Opponents sound off, but council expands convention center proposal 

click to enlarge The Cox Convention Center will be replaced with a new downtown convention center as part of MAPS 3. - FILE
  • File
  • The Cox Convention Center will be replaced with a new downtown convention center as part of MAPS 3.

The least popular and most expensive MAPS 3 project will receive more funding after the Oklahoma City council voted for an expanded version of a proposed convention center.

“I don’t know why this is the only project out of all of them that feels empowered (to ask for more money),” said Ward 4 councilman Pete White, who joined Ed Shadid in voting against the larger convention center. “This was the lowest percentage of favorite on the (MAPS3) ballot, yet it’s the one that we’re going to try and put more money in.”

The council voted to increase the price tag by $30 million, which actually replaces money that was taken out of the project budget a few years to pay for the relocation of an electrical substation. After it was determined that the substation would not need to be relocated, city staff recommended the $30 million be added back in.

AnOklahoma Gazette poll in 2009 found that just 26 percent of citizens support the convention center, the lowest favorability of all MAPS 3 projects, which also includes a whitewater facility, downtown streetcar and senior wellness centers.

The city’s current convention center has 153,000 square feet of rentable space, while a new convention center would have 235,000 square feet. However, the expanded version approved by council increases to 275,000 square feet.

“Based on the number of businesses we can call on right now with our current size, the expanded version increases that potential by 22 percent,” said Mike Carrier, president of the city’s convention and visitors bureau.

Shadid, who has regularly criticized the convention center project, said he was unconvinced that a bigger convention center would bring in more business, or at least not enough to warrant the additional cost. He also believed it was unwise for the city to commit extra funds before a judgment is made on the price to acquire the land.

At $280 million, the convention center is the most expensive MAPS 3 project and comes at a time when other cities have experienced lower than expected revenue from new convention centers. However, Oklahoma City’sprice tag is also much lower than those centers built in other cities and will be paid for without debt.

Despite opposition from some council members, the convention center has been approved by voters and is moving forward. However, the council is expected to discuss public funding options for a convention center hotel in the coming months, which is expected to create more debate on the council.

“It’s obvious that this council would agree to whatever,” when it comes to the convention center, White said.

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