A $300 million resort, including a water park, retail, dining and hotel, is set to be built by the Chickasaw Nation along the Oklahoma River south of downtown. The Chickasaws first envisioned developing the land surrounding the First Americans Museum [oklahoman.com] when the tribe in 2015 negotiated an agreement with Oklahoma City to complete the cultural center after state legislators sought to abandon the project.
The museum opened last month and the Chickasaws are ready to start construction in summer 2022 with an opening in 2024. Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the development, to be named OKANA Resort & Indoor Waterpark, is designed to make the riverfront a tourist destination.
“With this world-class First Americans Museum now in operation, we are ready to turn our focus to what we believe will be another significant tourism and hospitality venue,” Anoatubby said. “It is our vision that the OKANA Resort will enhance the experience for visitors from not only our region, but across North America and around the world.”
Plans for the development, kept quiet for the past few years, are going public as the Chickasaws file for a rezoning request for the property, which will cover 40 of the 140 acres held by AICCM Land Development LLC., a subsidiary of the Chickasaw Nation. The development will not include a casino as a casino is legally not allowed in Oklahoma City other than as part of Remington Park. The tribe is not releasing details of future plans for the property other than it is considering future development of an aquarium, a project that was pitched for MAPS 4 but did not make the cut.
Mayor David Holt, himself a member of the Osage Nation, believes the OKANA development, combined with the First Americans Museum, will make Oklahoma City a national and worldwide hub for Native American and Indigenous history, culture and commerce.
“You have this amazing museum, a $175 million investment, Smithsonian level — it’s one of a kind — and the only thing that rivals it is the Native American museum at the National Mall,” Holt said. “To have something this unique is obviously a draw, an international draw that will bring people in from all over the world.” An 11-story, 404-room hotel is at the heart of the OKANA and will feature views of the river, the downtown skyline and an outdoor lagoon. The room sizes will range from 420 to 720 square feet, which the tribe describes as being larger than typical hotel rooms, and will be designed to accommodate an average of four guests per room. The hotel also will include more than 100 suites.
The hotel will be built around a 100,000-square-foot indoor waterpark similar to those in the Great Wolf Lodge chain, which has resorts in Grapevine, Texas, Kansas City, Kansas, and numerous other locations. An analysis of the market potential for the hotel shows some of the earliest successful waterpark hotels are based on one room for every 500 local households. In Oklahoma City, OKANA will have one room for every 2,600 households with the only competition in Oklahoma being the Water-Zoo next to a Holiday Inn Express in Clinton. Dallas-based developer Wynne/Jackson is assisting in the master planning for the project. The hotel is being designed by Wisconsin-based ADCI and developed by New York-based Aquatic Development Group (ADG). ADG, the nation’s leading waterpark design builder, was brought on board to not only to design both the indoor water park and the outdoor adventure lagoon and activity pools, but to contribute throughout the master planning and design process for the entire resort, providing valuable insight based on years of similar experience.
The hotel will be operated by Benchmark Hospitality, which runs Hilton, Intercontinental Group, Hyatt and Marriott hotels across the country.
A five-acre outdoor adventure lagoon will be built at the center of the property and will include one main body of water and two smaller bodies of water, all lined with sandy beaches. A pedestrian bridge will stretch across the main body of water, allowing guests to easily move through the property. The resort also will feature a 33,000-square-foot family entertainment center, a 39,000-square-foot conference center with two ballrooms, a spa, a golf simulator, and a retail center featuring boutique shops and restaurants. A separate marketplace will feature studios and shops for Native American artists and retailers that the tribe intends to tie into the museum. The designs show an uninterrupted view of the museum courtyard and Hall of the People.
“OKANA Resort & Indoor Waterpark has been designed to complement the First Americans Museum’s focus on cultural experience as well as connect visitors to other entertainment experiences along this established and vibrant part of the Oklahoma River,” Anoatubby said. The resort layout emphasizes pedestrian access, with vehicular access to be rerouted in a way that two won’t cross each other. The hotel will emphasize artistic expressions complementing the museum and will overlook the lagoon.
“The caliber of this development is world-class and truly worthy of America’s 22nd-largest city,” Holt said. “FAM’s opening was just the first step in establishing this site’s potential for our community. The announcement of the development plan illustrates how Oklahoma City can emerge as an international destination for Native and Indigenous culture. This development helps to further create a place where Native and Indigenous people will come together, and a place where all people will experience that culture.”