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Oklahoma City Evaluates Native Cultural Center, Stalled Northeast Side Development Restarts

The unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.
Brent Fuchs
The Journal Record
The unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.

It's been almost a month since the end of the legislative session, and Oklahoma City leaders are now starting to address one of 2015's more closely-followed bills - the fate of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City.

Gov. Mary Fallin signed the measure last month that authorizes a $25 million dollar bond issue to pay for the completion of the unfinished museum southeast of the Dallas Junction of Interstates 35 and 40. Eventually the facility will be turned over to Oklahoma City for operation and maintenance.

But it has to be approved by Oklahoma City first, and that's what council members started to do at Tuesday's meeting.

Watch Tuesday's City Council meeting. The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum discussion starts at 2:15

"We have put together a council committee to examine the city's options," said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett. "We're going to hire a consultant to do some fresh marketing studies so we can get the information we need to make a decision about whether or not we want to pursue this."

Cornett and three council members will monitor the process, and hope to have it completed by the end of the summer. The Journal Record's managing editor Adam Brooks says under state law, the city must agree to a deal by January for it to go through.

"Nobody's really sure what happens if there's no deal," Brooks said. "When it was first proposed, City Manager Jim Couch kind of indicated it had presented to them, and not really negotiated, but we don't know how much tension there really is."

Under the law, the Oklahoma Capitol Improvement Authority will hold onto the $25 million in bond revenue, but it won't be spent until matching funds are deposited.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer said there's a lot of uncertainty around this law, especially when it comes to how the state is going to be repaid.

"I do think one thing that's pretty clear from this is this is a loan. This $25 million in bond sales from the state is really a loan to us," Salyer said.

"I don't know that they look at it that way. But it could be," Cornett replied.

If revenue from the museum goes over $7 million a year, half of those profits are given back to the state to start paying off the debt, according to Brus:

As Cornett explained with the help of city attorney Wiley Williams, half of revenue collected annually at the center in excess of $7 million must be paid back to the state to help pay off the bond debt. Within five years after that debt is paid in full, the city will be given title to the museum and the land on which it sits. Couch said the city has already issued two requests for proposals to study the operations and potential revenue streams from the center, as well as development on the 40 acres surrounding the site. The latter would include alternatives if the center is not finished.

Credit Brent Fuchs / The Journal Record
The Journal Record
The Buy For Less at 2001 NE 23rd St. in Oklahoma City.

New Life Along Northeast 23rd

Redevelopment at the intersection of Northeast 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Ave. in Oklahoma City could finally get back underway. The Journal Record's Molly Fleming reports it's meant to revitalize the area, but there's been a delay after the land's previous tenants - a gas station and a dry cleaner - left behind contaminants:

Ten acres of the site was once dumping grounds, said Oklahoma City Councilman John Pettis Jr. of Ward 7, where it is located. “There were buildings that were originally downtown that were demolished and then buried on the site,” Pettis said. He said the last environmental tests were recently completed, so the site plan will have to be redrawn to accommodate the concerns. He said a new look will be completed in the next 60 to 90 days and then presented to the Tax Increment Finance Committee. “I don’t believe that the developer has ever lost faith in the development,” Pettis said.

Brooks says some residents of the community were worried that an 18,000-square-foot medical complex, a major retailer, and an Uptown Market would lead to increases in the costs of goods and services. But Buy For Less, which already has a store at the intersection and is under the same ownership group, says there won't be price increases, and the Alliance for Economic Development is also making sure small businesses nearby benefit from the project.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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