The name is the same, the funding method is the same, but everything else is quite a contrast from the first time the city undertook a massive public improvement project.
Oklahoma City leaders are in the middle of finalizing a proposal for another Metropolitan Area Projects, known as MAPS 3. The main ideas include a new convention center, a large downtown park and some form of improved city transportation. There are indications from the public, interest groups and members of the Oklahoma City Council that, depending on the final proposal, there could be a fight getting this MAPS approved by voters.
The first Oklahoma City mayor to push MAPS knows all about tough fights over public funding of city improvements. Ron Norick is the godfather of MAPS. It was his idea 16 years ago to transform downtown Oklahoma City with the use of an extra sales tax. Back then, he went into the project with a specific goal.
“During the process of working on the city budget at the time, it was apparent to me that we had no monies available for maintenance or long-term capital needs for any of the publicly owned buildings, baseball complex, Civic Center Music Hall, convention center, those types of things,” Norick said. “I knew we had to address those, and the downtown in general was suffering, people were going to the suburbs. You could shoot a cannon down the street, and it wasn’t going to hurt anybody.”
ONE-CENT SALES TAX
The one-cent sales tax, which lasted six years, helped build the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, a new downtown library, the Bricktown canal and the Ford Center, and renovate Cox Convention Center, known then as the Myriad. All of those original projects were connected for a single purpose.
“From early on, my focus was to put those projects geographically close to each other to create a synergy of activity for people,” Norick said.
Current Mayor Mick Cornett is trying to create his own synergy as he pushes the new MAPS proposal. This time, Cornett claims he is is relying more on the public to decide what needs should be met. Norick kept his ideas inside City Hall before getting the public’s input.
“Probably the first year was just working on it myself and a few people: closed-door, non-council people,” he said. “Then when I felt like we had a plan that was worth public discussion, then I turned it over to a council committee, and the council committee had public hearings and discussed it and brainstormed and see what people’s thoughts were. Based upon those meetings, we kind of finalized what the actual projects would be.”
‘PIE IN THE SKY’
But even after getting public input to seal the proposal, it was still a tough fight for Norick to get voter approval. Anti-tax and government leeriness always pop up when tax-increase elections are held. But Norick said that “pie in the sky” mentality was the hardest obstacle to overcome.
“It was more, ‘Do you think you can do this? Do you think it will really work?'” he said. “I spent all the time giving speeches and talking to every group that would listen to me. (I said,) ‘This is a grandiose plan. There is no doubt it’s large, but it’s one we’ve got to do if we want to protect our kids and our grandkids. If we sit and do nothing, I can tell you what the result will be: It’s going to dry up.’
“A lot of people just voted on faith, hoping it would work. People now view it as a very good thing, even though maybe at the time they voted for it they were somewhat skeptical the city could do it.”
Norick also believes concentrating the proposal in the downtown area helped with voters.
“We found early on through polling (that) people treat downtown Oklahoma City as their downtown. It’s not the north side, it’s not the south side, it’s their downtown. I think we would have a lot of opposition and would not have gotten passed if we had put it southwest or northeast. Or if we had scattered the buildings to all areas trying to make everybody happy, I think that could have been a problem.”
That is a major difference compared to today’s MAPS proposal. Several City Council members told Oklahoma Gazette if this MAPS is seen as another strictly downtown project, it could fail come election time, which is a point not lost on the current mayor.
“I think people generally care about two things: their neighborhood and their downtown,” Cornett said. “I think our downtown has great ‘buy-in.’ But I expect this MAPS project to be more widespread than the first one.” “Scott Cooper