Plans proposed for funding rest of OKC American Indian museum
BY WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
1/17/13 at 2:35 PM
Correction: A Wednesday Tulsa World story incorrectly reported the result of a state Senate vote last year on a proposed $40 million bond issue to fund the American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City. The measure failed in the Senate by one vote. This story has been corrected.
OKLAHOMA CITY - An Oklahoma City lawmaker is proposing two new options to fund completion of the state's half-built American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, but opponents of the project - which has already cost the state $63 million - continue to question its future.
Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, plans two bond issue proposals to fund the project's completion. One proposal would authorize $40 million in bonds to match $40 million in pledged private funding.
Alternatively, Loveless has a measure to authorize $32 million in bonds. That plan would come with instructions for fundraisers to come up with additional private money, he said.
Loveless said the potential for a nine-figure total state investment in the project is dwarfed by the economic development future the facility could bring to the state.
Once opened, the center will bring in tourists, retail and redevelopment to a key part of Oklahoma City, Loveless said.
That means the state would prosper and state government would get more tax revenue, but nothing will happen unless the facility is completed, he said.
"We can't get any money back until we open our doors," said Loveless, a freshman legislator whose district includes the center, located on the Oklahoma River at the intersection of Interstates 35 and 40.
Another Oklahoma City senator said he will continue his fight against more bond money for the project.
"I almost regularly hear people say, 'Hey, whatever you do, don't spend any money on that museum,' " said Sen. Cliff Aldridge, R-Oklahoma City. "I hear it a lot, and I agree with them."
Last year Aldridge organized opposition to legislation to fund the center. A bond bill for the facility failed by one vote in the state Senate.
Since the Legislature adjourned, state Auditor Gary Jones released an audit criticizing the project for choosing highest-cost options when funding wasn't secure.
Aldridge said the project's cost, the audit and the failure of another bill last year to reorganize the center under the state Department of Tourism and Recreation make him unwilling to support any more bond money.
"We've sunk almost a hundred million dollars of taxpayers' money in this thing, and we've gone way beyond what we said we'd do," Aldridge said. "I just think it's time to go back to the drawing board and say, 'Time out! We can't continue on this path. What can we do to spend a whole lot less money and get this thing operational and then pay as we go or expand as we go?' "
The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum project has benefited from three previous state bond issues totaling $63 million, as well as $14.5 million in federal funding and $4.9 million and 250 acres of land from Oklahoma City.
Aldridge said he also wants to see the facility transferred to the city of Oklahoma City to protect state taxpayers from future bills for the facility's upkeep and for its employees.
Loveless said the state audit showed no waste, fraud or abuse in the project, and he said the complaints about high-end choices misunderstand the center's aims.
"The mission of the center has always been to be a world-class, Smithsonian kind of institution," he said.
Other misconceptions continue to trouble the project, including the false notions that the state's Indian tribes asked for the facility but aren't paying for it and that the site could someday be used for a tribal casino, Loveless said.
The project was proposed by the state, not tribes, but the state's tribes have been generous in supporting it, he said. There is no possibility that a casino will be built at the site, he said.
To promote the center, Loveless has been taking legislators on tours of the site, and those meetings have made him cautiously optimistic about the chances for a bond proposal passing this year.
"When people see it, it changes their minds," he said.
While the center has been discussed in the past in connection with other bond projects, including a proposed Oklahoma Historical Society popular culture museum, Loveless said he has no interest in linking the Oklahoma City project to any other efforts at this point.
"All these different projects ... need to be taken individually on their merits," he said. "If they have merit, in my opinion, they'll pass."
J. Blake Wade, Native American Cultural and Educational Authority executive director, said construction on the project was suspended when money ran out this summer.
The state is paying $52,000 a month for security and insurance for the facility, he said.
Donors have pledged $40 million to match state funding to complete the project, but that money will disappear in May if lawmakers don't approve the state's portion of the needed money, Wade said.
Original Print Headline: Plans proposed for funding rest of OKC American Indian museum
Wayne Greene 918-581-8308
Sen. Kyle Loveless: The Oklahoma City Republican has two bond issue proposals that would fund the project's completion.
Sen. Cliff Aldridge: Last year organized opposition to legislation to fund the center.