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MAPS 3 proposals almost ready for Oklahoma voters

MAPS 3 proposals almost ready for Oklahoma voters

MAPS 3 proposals almost ready for Oklahoma voters


LIKELY PROJECTS INCLUDE PUBLIC TRANSIT, CONVENTION CENTER AND DOWNTOWN PARK

BY BRYAN DEAN - Oklahoman

Published: September 14, 2009

Voters should get their first look at the city’s MAPS 3 proposal within two weeks, Mayor Mick Cornett said.

Oklahoma City residents likely will get to vote on the proposal in December. The proposal will include public transit improvements, a new convention center and a large downtown park, Cornett said.

"I expect there to be more projects, but the bulk of it is going to be those three,” he said.

"I don’t think we’re going to stray too far from what most people would consider the MAPS brand with capital projects and a tax over a specific length of time. But the city is a different place now, and I think the proposal will reflect the changes the city has made.”

Whether those transit improvements will include better bus service, light rail, a modern streetcar or some combination of the three will be among the details city officials release at a news conference within two weeks, Cornett said. The cost of the proposal and length of the sales tax also will be announced.

Former mayor agrees
Former Mayor Ron Norick, who led the campaign for the original MAPS projects, said all three of the expected MAPS 3 projects make sense as a next step for downtown.

Norick said he tried to get a rail system included in the original MAPS and sees real possibility in improved transit. He also blessed a new convention center, as the Cox Convention Center will be more than 40 years old by the time the new one would open.

Norick said the new Interstate 40 Crosstown Expressway will leave a large open space south of downtown, and a large park will be a much better welcome to the city for visitors than empty lots.

"The city can either go forwards or backwards, but it can’t stay still,” Norick said. "You’ve got to keep moving forward.”

Cornett said the city council must call for a vote by Oct. 6 to get MAPS 3 on the December ballot.

City officials began discussing a follow-up to MAPS and MAPS for Kids this year. Cornett first surveyed city residents on the Internet, but MAPS 3 was put on hold when the city got the chance to lure the NBA to town.

Cornett has previously said Ford Center improvements would likely have been included in MAPS 3, but the entire plan wasn’t ready in time to go on the ballot last spring when the Seattle SuperSonics franchise was considering a move to Oklahoma City.

City officials decided to put the $120 million Ford Center improvements to a vote last March, easily winning voter approval and bringing the Oklahoma City Thunder to the downtown arena.

Economic boom
The original Metropolitan Area Projects passed in 1993. The five-year, 1-cent sales tax and a six month extension raised more than $360 million that paid for the Ford Center, the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark, the Bricktown Canal, the Ron Norick Downtown Library and several other capital projects that sparked hundreds of millions of dollars in private investment and an economic boom in downtown.

MAPS for KIDS passed in 2001, raising nearly $700 million to renovate or rebuild every school in the Oklahoma City School District and for capital projects at the suburban districts with schools inside city limits.

The 1-cent Ford Center tax began Jan. 1 as the MAPS for KIDS tax expired. A December vote would allow the city to keep the sales tax rate unchanged and begin collecting money for MAPS 3 when the Ford Center tax expires in March.

Cornett said sagging sales tax revenues have had some effect on MAPS 3 discussions but likely won’t be a problem because the tax will be collected over a number of years.

"When you are looking at expected revenue over several years, it’s fairly predictable,” he said. "We are very mindful of doing everything we can to make sure we have enough money to do the projects at the level that the people are going to expect.”

Given the success of MAPS and MAPS for Kids, Cornett knows those expectations are high. He said any projects included will have to have a transformative effect on the city.

"MAPS is not about the ordinary,” Cornett said. "It’s about economic development and quality of life.”

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