After failing to negotiate a purchase price with the owners of several lots west of Chesapeake Energy Arena, the Oklahoma City Council authorized city staff to file an eminent domain claim with a vote on March 18.
The timing of the vote is one that Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid finds ironic.
“The city, in my opinion, purposely delayed this and the fact that they couldn’t agree on the land price until after the mayoral election,” Shadid said.
Shadid, who challenged Mayor Mick Cornett for the mayoral seat this year, made the Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS 3) convention center project a central part of his campaign. Shadid argued that a new convention center was not a good idea for the city, and he believes movement on the convention center was delayed until after the March 4 election.
Shadid said an intentional effort was made to ignore a convention center study and the need for eminent domain proceedings because it would have brought attention to his campaign. He also accused local of media of going along with the effort.
“We’ve known for three years where we are going to put the convention center, so what’s the delay?” Shadid pushed.
City officials working with the convention center process say the release of a new study and the timing of the eminent domain decision were not delayed. In fact, David Todd, program director of MAPS 3, said the convention center project was ahead of schedule.
“The city made an offer [on the land] months ago, but we were kind of waiting on [the property owners] to respond,” Todd said.
The mayor’s office said it had no involvement in the timing of convention center studies or land acquisition attempts.
“The mayor’s office doesn’t play a role in that type of timing,” said Steve Hill, Cornett’s chief of staff. “To the best of our knowledge, politics did not play a part [in the timing].”
Support for convention center, not hotel
In a News9/Oklahoma Gazette poll of Oklahoma City residents conducted this year, questions were asked about the public’s support for MAPS 3 and the convention center project.
Fifty-four percent of residents surveyed said they either strongly support or somewhat support using MAPS 3 funding to build a new downtown convention center. Thirty-eight percent were somewhat opposed or strongly opposed. The poll received responses from 980 residents with a margin of error at 3.13 percent.
However, when it came to using public funds to help construct a new convention center hotel, 71 percent were somewhat opposed or strongly opposed.
The city council has authorized The PFM Group, an investment advisory firm, to continue with a study into what public incentives might be needed to develop a convention center hotel, which some believe is necessary to draw needed convention business. The firm’s managing director, Tom Morsch, told the city council last month that the study will advise on whether or not a hotel might need public assistance.
“The task is now to take the study and take a look at the convention center as a whole and determine if a subsidy would be needed,” Morsch told the council. “We will look at the various ways communities do subsidies for convention centers.”
Shadid has been critical of using public incentives for a hotel and said market demand should drive its construction.
“If what they are saying is true, that there is going to be as much [convention center] demand as they say, you would have private hotel companies coming here and trying to be first in line to build,” Shadid said.
The city council has not implied which way it would be willing to go concerning tax dollars for a hotel, and Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer said she believed more study was needed.
“We’ve all talked around the fringes of this,” Salyer said. “I don’t feel that I know enough to make that type of decision right now.”