It's a matter of educating the public. That's the conclusion of Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett after examining an exclusive MAPS 3 poll sponsored by the Oklahoma Gazette and News 9. While a slight majority favored another extension of the city's 1-cent sales tax to pay for city improvements, some of the projects contained in the new proposal are not faring well with public opinion.
"I think it's generally positive and reflects what I asked the citizens to do, and that was to not jump to any conclusions and take two months to fully understand what these initiatives are about and why they will improve the quality of life," Cornett said of the poll results. "I think the citizens are willing to give us a shot. They remain to be convinced, but they are willing to be convinced."
The survey, conducted by Shapard Research, asked nearly 1,000 Oklahoma City residents their thoughts on a wide range of MAPS 3 issues, from the projects proposed to whether the sales tax should remain in effect.
The MAPS 3 initiative has been spurred by Cornett for more than two years and will be placed on the ballot for citizens to approve or reject on Dec. 8. The $777 million proposal contains eight projects and $17 million in contingency funds. It would take more than seven years to pay out.
The mayor and MAPS 3 supporters can take solace in the fact that a minor majority favor extending the sales tax, which was first approved by voters in 1993 for the original MAPS. It also helps that Cornett, the initiative's main cheerleader, boasts a 77-percent job approval rating.
But of the poll's MAPS 3 projects, only two received 50 percent support: outdoor improvements, like parks and trails, and constructing a streetcar system. That's something Jeff Bezdek, campaign director with the Modern Transit Project, was pleased to see.
"I'm proud of it because I think it shows that the work our citizens did in this campaign with a zero budget has really educated a large number of people as to the value of this streetcar and rail project would bring to the proposal," he said. "I was surprised that it rated above the (downtown) park. I thought the park would be easier to communicate as to the value of what it is, whereas transit is a much more complicated issue."
Four MAPS 3 projects received lower marks as to their worthiness: Development of a 70-acre downtown central park gained only 36 percent support, while the idea of a new convention center garnered only 27 percent support. When those polled were asked to pick from four additional MAPS options, improvements to the Oklahoma River earned 26 percent support. Adding State Fairgrounds exhibit pavilion space only received 11 percent.
Support for the convention center may be the toughest sell since it is the largest project in the proposal, $280 million, and one that residents may have a hard time understanding how it can help their lives. Cornett said he has seen polls in other cities, and here as well, showing a little more support for a convention center than the Gazette/News 9 poll, but that it is never highest on the list of the projects with support.
"I could understand why it would have less appeal than some of the other things," he said. "But I think people realize from an economic development standpoint, few items bring tourism because the definition of economic development is taking dollars from somewhere else and making something positive in your community."
The campaign has already kicked off to rally support, a process that includes spreading the word about what the projects do and why they are important. Cornett said he is at the "top of the information pyramid," and it will be his main task to educate the public. More than 80 percent polled said they do not have sufficient project information to make a final decision of support or opposition for MAPS 3.
"I think our organization exemplifies the power of educating fellow citizens," said the MTP's Bezdek, who has been lobbying city leaders for a better transportation system. "If people understand what the proposal is, they're able to make a sound decision about it. If it's too vague and they don't have a full grasp of what they are deciding on, they are probably going to vote no."
That's a point Cornett fully understands.
"Here's the challenge: We are going to have people that vote in December that will have all sorts of different levels of information," Cornett said. "Sometimes it's a one-minute conversation here, 15 seconds of a TV commercial here, it's 30 seconds of a clip they saw on TV, and they are going to gather all that in, and that is what they are going to use to vote.
"If I had 10 to 15 minutes to spend with each person, I'm convinced I would score an extremely high percentage of 'yes' votes. But we're not going to have that, so the challenge is the communication part."
The mayor has just more than two months to communicate a winning message. "Scott Cooper
More MAPS 3 coverage:
OKC voters exclusively share opinions on MAPS 3 options
Will OKC's decreased revenue change MAPS 3's final blueprint?
Former Mayor Ron Norick discusses how current MAPS proposal differs from first
Mayor prioritizes modern streetcar in OKC for MAPS 3
Some OKC entities stand to benefit in MAPS 3 proposal
MAPS 3 could bring massive central park to Downtown OKC area