Originally constructed in 1972 and opened in 1974, the Underground, once called the Concourse, is a system of tunnels beneath downtown Oklahoma City. It was originally named after banker Jack Conn, who conceived the idea along with Donald Kennedy, former president and chairman of OG&E, and Dean A. McGee, former chairman of the executive committee for Kerr-McGee Corp. Construction cost $1.3 million, and it is about a mile long in total, covering about 20 square blocks.
After the space had deteriorated significantly due to lack of maintenance over the years, in 2006, the city announced a $2 million renovation. Designed by well-known local architect Rand Elliott, the project was completed the following year. The carpet was replaced, the lighting enhanced and the walls repainted. In addition, the plan called for information kiosks to be placed at the entrances with directions and maps.
What Is the Underground?
Today, the Underground is managed by Downtown OKC Inc. and is essentially just a walking area that is open Monday through Friday from 6 am to 8 pm. At one time, the tunnels contained many shops and restaurants. Currently, there is a restaurant, cafe, and a few other services. You can also find art exhibits and other special events throughout the year. For example, each February Oklahoma City Riversport hosts the RUNderground 5k.
Where the Underground Goes
Oklahoma City's Underground is beneath the central business district area, as well as within many downtown businesses. It stretches as far north as the Federal Courthouse near NW 4th and Harvey, and it runs along Harvey down to Robert S. Kerr before splitting west to the County Office Building and east to Broadway. The overall system also includes skywalks, and there is a north/south stretch along Broadway, with portions providing access to Cotter Ranch Tower, formerly known as the Chase building, the downtown Sheraton Hotel, Cox Convention Center, and more.
Pros and Cons
When the winds are high and/or the temperatures frigid, the Underground is undoubtedly nice for walking during some of Oklahoma's more extreme weather conditions and for accessing nearby parking garages for downtown workers. In addition, it can be an easy way to exercise during the day by avoiding stoplights and pedestrian crossings outdoors.
That said, many critics argue a vibrant downtown area needs pedestrians and anything that discourages people on the streets is an overall negative. Convenient or not, the Underground tunnels remove people from the sidewalks where they might patronize retail outlets and restaurants. At least in terms of the central business district, Oklahoma City hasn't always had a reputation for bustling street life, so some have even suggested closing the tunnels. However, at this time, there are no plans to do so.