At its regular Aug. 30 meeting, the council narrowly approved a MAPS 3 budget plan that put the $30 million into an infrastructure/contingency fund.
The plan was one of three proposals suggested by MAPS 3 consultant Architectural Design Group, which in July first presented to the MAPS 3 convention center subcommittee a plan to remove the $30 million from the convention center budget.
The $30 million conundrum simmered in the convention center subcommittee meetings, when members stated that reducing the convention center budget to $250 million rather than $280 million was a breach of the voters’ trust. MAPS Program Manager Eric Wenger said the $30 million was inserted into the convention center budget in anticipation of relocating the substation for the convention center in accordance with the Core to Shore plan.
The subcommittee disagreed with the ADG recommendation and forwarded to the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board its own recommendation, which put the money in the convention center budget. The advisory board passed the subcommittee’s recommendation on to the City Council.
The three plans ADG presented to the council were the convention center subcommittee’s plan to put the $30 million in the convention center budget; the company’s original recommendation of putting the $30 million in an infrastructure fund; and a third option of putting half the money in the convention center budget and half in the MAPS 3 park budget.
Most council members expressed support for the first two options, and the split-the-money approach was not considered.
Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan said he objected putting the $30 million in a contingency fund when, during the campaign, voters were promised a $280 million convention center.
“On any of the construction projects you’ve been associated with, has anybody at the end of the day said, ‘Hell, we made it too big?’” Ryan asked city staff. “I’ve done several projects, and I’ve never heard that comment. … It’s always been just the opposite.”
Ryan said only two options made sense.
We have a firm obligation to meet all the standards and projects we submitted to the voters.
“I think we only have two honorable choices: that’s to spend it on the convention center or give it back to the voters,” Ryan said. “We end MAPS three months early, and they get their $30 million back because we didn’t need it for the convention center as we intended. To spend it on other projects is disingenuous, and it chips away at the public’s trust in our City Council.”
Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer said she felt it was important to keep the money in reserve, in case any unforeseen events or circumstances arise with the projects.
“We have a firm obligation to meet all the standards and projects we submitted to the voters,” Salyer said. “But I don’t feel that at this moment in time that we have enough information in front of us to decide how these dollars should be spent. It may very well need to be spent on the convention center. We may discover things in the course of developing that site that require some of the money to go there. But we don’t know that yet.”
Each council member expressed their support or opposition to the plans before the vote, with the exception of Mayor Mick Cornett, who mostly remained silent and became the deciding vote on the issue.
Cornett has in the past defended using the $30 million to relocate the substation.
The plan to put the $30 million in the contingency fund passed 5-4, with Salyer, Ronald “Skip” Kelly, Ed Shadid, Pete White and Cornett supporting the measure, and Ryan, David Greenwell, Larry McAtee and Gary Marrs dissenting.
After the vote, City Manager Jim Couch said the MAPS 3 resolution did not have dollar amounts attached, although the campaign to pass the proposal did.
Couch said every MAPS program has had changes.
“In MAPS 1, there were all kinds of changes. In each project, the dollar amounts changed several times, and the location changed,” Couch said, citing the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, Chesapeake Energy Arena and Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library as examples. “In MAPS For Kids, we stopped in midstream and reallocated the funds and changed the whole project.
“I’m pretty sure there will be changes in MAPS 3 before we get to the very end of it.”
Photo by Mark Hancock