At a time when other cities are pulling back and halting progress, Oklahoma City voters have recognized the importance of continuing to invest in the future. Citizens voted to approve Oklahoma City’s third Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) proposal on Tuesday, Dec. 8. The MAPS 3 package includes eight major civic projects: a 70-acre downtown central park, new downtown convention center, six miles of downtown street car lines, improvements to the Oklahoma River, upgrades to State Fair Park, multiple health-and-wellness aquatics centers for senior citizens, 57 miles of new biking and walking trails, and the construction of new sidewalks along major streets and near public buildings. The projects will be funded through the extension of an existing one-cent sales tax and will not incur debt.
Oklahoma City has been defying the recession with one of the strongest economies in the nation, and has had the lowest unemployment rate of all large MSAs in the nation eight of the last 14 months. The MAPS brand has been credited with bringing a renaissance to the city.
"Oklahoma City has learned important lessons from past economic ups and downs, and we now realize the importance of continuing to invest in our future even when things are tough across the nation,” said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. “Research shows that economic downturns hit regions harder that don’t have existing economic development programs and community redevelopment projects, and our citizens recognize that.”
“Oklahoma City citizens invested $356 million in the original MAPS package, and we have gotten back our MAPS investment more than 10-fold,” said Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams. “We pledge our efforts and resources to make certain this MAPS bears the same fruit as the original. MAPS has been transformational for Oklahoma City, and we can’t wait to see the momentum continue.”
Voter turnout was about 31 percent, about twice as high as a typical city election. The final vote was 40,956 yes, 34,465 no.
MAPS 3 extends the existing tax over a seven-year, nine-month period and will generate $777 million. Because it is a tax extension, MAPS 3 will maintain the Oklahoma City sales tax rate where it currently stands, and projects will be fully paid for upon completion. The eight projects approved by voters are:
- World Class Downtown Central Park, $130 million
A 70-acre park along downtown’s southern edge, between the business core and the shore of the Oklahoma River. The park will include a cafe, lake, water features, streetscapes and other amenities.
- Convention Center, $280 million
A new convention center is planned on the south edge of downtown near the planned downtown park. The new center will triple exhibit space, nearly double ballroom and meeting space, improve parking and eliminate quality issues with the current center.
- Transit, $130 million
Five to six miles of downtown streetcar lines and a downtown transit hub will link streetcar, commuter rail and bus systems.
- Oklahoma River, $60 million
Improvements will be made to the east end of the river where the city hosts rowing competitions. Improvements include grandstands, lighting, parking, a floating stage, river beautification and other work on the rowing course. A whitewater kayaking venue will also be built.
- State Fair Park, $60 million
Upgrades to public buildings at State Fair Park that house exhibit space and meeting halls used during the fair each year.
- Health-and-wellness aquatics centers for senior citizens, $50 million
State-of-the-art health and wellness aquatics centers for senior citizens will be built across the city.
- Trails and Sidewalks, $50 million
57 miles of new bicycle and walking trails across the city, and the construction of sidewalks along major streets and near public buildings, such as schools and libraries.
The plan also calls for $17 million in contingency funds.
The timeline has not yet been set for which projects will be built first. A citizen oversight board will be appointed in the coming weeks to help the city decide the order of the projects. Mayor Cornett has said he expects the park to be one of the earlier projects and the convention center to be one of the later projects.
The original MAPS passed in 1993 and funded eight major projects that changed the face of downtown. Oklahoma City was the first city in the country to undertake a public facility enhancement project of this size. MAPS led to the construction of a downtown ballpark, downtown library, mile-long canal, construction of a 20,000-seat arena, a complete renovation of Civic Center Music Hall, improvements to the State Fairground, the transformation of a 7-mile stretch of the Oklahoma River, and renovation and expansion of the existing convention center. A recent study showed that the value of total investment projects related to MAPS exceeds $5 billion.
MAPS for Kids passed in 2001 and funded hundreds of construction, transportation and technology projects for Oklahoma City schools. Many of the largest construction projects are finished, while work continues at numerous schools throughout Oklahoma City. More than 70 new and renovated schools totaling $470 million in construction will be completed when the program draws to a close in 2012.
Findings from an Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department study show the dollars spent by tourists in Oklahoma County grew from $857,880,000 in 1990, to $2,104,720,000 in 2008, an increase of about $1.25 billion. This dramatic growth coincides with the 1993 approval and subsequent investment projects implemented by the original MAPS.