Oklahoma City council and mayor vote on a MAPS 4 slate tomorrow that includes all 16 proposals with formal presentations at the special meetings.
Allocations are based on an estimate that the temporary 1-cent sales tax will generate $978 million in revenue. If passed by council, the package goes to a Dec. 10 vote for OKC residents. If passed by residents, the tax begins April 1 and would last eight years.
“I think everything we’ve done here is certainly transformational. You always wish you could do more with everything, but we think we’ve definitely created a package here where everything is funded at a level where it can dramatically change that particular subject area that it’s addressing in our city,” mayor David Holt said. “You have a package here that’s very broad, that meets a lot of different priorities in the community. I think it falls into four buckets really: it’s neighborhood needs, human needs, quality of life and it’s jobs.”
The State Fair Coliseum, Innovation District, Chesapeake Arena and multipurpose stadium allocations account for 29.24 percent ($286 million) of the total estimated funds. Collectively, the other allocations ($692 million) make up 70 percent.
“That’s a total paradigm shift, but I think it’s responsive to where the people of Oklahoma City are in 2019,” Holt said.
The highest allocation of funds is $140 million for parks, followed by $115 million for Chesapeake Energy Arena upgrades and then $110 million for youth centers.
Throughout the process, Holt has repeatedly stated that he wanted MAPS to be inclusive and transparent. In an Oct. 11, 2018 video, Holt requested ideas for MAPS. Though the results were never explicitly revealed to the public, Holt said during his January State of the City address that they had received over a thousand submissions. He listed about 20 ideas that had “even the base level of credibility,” though at that point Freedom Center and Diversion Hub were not mentioned but a “world-class aquarium” downtown was.
“As I went through the spring, I was listening, listening to the public and listening to the councilmembers most of all,” Holt said. “The nine elected officials are ultimately the decision makers at every step of the way, and so I worked up this presentation schedule that seemed to me to reflect the council’s priority. Ultimately, that was their choice to adopt it — our choice, I should say, as an elected body to adopt it as we did in an open meeting. … Things that didn’t really have sufficient support on the council to move forward just didn’t move forward.”
Holt said it “was fairly heavily implied” that projects not formally listed as agenda items on any of the four special meetings were going to have a “hard time” making the package. He said he wanted everything in the final package to have that level of public vetting.
“I could play with the numbers like anybody else could. I mean, I could see that that was possible, you know, like it was mathematically possible that they could all get in, but I also knew that they needed to withstand public scrutiny,” he said. “I think everything made its point. I found it was interesting that even things that maybe had a segment of the community that were naysayers sort of, at least partially, won them over through their presentations.”
One of the projects that didn’t have a formal presentation was a downtown aquarium proposal, which he listed in January as still being a part of the MAPS conversation. Holt said the idea did not really have any big advocates on the council or from the public, so it didn’t advance.
“It did not get a lot of traction with council and really with the public,” Holt said. “I don’t know that there’s any specific moment where you could say it didn’t move forward, but it never seemed to have the support necessary from any elected official or from the public at large to be a part of MAPS.”
Though it did not have a formal presentation, Ward 7 councilwoman Nikki Nice had someone present the project under the item “other items brought forward by councilmembers” at the final meeting Aug. 6.
Ward 6 councilwoman JoBeth Hamon said her experience with the project has not been as open and transparent as it has been made out to be. Around April or May, Hamon said she was presented with a rough sketch of what the numbers would look like for “pretty much all of the projects that got onto” the special meetings’ agendas.
"So my concern is we talked about having a truly open and transparent process when that’s just not totally been my experience." — JoBeth Hamon
“Since that point, the only numbers that have kind of shifted around have been those numbers that are kind of at that neighborhood and human needs bucket,” she said. “As it relates to the number for the [Chesapeake] arena, the multipurpose stadium and the State Fair arena, those numbers haven’t really changed since the original numbers that were presented for me. So my concern is we talked about having a truly open and transparent process when that’s just not totally been my experience.”
Holt has also repeatedly stated that MAPS is a compromise, which Hamon agrees with. But she believes neighborhood and social needs suffered through that compromise much more than things like the multipurpose stadium.
“Every democratic process involves compromise, but to me, the folks that compromise before they even got to the negotiating table were the sidewalks, the transit, the housing proposal,” Hamon said. “The power dynamic between the State Fair Arena or the Chesapeake Arena are not the same thing as the dynamics of compromise for affordable housing or transit.”
Despite touting transparency, a Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce poll gauging the popularity of the MAPS projects has never been made public. Holt reconciles his calls for transparency with a private poll because he said polls don’t determine everything.
“To me, polling is interesting, and I’m not saying it’s irrelevant, but it’s not like you just poll everything and you just pick the 16 most popular things,” Holt said. “I don’t think anyone would ever say that a decision was made in its totality based on a poll. … In this context, things that didn’t move forward and aren’t in this package were ultimately viewed as not important and critical to the future of our city as the things that are. Or maybe they’re not a good fit for MAPS for any reason.
“I don’t think the polls, polling and people getting to see polls as if there’s some, I don’t know, mythical formula that is calling the shots — I don’t know. I mean, I don’t have any polls; I just see polls. People like to show the mayor polls, and that’s fine. If I had polls, I’d share them with people, but I just see polls and I say, ‘Thank you,’ and I find it interesting analysis. And I think enough polls have leaked to the public that I think validate polls I have seen that didn’t leak to the public, so I don’t think there’s anything really, you know, that people don’t really know already.”
In an Aug. 22 tweet, Holt wrote that “the proposals made to council scientifically poll very high individually & as a package.”
Hamon said people have expressed their frustration for attending special meetings, which all lasted upward of five hours, and feeling like they were pointless. She was told in personal conversations with the mayor and other councilmembers that they didn’t want to give people a false sense of hope. Despite not seeing the chamber of commerce’s poll herself, Hamon said they did base decisions on their popularity. Holt communicated any polling to her, and she said “even that was still fairly selective.”
“There were other things that weren’t polling as well, but we asked them to present a smaller number, and so they were still included,” she said. “That’s the piece where it did feel like a certain extent like, ‘OK, these are the projects that are going to get included at some level.’ … I can say when we originally talked about the transit number and brainstorming, we were really talking more in the [$120 million] range, and that got pulled down to [$87 million] after other projects kind of came forward as having a lot of public push and support.”