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Shift happens


The convention center has moved to the front of the MAPS 3 pack, but not without some controversy.

Clifton Adcock July 13th, 2011

The Oklahoma City Council approved two major MAPS 3 measures at its July 5 meeting, despite requests to delay consideration of the items by a councilman unable to attend the meeting and harsh criticism from other council members.

The council narrowly approved a recommended and somewhat controversial project timeline for the MAPS 3 projects, and later approved a recommended site just south of the Myriad Gardens for the MAPS 3 Convention Center.

However, Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid, who was critical of the timeline when it was first brought up, was not in attendance because of a delayed flight after an international trip that he said had been planned for months.

Shadid told Oklahoma Gazette he was willing to purchase return tickets that would have gotten him as close as Dallas, and driven from there to get back in time for the meeting, but was assured that the items would probably be deferred for two weeks upon his request.

However, during the meeting, that request was rejected by a vote of 5-2, with Councilmen Pete White and Skip Kelly being the only two “yes” votes.

The rejected deferral request set the stage for allegations that the timeline was a product of political pressure from the convention center subcommittee at the expense of other projects.

Shadid later said he was shocked to learn after his flight landed that his request had been rejected, and would have returned had he known the vote would take place.

‘Slippery slope’
In the first timeline presented by consultant Architectural Design Group, the convention center was to be the last project completed in 2021, but later gave several options that moved the center up.

The construction plan approved by the council July 5 moves the completion date up to 2018, effectively jumping ahead of other MAPS 3 projects, like the 70-acre central park and streetcar project.

The convention center location just south of the Myriad Botanical Gardens had been selected by the convention center subcommittee after going through a long list of other locations. The recommendation was approved by the Citizens Advisory Board and sent to the council, who approved it 6-1, with White dissenting.

But the real fight comes with the timeline and the vote itself. During the meeting, White explained that Shadid had asked that the items be deferred for two weeks until the next meeting, but the request was met with disapproval from other members of the council.

Councilwoman Meg Salyer also was absent, but had requested that the items not be deferred, said Mayor Mick Cornett.

“I think it’s a slippery slope to start deferring items based simply on the fact that a councilperson who can’t be here wants it,” Cornett said. “I think we ought to be clear about why we’re doing it. If that’s going to be justification on itself, I think that sets a precedent going forward that’s going to be tougher to deal with on an individual basis.”

Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan and Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs also expressed concern with deferrals.

“We can’t continually put it off (because there’s) no guarantee someone else won’t be gone,” Ryan said. “The longer this thing dangles in front of the community, the more the community feels there is a division on this council that they should be concerned about.”

City Manager Jim Couch said city staff were anxious to see the timeline passed so they could proceed with the projects, but that a two-week delay would not cause serious complications.

White and Kelly both said items have been deferred in the past, and that it would be a professional courtesy to defer the vote and to maintain civility.

“I’m not as concerned we enter a slippery slope in terms of continuances, because I think all of us would resist continuances simply for the purpose of delay,” White said. “But I think if there’s a valid reason, like someone has made every effort to be here and can’t be here ... I might take that personally.”

The votes to defer the items both failed 2-5.

‘$50 million elephant’
During discussion on the timeline, White blasted the process that brought the timeline about by not allowing the other projects’ subcommittees to discuss the timeline and weigh in on how it affected their projects before it was passed by the Citizens Advisory Board.

“This is just an effort to jam it right to the front — as far to the front as it can — and all these sophisticated arguments and ratings and rankings and all that stuff are just so much window dressing to move the whole idea to the front of the line,” White said to ADG’s Mike Mize. “I’m sick of it. ... It is a mistake on the part of the city from a public policy standpoint. One subcommittee had the opportunity to do that, say that, and the result is you, your company, shoved everything else aside and figured out a way to make that happen. I guess you know who’s writing your paycheck.”

White said the decision was made on the basis of how much political clout is held by the members of the convention center subcommittee, which includes Devon Energy Executive Chairman Larry Nichols, John D. Williams of Williams & Associates Hospitality, Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams and former Mayor Kirk Humphreys.

“One thing has changed: The subcommittee for the convention location system has the most powerful people in Oklahoma City on it, and they are moving it forward at the expense of everybody else,” White said.

Both White and Kelly said a convention center hotel, which likely will require some public incentives, is the “$50 million elephant in the room,” and White said the recently formed nonprofit group contracting with the city, the Alliance for Economic Development, was likely a vehicle to obtain a hotel.

“Now it all starts to come clear why the rush to do the Alliance was made. It’s to find a way to finance a $50 million hotel so you can build a convention center,” he said. “Too many things happened … without what I consider to be an open process for that all to be a coincidence.”

The two of the three people listed as incorporators of the Alliance — Nichols and John Williams — sit on the convention center subcommittee.

Kelly said he felt the economic development projects such as the convention center were taking precedence over quality-of-life projects such as trails and sidewalks, which garnered most of MAPS 3’s citizen support. He also said if there are cost overruns at the end of the program, it will be those projects that the council may have to seek public support to finish.

The vote to move the convention center timeline up passed by a vote of 4-3, with Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell joining Kelly and White in dissenting.

Shadid told the Gazette he was surprised to learn that the deferral was denied, and that he has concerns about the timeline, the convention center’s location and the composition of the convention center subcommittee.

“I cannot understand the composition of the subcommittee,” Shadid said. “Some of them knew that for this to be viable, the public would have to subsidize a hotel; they withheld that information during the MAPS 3 campaign. So as a reward, we put them in the convention center subcommittee. Many of them are heavily invested in land in downtown. Whether it’s conscious or subconscious, that introduces an element of bias.”

Shadid also echoed Kelly, saying he believes the timeline puts other projects more popular with the public at the back because cost overruns may require the city to ask voters to extend the sales tax.

“We’ve already said were not going to do that,” he said. “Now it’s just a question of how much is going to get scaled back. Whoever is at the end of the timeline is almost certainly going to face budget shortfalls.”

 
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