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Some OKC entities stand to benefit in a MAPS 3 proposal


Scott Cooper July 23rd, 2009

The public wants transportation addressed. The Greater Oklahoma City Chamber wants a new convention center. The Oklahoma City Council wants a new park. Can all three be accommodated? Oklahoma...

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requested the entire study, Marcus Elwell, the chamber's public relations coordinator, said "in order to do the study we had to sign non-disclosure agreements with competitor cities and facilities preventing us from releasing their data and the full study."

When will the full study be released?

"It is not something that has been discussed since the initial release of the executive summary," wrote Elwell. "If a redacted study is made available in the future, I'll make sure we get you a copy."

Gazette filed an open-records request for all studies and reports conducted or obtained by the city concerning a new or renovated convention center, but the full report remains behind closed doors.

"I'm just saying that the convention study is the chamber's to release," said Kristy Yager, the city's public information and marketing director. "We don't own it."

Eventually, Gazette was allowed to look at the full study but could not make any copies and was discouraged from taking notes. Among some of the items found include operating costs of Cox Convention Center and other convention centers across the country.

The study reported Cox Convention Center has been operating at an annual loss of $3 million. The study also reported about a dozen convention centers in cities similar to Oklahoma City, with new or renovated centers, have also been in the red with operating costs.

ARMS RACE A presentation at the roundtable showed how cities across the country are building new convention centers or expanding existing facilities to attract bigger and better conventions. Chamber Executive Director Roy Williams said building a new convention center isn't just about keeping up with the Joneses.

"The problem is we are not in a position right now to where our business can be sustained," he said. "Conventions are not coming here because we don't have the infrastructure " the ceiling, the floor, the access in terms of unloading stuff " so we are not at the starting point for competition."

The price tag for Oklahoma City to compete with the big boys ranges from $250 million to $400 million. That could eat up most of MAPS 3, with a city park and transit getting table scraps.

The City Council was presented with two options concerning a convention center: The first is to build a new facility that would almost double the size of the Cox Convention Center at a new location and cost around $250 million. After previous MAPS expansions, Cox has exhibition space of 100,000 square feet " the proposed new convention center would have at least 200,000 square feet.

The second option is to go ahead and splurge for an even larger, new convention center costing at least $400 million with 300,000 square feet of exhibition space.

"I am personally in favor of (the first) option, with the ability to add on in the future, than I am to (the second) option," Salyer said. "Those (remaining) dollars can go a long way in the transit packet."

Bowman believes the smaller option is winning the debate.

"I would say that (option) generally has traction with the council," he said.

Williams said going with the smaller option would help the city move up to the next level of competition, according to the consultants.

BUILD IT There is one person who would like to inform the Oklahoma City Council and residents that a new convention center may not be the answer: Heywood Sanders, a researcher with the University of Texas at San Antonio. He has studied the move by cities to construct mega-convention centers since the 1980s and would differ from the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber's consultant conclusion.

"The reality is, there has been a huge increase in the amount of supply (convention space) over the last 10 to 15 years," Sanders said. "Does that mean you get any more business? And the answer in general is "

 
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