Monday, January 6, 2014
Without the Metropolitan Area Projects, Oklahoma City would not have an NBA team, an Olympic training center, a canal through an entertainment district or a first-rate ballpark. And without those, the city probably would not have a standard of living sufficient to attract and hold a workforce for Devon, Chesapeake, Dell, Continental Resources, or any of the other companies whose payrolls and taxes have fueled the economic comeback. It cannot be coincidental that the Devon tower, the new building that will house OG&E, and the still-secret plans for Nick Preftakes’ property just west of Devon will be on the perimeter of the MAPS 3 projects. Those plans include a 70-acre downtown park and a new convention center.
The convention center is a critical part of the plan. Most Oklahoma City tourism, which brings with it high hotel/motel occupancy taxes and a lot of food and beverage spending, is generated by convention and horse show participants. Voters approved, at the urging of hotel owners, a hike in the occupancy tax to upgrade State Fair Park to ensure the vitality of the local horse show industry. There is a similar need to replace the Cox Convention Center, which opened in 1972. A new convention center, like the State Fair Park improvements, is necessary just to keep existing tourism business.
City Councilman and mayoral candidate Ed Shadid wants to see the planned convention center scuttled because he’s not sure voters were aware that a new hotel to go with it might have to be subsidized by taxpayers. He might be right, although MAPS 3 proponents argue the issue was clear when the vote was taken.
The problem is that Shadid missed his chance. The time to object to a new convention center was in 2009, when the proposition was put to voters. But when Shadid ran for office, he claimed to be in favor of the improvements, writing in campaign literature that MAPS 3 “should be completed as it was promised to voters, with maximum transparency, honesty and public deliberation.” Since deciding to run for mayor, Shadid has objected to the streetcar project and now the convention center.
Whether details of the hotel component were clear enough is subjective. But the need for a new convention center is clear, and the effort to quash it is not in the city’s best interest.