The subcommittee unanimously selected the site, located at the former Bob Howard Downtown Ford dealership, after several members attacked a consultant’s report on site costs, with subcommittee member Larry Nichols calling it “nonsense.”
Meanwhile, under a timeline approved by the convention center subcommittee, almost every other large-scale MAPS 3 project would be pushed back to the end of the program in order to move up construction of the convention center.
Both recommendations first must be approved by the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board, to which each MAPS 3 subcommittee reports, at its May 26 meeting and then by the City Council.
The subcommittee whittled down the top three sites to east Bricktown, and two sites recommended in the 2008 Core to Shore plan: Core to Shore North (the former Bob Howard location) and Core to Shore South (south of the Oklahoma City Arena and east of the MAPS 3 park site).
Populous, the consultant hired to weigh each site, gave the Core to Shore North site the best overall score. However, when it came to building costs per square foot, several subcommittee members objected to Populous’ cost estimates for the south site, raising the issue of $30 million set aside for the relocation of an OGE substation situated in what was to be the Core to Shore South site.
Mayor Mick Cornett said in an April workshop between the MAPS Citizens Advisory Board and the City Council that the $30 million in MAPS 3 money was always intended to go toward moving the substation and was simply factored into the cost of the convention center, since it was assumed, based on the 2008 report, that it would be located in that area. However, if the convention center is not located on the south site, MAPS Program Manager Eric Wenger said the project would be $250 million, rather than the original $280 million noted in the MAPS 3 campaign.
In the subcommittee, Populous presented the estimates, which ranged from $31 to $21 per square foot for three of the options. However, the cost for the Core to Shore South was $4 per square foot.
The consultants stated to the subcommittee that utility relocation costs were not factored into the Core to Shore South site estimate, setting off a flurry of denunciations from subcommittee members.
“That project was never mentioned publicly or to the voters of the project, to be fair,” former mayor and subcommittee member Kirk Humphreys said. “What was put into promotional literature was $280 million. The $30 million, to quote the mayor, was a figure too small to get anyone to pay attention. Guess what? I suggest we pay (attention) to $30 million here.”
Wenger said the substation is budgeted as a separate cost.
“Eric, that is really gullible to say that that is a separate project. It’s a cost. You’ve got to move that utility. How come on one site you consider all the costs, but on (another) one, it’s a separate project?” Nichols asked.
Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said the project was never presented as anything other than a $280 million convention center during the Chamber’s MAPS 3 campaign.
The row over the substation may come to a head before the end of next month. Wenger said it’s likely the issue will go before the City Council in June.
Meanwhile, the preliminary timeline presented to all subcommittees had all projects except for the convention center being completed by the end of 2019.
The convention center, the most expensive item, was to have a two-year gap in between land acquisition in mid-2014 and construction planning in 2016, with completion set for mid-2021.
However, that timeline met stiff resistance when presented to the convention center subcommittee, and some advisory board and City Council members expressed concern that it was the last project to be completed, although it has one of the highest economic impacts.
A revised timeline was requested, and at the May 10 meeting, Architectural Design Group presented the subcommittee with several options.
Even tweaking the convention center timeline pushed back final project completion of three projects: the streetcar, the park and Oklahoma River improvements.
Pushing up the planning phase further delayed other projects, according to ADG, which presented the subcommittee with six different options for speeding up the convention center planning.
ADG recommended one of the 2014 timelines; the subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend the 2013 timeline to the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board.
By starting planning on the convention center in 2013, it should be completed by mid-2018, and would follow MAPS 3 improvements to trails, sidewalks and the fairgrounds, in terms of completion order.
However, it would also push back all work on the MAPS 3 central park, other than land acquisition, until the first quarter of 2019, including work on the upper park, which is to be located between the relocated Interstate 40 and the future boulevard.
Under the timeline passed by the convention center subcommittee, the upper park would not be completed until the end of 2020, and the lower park would be completed in the first quarter of 2021.
Humphreys said the city has not responded to changes that occurred since the Core to Shore plan, and putting the park at the end would help it develop in ways it could not under a shorter timeline.
“I think the park would be greatly helped by putting it as far back in the process as possible,” he said. “As it relates to the park, time is on their side. Time will benefit the park. If we build the park, if we build it now, they won’t come.”
Wenger said council members have advised they wanted to see the upper park open at the same time as the boulevard, and that pushing back work on the upper park could affect other projects, such as the SkyDance pedestrian bridge, which will span the realigned Interstate 40.
Also under the proposed timeline, the modern streetcar would have about a two-and-a-half-year gap between planning and construction; river improvements would have almost four years of inactivity between construction and its final stages; and completion of the senior wellness centers would be delayed by almost two years. The new timeline probably will not be presented to all of the other MAPS 3 subcommittees prior to its consideration by the Citizens Advisory Board on May 26, Wenger said.