Oklahoma River. But the developers of Oklahoma City’s latest urban neighborhood aren’t taking a cookie-cutter approach to this project.

The layout of Wheeler is designed to encourage residents to walk or bicycle to school, work, church, dining, the Wheeler Ferris Wheel (which opened to the public on July 4, 2016), to the trails along the Oklahoma River, and beyond. A broad range of housing choices are planned, including single-family homes, detached townhomes, urban cottage homes, apartments, and condos, all being built with an eye to energy-efficiency. Eventually, the district will grow to also sport restaurants, retail spaces and even a school that will be open to neighboring residents.

Ashley Terry, Wheeler Director of Public Life, says the 150-acre area being developed—the first to expand the modern footprint south of the Oklahoma River—is being designed with pedestrians and cyclists in mind. Wheeler features will include generous sidewalks, integrated bike paths and narrower, safer streets, interior parks, plazas and walking paths that make strolls inviting and foster interactions with neighbors. Wherever possible, dedicated parking is located in the rear of homes so that porches, not garage doors, frame the street.

“Wheeler District is intended to consist of a broad range of home choices, from cottages to townhouses and larger single-family homes,” said Wheeler District developer Blair Humphreys. “The project will also include apartments and live-work units that are suitable for those who want a modest business on the ground floor and living quarters above.”

A BRIEF HISTORY

Development of the future site of Wheeler began with the purchase by the Humphreys Company of the Downtown Airpark, which operated from the 1940s until 2005 and had gone into bankruptcy, in 2006. They purchased adjoining parcels on both sides of Western Avenue. 

The design for the Wheeler District was created in July 2014 during a weeklong public charrette—a collaborative process that brought together the urban designers and architects of Dover, Kohl & Partners with the development team and hundreds of community stakeholders.

Last year, the Wheeler team was propelled forward with the creation of Wheeler Home, an in-house homebuilding company led by Greg McAlister and partner Josh Kitchen, who have over three decades of combined experience building both suburban and urban infill homes, including creation of the metro’s first 100 percent geothermal neighborhood.

“The chance to build smart, efficient, urban homes in a community that is so well-thought out and carefully planned is a dream for us,” says Greg McAlister. “Our priority is to provide authentic quality of life for our residents through their homes and community. The homes in Wheeler are unlike any you will find in the metro area. They have clean, simple lines with custom elevations and floor plans designed for Wheeler by architects known nationally for efficient use of space and connecting neighbors. Energy-saving features, such as geothermal, are unmatched in this area, and interior selections reflect each homeowner’s personal style.”

TODAY AND GOING FORWARD

Plans call for the building of over 600 homes, 1,500 condos and apartments, and 300,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space. Currently, Wheeler is under construction on the first phase of housing, which will include 60 single-family homes, 100 apartments, new restaurants, a microbrewery, and a range of live/work townhomes. The first 23 homes are now under construction in Phase One, with plans for the first Wheeler neighbors to move into the community in February.

Wheeler has reserved a site for a new neighborhood elementary school that will serve not only new residents within Wheeler but families living in surrounding neighborhoods. The historic neighborhoods around Wheeler are predominantly of Hispanic descent, which has created a unique opportunity to provide a public elementary school featuring a dual-immersion curriculum. The approach allows both Spanish-dominant and English-dominant children to learn to read and write in their native language before being introduced to cross-lingual immersion education. The school is targeted to begin construction in mid-2019 and open in fall of 2020.

“Our goal is to make Wheeler Oklahoma City’s next great urban neighborhood—a neighborhood that serves the needs of our community and provides a place for generations of OKC residents to call home,” says Humphreys.