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Work On Native Cultural Center Could Start Back Up In 2017

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.

Construction could resume as early as this spring on a long-delayed Native American museum near downtown Oklahoma City.

Even though the work stalled four years ago, the Chickasaw Nation and the City of Oklahoma City have almost resolved the final legal obstacles, The Journal Record's Brian Brus reports:

Craig Freeman, the city’s finance director, said the Chickasaws are in the process of confirming the state government has cleared the site of other obligations. “They are still in the process of getting clear title,” Freeman said. “They believe they’ve taken care of most of the hurdles and don’t feel like the legislation is going to be a holdup. … With all the different ownership issues and easements and other factors involved with that land, they want to make sure they’re clear to develop the property.”

The museum is still not yet open to the public, but city and tribal officials say the finish line is in reach. Earlier this year the two governments joined forces to save the project and take over responsibility from the state.

In January this year, Oklahoma City Hall accepted the terms of legislation signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin to finish and operate the center. But at the same time, city officials said it would be counterproductive to get into the tourism business, so feelers were put out for third-party assistance. The Chickasaw Nation stepped up at the last minute with a proposal that the AICCM be completed by the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services with capital costs beyond $65 million picked up by the tribe. Once the center is running, the tribe will pay Oklahoma City $2 million per year for up to seven years toward operating deficits. Any net profits derived from the AICCM above that amount will be used to fund an endowment for future operations. The plan was signed by Mayor Mick Cornett in January. Since then, the tribe has been quiet about the project. A tribal representative Tuesday deferred comment to spokeswoman Kym Koch-Thompson, who said only that the Chickasaw Nation is still in a period of due diligence.

Over the past decade, the state paid out more than $90 million on the project, and it costs about $7 million per year for maintenance and debt.

Freeman says the Chickasaws and city officials expect to have a draft of their relationship and transfer of property sometime next week. Both governments still have to approve that plan.

“At that point, we’ll have a closing date that will rely on the completion of the title work, and I expect that would happen within a couple months,” he said. “Some aspects of this are being worked at the same time, for example trying to get this agreement in place and in position so that the state can move forward with bonds to get started again on construction,” Freeman said.

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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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