VINITA, Okla. — The earliest reviews of the updated Vinita Service Plaza are starting to come in unofficially, and they all feature the same themes: The plaza is now clean. It's modern. And it's certainly an improvement over what was there before.
The service plaza that spans the Will Rogers Turnpike reopened earlier this week after being closed for 1 1/2 years to give the structure a complete makeover. Formerly known as the Glass House, the plaza was constructed over the interstate in 1957 and recently underwent a $15 million renovation.
The arch, the interior of which was opened and is now more energy efficient than it was previously, contains McDonald's and Subway restaurants; Kum & Go operates convenience stores and fueling stations on both sides of the highway. There is also a small gift shop, a statue of Will Rogers and several television screens and informational panels recapping Rogers' life.
The service plaza was bustling Friday morning as holiday travelers took breaks to rest, eat and snap photos of the Rogers statue and a wire car art piece hanging from the arch ceiling.
It's too soon for officials to know how many visitors the service plaza has seen this week, said Jack Damrill, director of communications for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority. He said he expected a light crowd in the days before Christmas, but perhaps a more steady flow of traffic this weekend as motorists return home from their holiday travels.
Damrill also said the turnpike authority hasn't received any comments from motorists so far, and that it would likely be a month or two before feedback starts to trickle in.
"I think the feedback can be nothing but positive, considering where we were," he said.
Kimberly Gonzalez, of Sedalia, Missouri, stopped at the plaza on her way to Texas to visit her sister. She snapped a selfie in front of the large glass windows looking out onto the interstate and browsed the gift shop.
"I like it, and it's clean," she said, of her first impressions of the structure. "I'm glad they put the money and time into it."
Celia Brenston, of Normal, Illinois, also was en route to Texas when she took a break at the plaza. She said she was impressed by the amount of seating available in the dining area, plus the addition of Subway to the restaurant lineup.
Brenston also said she liked that there were a number of available outlets that people could use to recharge their electronic devices. The only thing she would change, she said, is to add a play area for young children.
"It's nice and fresh," she said. "They did a good job with it."
David Johnson, of St. Paul, Minnesota, is normally in a hurry when he's making deliveries while on the road. But he had a bit more free time Friday morning because he wasn't due in Los Angeles for a few days yet, so he spent several minutes inside the plaza, reading up on the life of Will Rogers.
"I'd heard the name before, but I didn't know much about him," he said.
Hayley Whipp, of Edmond, was traveling to Branson, Missouri, with family when they took a break at the plaza. Whipp's 3-year-old cousin, Kaylynn, particularly liked the statue of Rogers, with his lasso high in the air.
Whipp said she had stopped at the plaza in years past, and that the renovated building was an improvement over the small, cramped facility of her memories.
"I definitely remember it wasn't this nice, for sure," she said.
Damrill acknowledged that the service plaza wasn't very clean and open prior to its renovation. He said the plaza vendors' current leases require them to maintain certain cleanliness standards.
He also said some minor work, mostly punch-list items, remains to be done before the turnpike authority moves to its next project — rebuilding the service plaza at Walters, Oklahoma, on the H.E. Bailey Turnpike.
"We're just kind of glad that it's over and motorists can finally enjoy the structure," Damrill said.