ds because it’s such a heavily used venue. You walk around out there and say, ‘We can do better than this.'”
State Fair Park president and general manager Tim O’Toole said the city is losing out on business because the existing buildings are getting too old. Of the five buildings used for shows and exhibits, the newest one was built in 1983 and some are more than 50 years old. O’Toole also mentioned the problem exhibitors have expressed about not being in one building.
“The vendors and exhibitors are convinced that people don’t make it to all the buildings,” he said. “Human nature takes over, and if the weather takes over, they wind up in one. We also have shows that might grow. Right now they can’t grow.”
The fairgrounds’ largest exhibition building is Cox Pavilion with 70,000 square feet. O’Toole said he needs a building with 300,000 square feet.
“We have about 300,000 square feet, but we are not under one roof.”
MAPS 3 money dedicated to the fairgrounds is just one of the problems Oklahoma City Ward 5 Councilman Brian Walters has with the proposal. The only council member to vote against sending MAPS 3 to an election, Walters said the rationale that improvements are quickly needed for the fairgrounds is not a valid argument against spending wisely.
He believes projects like this are the result of the influence exerted by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber on city leaders.
“The chamber gets all this money, and yet, they can’t spend the people’s money fast enough,” Walters said. “It’s the chamber’s philosophy of privatizing revenues and socializing expenditures.”
With each approved MAPS project, the city tacked on a use tax that applies to businesses that make purchases out of state. If a company buys doors for its building out of state, it avoids paying a sales tax. In such cases, the use tax is applied and the company forks over the amount to the city.
The use tax has been put into effect four times since passage of the original MAPS in 1993, raising more than $82 million. The first MAPS use tax amassed more than $20 million over a five-year period. It was used for operating and maintenance expenses concerning the MAPS projects.
In 2000, the city established a police and fire sales tax fund. The use tax lasted nearly three years and paid for managing police and fire capital equipment projects.
The city again went to the use tax shortly after MAPS for Kids was enacted in 2002 and lasted until January of this year. Bringing in more than $49 million, the use tax funds provided a budget for capital improvements including replacement of public safety vehicles.
The last use tax levied came with the Ford Center improvements approved by voters in 2008 to lure professional basketball to Oklahoma City. The tax will expire next year and so far has generated more than $6 million to help with other costs associated with the Ford Center.
In October, Cornett said he would wait to hear from city staff as to whether a use tax will be needed with MAPS 3. City Manager Jim Couch also said that a use tax recommendation has been historically made after an election.
However, police and fire unions, upset that the city wasn’t addressing manpower needs, threatened to campaign against the proposal and formed a political action committee to raise funds for such a campaign.
With pressure mounting from the police and fire unions over new contract negotiations, Cornett held a press conference Nov. 12 to announce a use tax would be put into effect upon passage of MAPS 3, with the funds dedicated to public safety. Some would be used to hire 20 police officers, Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said.
“Traditionally, we wait until after passage, but we are seeing the confusion the unions are causing over MAPS by claiming passage would create public safety issues,” Cornett said. “But I think it’s the opposite, and we will have public safety issues if MAPS 3 doesn’t pass.”
But the offer didn’t appease the unions. The Not This MAPS Coalition, spearheaded by Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police and The Oklahoma City Firefighters Association Local 157, announced its formal opposition to MAPS 3 on Nov. 13.
“If Mayor Cornett was so interested in making certain public safety was part of MAPS 3, why did he wait until (Nov. 13) to talk about it?” asked Phil Sipe, coalition chairman and president of Firefighters Local 157.
“This MAPS proposal costs too much money for too many unneeded projects at a time when too many people are concerned about their own job