MAPS 3 Convention Center site chosen 

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Drawing everyone from presidential candidates for the Southern Republican Leadership Conference to meteorologists for the National Weather Association’s annual meeting and teachers from across the state for EdCamp, Oklahoma City is a major convention city.

Cox Business Services Convention Center is the site of numerous state, regional and national meetings. Over the past year, 201 groups gathered for meetings and events, according to the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB).

That number will likely rise with the addition of a new, modern convention center.

“We continue to look forward to the addition of more space in the new convention center as we repeatedly are forced to pass up opportunities to bid on meetings larger than we can currently attract and concurrent meetings that require significant space,” the CVB’s annual report stated.

click to enlarge Cathy O'Connor during the Gazette interview at The Alliance offices, 2-12-2015. - MARK HANCOCK
  • Mark Hancock
  • Cathy O'Connor during the Gazette interview at The Alliance offices, 2-12-2015.

Public vote

Those involved in the convention and tourism industry aren’t the only ones awaiting contemporary, state-of-the-art space.

In 2009, Oklahoma City voters showed their support for expanding convention opportunities when they approved $777 million in MAPS 3 capital improvement projects. A new convention venue, proposed to replace the aging Cox Convention Center, landed $287 million of those sales tax dollars for land purchase and construction. Meanwhile, the older one continues to be booked.

Securing a venue site has proved more complicated than originally anticipated. Earlier this year, the Oklahoma City Council identified a location just west of Chesapeake Energy Arena. However, the price was more than the $13 million the city budgeted for land acquisition.

The search continued and might have concluded at the Oct. 13 council meeting, when the nod was given for staff to acquire land in an area called “East Park 1,” which runs SW Fourth to SW Seventh streets and encompasses land between S. Robinson Avenue and S. Shields Boulevard.

Mayor Mick Cornett said the selected site highlights the council’s commitment to building within budget and the land meets the expectations of residents.

“I think when you start to look at our current convention center and what the issues are … it needs to be bigger and it needs to be better,” Cornett said. “Every dollar we spend on land is not making it bigger or better. We want a site that would be easily accessible and keeps construction costs down.”

The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City leads the land acquisition process for the new convention center. The council approved eminent domain proceedings for properties within the site, but negotiations with property owners will take place first. The city owns some properties, including a former fire station, in that vicinity.

Cathy O’Connor, president of the alliance, said acquiring all parcels of land could take nine months.

“It has a great location along the [new] Oklahoma City Boulevard (SW Fourth Street),” O’Connor said about East Park 1. “It is adjacent to the new park. It is near the Myriad Botanical Gardens, the arena and Bricktown. It has a lot of advantage from a location perspective.”

Neighbors

Another advantage is the neighboring land, which could be developed for a convention center hotel. Separate from MAPS 3 projects, there has been much discussion surrounding the viability of building a convention center hotel.

Hotel land acquisitions will be led by the city’s Urban Renewal Authority and developed by a private developer, O’Connor said.

While the proposed site neighbors the new MAPS 3 downtown park, it will be a walk from a line stop for the modern streetcar, another MAPS 3 project. The previously nixed site was closer to a stop. The streetcar will begin in Bricktown and take passengers through downtown, into Automobile Alley and toward Midtown.

The Alliance for Economic Development joined city staff, the MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board, the convention center subcommittee and a consultant to locate convention center locations.

The East Park 1 site also calls for removal of an OG&E electrical substation. The city budgeted $30 million for the relocation, which is not included in the $13 million set aside for land purchase.

Two other sites considered for the convention center also were located near Chesapeake Energy Arena. Two of the three considered sites fell upon the electrical substation.

As land contracts come before the council, design information will follow. Convention center specifics are still being determined, although early indicators point to a facility double the size of the current venue.

Print Headline: Site check, Oklahoma City Council selects a convention center site and focuses on acquiring the properties within it.

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