A Gathering Place for Us and Them
There has been a lot of conversation in our community lately about the construction of the new convention center, particularly regarding the timing and where it should fall within the list of projects. A frequent theme in the conversations is that we should build the other projects first because the convention center doesn't contribute to our quality of life in Oklahoma City. I would argue that quite the opposite is true. And my argument is based on factual data, not on my personal opinion.
While a convention center is no doubt an important economic driver and generator for the visitor industry, there is much more to what a convention center brings to Oklahoma City. Since 1972 the Myriad, now the Cox Convention Center, has been our community's meeting place. It is where we celebrate with events like graduations, banquets and concerts. It is where we feed the hungry each year at Thanksgiving. It is where we meet to talk about business, or hold a prayer breakfast or even mourn our losses, as we did recently for Clara Luper. In fact, if you look at attendance and revenue numbers for the Cox Center, you would find that two-thirds of all attendees at the convention center (340,000 of the total 520,000) are "us", not out-of-town visitors.
Our community is growing fast, and this new convention center will serve as our city's living room and dining room – where our family gathers and also where we host our guests. Each is vitally important to our city. Let's not put this off because it is for "someone else." Let's build this convention center for ourselves – for the events we will share there, and for the economic benefit it will bring our city through visitor spending, more jobs in the visitor industry and a larger tax base.
The first MAPS initiative was not a success just because it built quality of life for residents. Yes, that was undoubtedly critical – but it was also a success due to increased investment and additional quality of life amenities that were attracted through private investment. The convention center brings us a quality of life amenity and a tremendous economic generator. That is a goal we can all support. This is a win-win: a win for economic development and a win for our quality of life.