Let me be specific concerning the details. First, Shadid refers to a study conducted by Convention, Sports & Leisure International for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. The councilmen, along with numerous members of the local media, have reviewed the full study in our offices.
The study does contemplate the need for a headquarters hotel as a companion to the convention center, but he reports the study finds, “No city in years had been able to develop one without massive taxpayer subsidies.”
The fact is, as one example, Austin, Texas’s new convention center hotel had no taxpayer subsidies outside of the city waiving its development fees.
He states that the subsidy needed for a hotel project in Oklahoma City is $100 million. The fact is that the work to determine the market, the demand and the potential subsidy hasn’t been done.
Shadid also claims that “polling showed overwhelming opposition of 75 to 80 percent” for convention center expansion. The fact is, our statistically valid polling of likely voters showed 33 percent opposition, which was the average for all of the MAPS 3 projects. He states we are “trying to reach the upper tier of convention center operations.” The fact is, the study contemplated how Oklahoma City can move from a tier three convention market to a tier two convention market. Top-tier cities have millions of square feet of exhibit space; our new center will have 200,000 square feet. We are not trying to compete with New York, Chicago or Las Vegas. We are simply trying to stay in step with Little Rock, Ark.; Louisville, Ky.; Omaha, Neb., and Tulsa.
Perhaps most disheartening is his dismissal of the hospitality industry in general and the potential the convention center has for our community. He cites national averages of conventions and trade shows plummeting, ignoring the fact that numbers in Oklahoma City are growing. He ignores the reality that we continually turn business away due to a lack of capacity.
Whether Shadid wants to believe it or not, this industry matters to our city and state. In Oklahoma County alone, the impact to our economy exceeds $2 billion annually, with more than 48,000 employees and more than $1 billion in payroll.
Visitors don’t just spend money here; they also become our most ardent fans. And attempts to diminish the extraordinary growth and potential of this economic sector should not be politicized.
The real truth is that the visitor economy is a huge resource for our city — both from the tax dollars and employment it provides to the impression people take home. Let’s make sure that doesn’t change.
Williams is president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.
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