OKC's MAPS Is A Model Public Works Program

Monday, December 19, 2016

by Scott Beyer


There have been numerous failures throughout the history of public works initiatives, with different major U.S. cities subject to bureaucracy, graft and poor design. And then there's the program in Oklahoma City. Since 1993, the state capital has pursued multiple stages of its Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS), funding structures that have been credited with reviving the city. And it has done this the right way, following accounting principles that seem lost on bigger cities. Recently I visited some projects and spoke with officials who were instrumental behind MAPS, to hear what other cities could learn.

The MAPS program was first created to help save what was then a moribund city. Throughout the 1980s, Oklahoma City suffered an oil market crash, and into the early 1990s was having trouble attracting outside companies to fill the void. So the city, led then by mayor Ron Norick, tried MAPS. The program passed by public vote and dedicated revenue from a 1% sales tax increase towards numerous projects, focusing on quality-of-life amenities in the dilapidated downtown. During 5 years that the tax was in effect, it raised $363 million in revenue and interest, which went towards 9 projects, including a grand central library, the Oklahoma City Thunder's arena, a revived waterfront, and the famous canal project lined with historic warehouses.

Residents were pleased enough that they voted for a second MAPS in 2001. Named “MAPS For Kids,” the program, still in effect, dedicates $700 million towards 70 public schools, and hundreds of projects within them, ranging from new bus fleets to upgraded technology. And in 2009, voters added MAPS 3, which for $777 million will add another 8 initiatives, including neighborhood senior centers, walking trails, and a whitewater rafting facility.

According to Roy Williams, who has spent decades as an economic development official in U.S. cities, and is CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, MAPS differs from many other public works programs in two ways. The first is its high level of public orientation, and the second its sturdy fiscal status.

Read the full article here.