The arches that span Interstate 44 at the travel plaza in Vinita, OK, will still be there. But the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority announced this week it will spend $14.6 million to take the rest of the building that spans the width of the Will Rogers Turnpike down to its structural steel.
“We’ll take it down to the bridge structure and leave the arches as well, but everything else will be brand-new,” OTA spokesman Jack Damrill said. “It really hasn’t received a total renovation since it was built in 1957. Small ones have occurred. The last significant one was in 1987, and it just added some coats of paint. It’s never really been rebuilt since it was built in ’57. Unfortunately, age has caught up with it.”
The site was originally opened as a pancake house operated by the Howard Johnson hotel chain. Its current occupant, a McDonalds franchise, has been there since at least the mid-1980s.
The destination is the first place many westbound travelers stop upon entering Oklahoma, and Damrill said the state’s goal is to make the location more attractive to visitors.
“Early on, there were a few schools that held dances out there, and proms,” he said. “It was a destination point. We have it set up to hold gatherings and events in the new facility. It was really used as a big-time destination point for people to gather and eat and have civic functions out there.”
The OTA also hopes to upgrade the facility by adding an additional dining option. New fueling stations for both eastbound and westbound traffic will offer diesel for the first time. The building will also be equipped with new insulated windows and a new HVAC system.
Damrill said the renovations will also address the most common complaint from visitors. Lack of restrooms.
“Lack of restroom facilities is probably the number-one complaint we get,” he said. “There’s not very many upstairs and with the amount of traffic, that’s always our biggest complaint. We’ll be adding a significant amount of restrooms in the new facility.”
Plans also call for ground-floor restrooms.
Timberlake Construction of Oklahoma City was awarded the bid. Damrill estimates the facility will be closed for one year while the renovations take place. During that time, portions of I-44 will also be shut down.
“We will have to close down two lanes at a time as they tear down and build back the structure,” he said. “Because this is over the road, it’s not an easy demolition. They’ll tear half down. Then shift to the other side. We will have head-to-head traffic just in this portion of the area. We just don’t know how difficult the teardown will be once we get in there.”