Shadid claims city and Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce officials were not honest with voters before the 2009 MAPS 3 election, particularly with the convention center project and a related convention center hotel. The convention center could cost taxpayers an estimated $250 million, but the hotel would not receive MAPS 3 funding.
Voters approved the extension of the MAPS 3 one-cent sales tax in 2009, but not specific projects.
The citizens group on Jan. 2 filed two initiative petitions with City Clerk Frances Kersey. Shadid and supporters have 90 days to collect 6,000 signatures in order to place their proposals on a future election ballot.
The first petition would prevent MAPS 3 money from being spent on the construction of a convention center, while the second would shorten the amount of time a dedicated penny sales tax is collected for MAPS projects. Under the proposal, collection of the tax (equal to the $250 million cost of the convention center) would end July 1, 2015 instead of the planned Jan. 1, 2018.
City and chamber officials did not talk publicly about a convention center hotel prior to the December 2009 election. Only recently did city officials admit that a convention center hotel likely would require a substantial taxpayer subsidy, if not complete ownership by the city.
The subsidy could reach as high as $200 million, city council members have been told, and likely would need to be collateralized with the city’s general fund.
That type of financial arrangement would place the city and its general fund in a risky position, said Shadid, who is seeking the mayor’s post in the March 4 election.
However, Mayor Mick Cornett said in a recent television interview that no decisions have been made about a hotel subsidy.
“The case hasn’t been proven that we need to spend any public dollars yet,” he said.
Shadid counters that failure to disclose the link between the hotel and convention center before the 2009 election misled voters about the total cost of the MAPS 3 program.
“What does society do when elected officials charged with debating and discussing issues for the best interests of the public are derelict in their duty to adequately question high-risk investments in a transparent manner?” Shadid asked.
The convention center’s cost is nearly a third of the entire $777 million MAPS 3 budget.
An Oklahoma Gazette/NEWS 9 poll two months before the 2009 election showed the convention center was the least popular of the MAPS 3 projects among a majority of voters. The poll revealed 57 percent polled opposed investing $250 million in the downtown facility.
Protecting the public from bad decisions at the council level is the primary reason behind the petitions, Shadid said.
“If the people turn this (the initiative petitions) down, they have to realize they’re signing off on a $200 million hotel and probably another $50 million in parking that they were never told about,” he said.
The convention center project is in the early stages. No land has been purchased for the building.
Since the original MAPS plan was approved in 1993, city officials have touted the fact that all projects built in the last 20 years are debt-free because of the pay-as-you-go plan.
“But now, we’re being forced to borrow $200 million along with interest to build a convention center hotel,” Shadid said. “You’re risking everything, and nobody seems to understand the risk we’re talking about.”
City Manager Jim Couch declined to comment on the petitions or their potential impact on the MAPS brand. Cornett did not return a phone call for comment.
Triple play Before the 2009 election, Cornett said a new convention center would dramatically increase the number of conventions coming to the city.
“The opportunities we have with the convention center would allow us to triple the business we currently get from convention business,” Cornett said in a 2009 speech.
However, tripling current business is contingent on the construction of the $200 million hotel with 285,000 square feet of meeting and convention space, according to a 2009 study conducted by consulting firm Conventions, Sports & Leisure International (CSL).
The OKC chamber requested the study but has never publicly released the entire document.
“No city in America has been able to triple or even double the economic impact with a new convention center complex,” Shadid said. “Plus, they never say how they will triple the economic impact.”
According to the CSL study, construction of the hotel and convention center would increase convention revenue from $16.7 million to $45.6 million a year.
Oklahoma City’s council rejected an idea to request that the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce release a convention center and hotel report from 2009.
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid made the proposal at the Dec. 31 meeting, but the council nixed the suggestion by a 6-3 vote. Ward 4 Councilman Pete White and Ward 7 Councilman John Pettis, Jr. joined Shadid in their support of the measure. The study’s executive summary has been placed online, but the entire document is not easily available to the public, Shadid said.
The study, conducted by Convention, Sports & Leisure International (CSL), centered on the financial viability of a new convention center and a related hotel and how existing hotels would be affected and recommended a development plan. The report also suggests the Convention and Visitors Bureau, an offshoot of the chamber, would require an additional $3 million to $4 million in operating revenue to attract the larger national conventions.
“There is critical information in there that still is relevant, but hasn’t been shared with the public. It would show there are some structural obstacles to this plan of attracting national conventions like direct flights to Oklahoma City, the city infrastructure, transit from the airport and our weather, which is a big thing,” Shadid said.
Council members who opposed Shadid’s idea argued that information in the report was outdated and would serve no useful purpose in 2014. Chamber President Roy Williams said information contained in the report could not be used now because of changing economic conditions and prices.
However, White said the CSL study still is relevant five years later because it suggests the city should finance the hotel. The convention center will be paid for with MAPS 3 money.