By Joey McWilliams
DURANT – The City of Durant continues to grow and evolve and one of the next chapters in this story looks like it will happen along South Ninth Ave.
With assistance from a grant co-written by the City of Durant and the Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival, plans are in the works to give Ninth Avenue south of Main Street a makeover into an arts district.
Much of the grant money will come from the National Endowment for the Arts.
But Janet Reed, Executive Director of the Durant Area Chamber of Commerce, said the vision will come from the public.
“We have about 12 original partners that had written letters of support for the grant, so they will be coming in on the grant,” Reed said. “We will be meeting for the first time on Nov. 7 with the architects to basically get together a timeline.
“Then we will be having public workshops, holding those so we can envision what we hope will happen in that Ninth Street corridor. We will be gathering information from the architectural rendering, and will begin to form a vision of what can happen in that area.”
Reed spoke of the historic establishments, in restaurants such as Wright’s Drive In and Sherrer’s Restaurant, and Robert E. Lee Early Childhood Center, which is on the historic registry, as well as cultural diversity in the area.
“We have many different things that are already entailed there,” Reed said. “The corridor itself we hope will bridge the Main Street corridor down Ninth to the Choctaw Casino. It’s already a well-traveled avenue, so this will just enhance that as people move into those areas.
“And what we envision is that it will truly become an arts district with several types of arts. Arts is defined as many, many different things – whether it be crafting by hand, theatre acting, choral – it’s very widespread. There are many different things, we hope that will entail.”
Riley Coker, Producing Director of the Oklahoma Shakespearean Festival, said as the area opens up into an arts district it could provide a pedestrian gateway for different performing arts and exhibited art.
“There could be all kinds of opportunities for people to be able to get their hands dirty doing all kinds of different things – music, theatre, arts, sculpting, whatever,” Coker said.
Reed said those involved would be looking into the infrastructure of the area.
“(We’re) hoping that we will be able to widen at least the north end of S. Ninth, as you go into the four-way stop at that point,” Reed said. “If we could just get a turning lane in the middle, that would help tremendously.
“But we have many obstacles that we have to overcome. As you well know, we have a railroad track, which is frequented by the train in that area. There again, that just adds to the ambience though of what can and what creates an arts district. These are historical things that have been in our city for a long time.
“Now the challenge will be incorporating everything into that corridor. We will look at sidewalks, we will look at lighting and hopefully something that will be capable for tourists to travel up and down safely, even after dark. People have mentioned even having a park area, so there can be celebrations and festivities going on. Even as of late, we have had one of the art councils approach us about doing an open-air theatre that would be fabulous for that area.
“This is a visioning process that we will be going through. The city council will have to act on many things as we go into this.”
As an arts district, South Ninth Avenue could start being referred to as ‘S9A.’
“We are hoping that it will be,” Reed said. “S9A gives it a distinction. It really resonated because it is the South Ninth Arts District, South Ninth Avenue.
“It’s going to be very easy branding. We envision there will be an archway leading into it that states ‘S9A.'”
The community will have opportunity to give input for the revitalization of the area and the corridor, which could be the next big step in the growth of Durant.