By Ryan Horton
An entertainment and dining district connecting Harrah Heritage Park to downtown is becoming a reality.
Growth is inevitable, but Harrah city officials have been working diligently to ensure that the city’s growth is directed in a way to meet the needs and wants of the community.
Investment in Harrah’s historic downtown area is at the forefront of that mission, and locally owned dining options will be the catalyst.
Harrah has already attracted the Black Raven Irish Pub and the Chicken Shack to anchor the downtown end of what they envision as a dining and entertainment district. On the other end a new restaurant, an expansion of Midwest City’s Chequers Restaurant and Pub, will occupy the park pavilion.
Officials say they hope to capitalize on the many successes the Harrah Friends of the Park volunteer organization has had in attracting thousands to both the park and downtown area with events and festivals.
“When we started the park down there, people thought it was a waste of taxpayer money, and now look at it. We have so much going on in the park year-round. If I could put a dollar amount on what that park has made us in sales tax it’d blow your mind,” said Harrah mayor Larry Fryar.
Sales tax is the funding source for repairs, improvements and services of cities in Oklahoma. Therefore, with organic growth cities must plan economic development to accommodate the needs of the community.
Officials say Harrah has successfully hosted many events that have helped boost that tax revenue and become beloved by residents.
One of the most recent additions to the community was the Saturday on Main events, featuring live music, food trucks, vendors and more in downtown.
Harrah leaders say that fun and entertaining atmosphere will soon be available daily in downtown.
Enter Sweeney’s Switch, a nod to both the community’s long history and bright future.
The local post office name changed to Harrah on Dec. 22, 1898 in honor of local merchant and business leader Frank Harrah. Before that the community had a short stint being called Sweeney.
Back then the booming community featured some of the most up-to-date transportation in the state with a railroad running through town and a river crossing nearby.
Modern day downtown Harrah still sits on that same rail line near the river, and with the construction of the Kickapoo Turnpike the community is more on the map than ever before.
“One day the OTA came through and said they’re putting a turnpike in the middle of our town. We had to act fast to get ready, and now have to work with the gates we’ve been given. That gives us a greater connection to the Oklahoma City area, but also gives the greater metro area better access to Harrah. This has provided a lot of visibility of what Harrah has to offer,” said Harrah Ward 3 City Councilman Duane Patterson.
City officials say they’ve assembled a committee of citizens dedicated to making this vision of Sweeney’s Switch a reality.
“Our next meeting is in May. We’re going out for a big grant, and should know if we have that grant by April,” said Fryar.
That grant would be used for an in-depth master plan to help with future planning and development of the downtown district.
“If we don’t have the grant, we move forward anyway. This is our next project, and it will bring great things to this community,” said Fryar. “Downtown will be the place you want to be. There will be no need to go into Midwest City, Oklahoma City or Shawnee. You’re going to want to come to Harrah for live music and ‘mom and pop’ locally owned businesses. There will be no national chains down there.”
Improvements for the district could include expanding sidewalks, making parking at an angle instead of parallel and adding walking trails.
Additional entertainment and dining options are expected to make the district a major attraction in eastern Oklahoma County.
Chequers Restaurant and Pub, located in Midwest City since 1987, will be serving up favorites in Harrah this spring.
The Heritage Park Pavilion is undergoing renovations to allow for a spring opening of a new dining option.
City manager Clayton Lucas says the setup will be much like that of the recent improvements of the Butcher BBQ Stand in Welston that recently upgraded from an entirely open-air concept.
The Midwest City Chequers Restaurant and Pub is located at 1009 S. Air Depot Blvd. The locally owned and operated business has been serving up steaks, burgers, seafood, Mexican and more for over 30 years.
Harrah officials say the added food choice will fit in well in Harrah.
“We want locally owned mom and pop type business here,” said Harrah mayor Larry Fryar. “Harrah is open for business.”
Officials say they hope to capitalize on the many successes Harrah Heritage Park has seen in recent years, while expanding entertainment and dining options.
“When we started the park down there, people thought it was a waste of taxpayer money, and now look at it. We have so much going on in the park year-round. If I could put a dollar amount on what that park has made us in sales tax it’d blow your mind,” said Fryar.
The Chicken Shack
The Chicken Shack has become a major attraction to Luther along Historic Route 66.
The food and atmosphere has been attracting crowds to eastern Oklahoma County, and now downtown Harrah is set to get in on the fun. The Chicken Shack is setting up a new venue inside the old lumber yard in downtown Harrah.
The “Lumber Shack” is set to open before June 1.
The Chicken Shack has signed a five-year lease purchase on the city-owned building.
“This gives them the ability to dump all their existing capital into the renovation and improvement of the building,” said city manager Clayton Lucas.
Officials say upwards of $1 million will be invested by the restaurant owner to make that downtown building a destination worthy of anchoring Harrah’s entertainment district.
The Black Raven
The Black Raven is a traditional Irish pub on Church Avenue.
Previously located in Choctaw Plaza, the Black Raven has now been a Harrah favorite for over a year. The locally owned dining option attracts visitors to historic downtown Harrah anchoring Sweeney’s Switch.