The proposed $252 million convention center was to elevate Oklahoma City from a lower Tier 3 convention site to a higher Tier 2 site, said Roy Williams, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber CEO and MAPS 3 convention center subcommittee board member.
However, funding from the 1 percent MAPS 3 sales tax may not be enough to pay for a convention center that would bump the city up to a Tier 2 status, said Mike Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau and a subcommittee member.
The convention center budget has previously been a flash point between subcommittees for other MAPS 3 projects, members of the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board — which the subcommittees report to — and members of City Council.
Convention center subcommittee members expressed frustration last year when told that of the $280 million in MAPS 3 funds that were to be set aside for the convention center, $30 million of that amount was to pay for the relocation of an OGE substation near a proposed site for the convention center.
The subcommittee recommended a different location, and the question of what to do with the $30 million intended for the OGE substation removal went to the City Council in August 2011. The council, against the recommendation of the convention center subcommittee, voted to put the money in an infrastructure/contingency fund, leaving around $250 million for the convention center.
At the convention center subcommittee’s June 26 meeting, Williams said the original study identifying what it would take to elevate Oklahoma City to a Tier 2 site, would require a convention center with at least 200,000 square feet of exhibit space and 35,000 square feet of ballroom space, as well as more meeting spaces.
Carrier suggested that list of recommendations for a future consultant be amended to characterize the recommendations as guidelines, not requirements, and to give the consultant room to design the building to allow for future expansions.
“[This budget] probably will not get us where we would like to be,” he told the subcommittee. “I think that’s the reason we expressed concern in the way [the recommendations were] written to make sure [consultants] have the flexibility to maximize space and get as much as possible — square-foot-wise — at a quality level to compete with Tier 2 cities.”
Even if the square footage does not meet the study’s recommendations, said Carrier, it will still draw in more and bigger conventions.
“What we are talking about building in this program is going to increase the number of potential meetings we can go after, and it’s going to make it easier to do concurrent and consecutive meetings,” he said. “It probably is not going to get us to what we would really like to do or make it as easy as it could be, but it’s a big step in the right direction.”
In addition, Carrier said private-sector sponsorship of meeting rooms could allow more money to go toward more square footage, but those negotiations probably should happen after plans for the center are drawn up.
Subcommittee chairman and MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board Chair Tom McDaniel asked MAPS 3 consultant Mike Mize how the goal of Tier 2 status could still be achieved.
The question was greeted with an uncomfortable silence, prompting McDaniel to say, “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear what you said.”
Mize said the idea is to use the $252 million to get as far down the road to Tier 2 as possible and, after that, seeing if there is additional money from the city, private corporations or individuals.
“Is the budget sufficient to do what we originally conceptualized? The answer is we won’t meet the conceptual based on the budget. The budget is fixed,” Carrier said. “What they’re suggesting … provides about as much flexibility as we can have to get us as far down the road as we can go with the money we have.”
Both the amendments to the project requirements and the project requirements themselves passed unanimously, and were passed at the June 28 MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board meeting. The project requirements were to be considered at the July 3 City Council meeting.