Oklahoma City voters needed blind faith 30 years ago. Now, we have a proven track record that voters can rely on.
This is a historic week in Oklahoma City.
Historic, yes, because voters will decide today if we will build a new downtown arena and secure the Thunder through at least 2050. But it’s also historic because 30 years ago this week, the first MAPS was born.
On Dec. 14, 1993, Oklahoma City residents voted on the very first Metropolitan Area Projects.
The plan: revitalize downtown and improve the city’s image by constructing or upgrading sports, entertainment and cultural facilities.
The payment: $350 million from a five-year sales tax.
The pitch: trust us.
Truly, city leaders who pitched the original MAPS had to ask voters to believe them when they said that building a baseball stadium, a canal in Bricktown and yes, a downtown arena was the right thing to do. Believe them that the Oklahoma River should be fixed up and a canal should be built through Bricktown. Believe them that the Civic Center Music Hall and the Myriad and the State Fair Grounds needed upgrades.
There was a lot of blind faith involved because frankly, Oklahoma City had never done anything like MAPS.
In the end, the vote passed, 54.6% to 45.4%.
Thank goodness for that because Oklahoma City hasn’t been the same. The changes that came after that vote transformed the city for the better, and every time another MAPS has been put before voters, it has passed with no less than 54% of the vote.
We voted yes because we saw how good such projects have been for our city.
No more blind faith is needed.
Which brings us back to this week’s vote.
Tuesday’s vote about a new downtown arena isn’t a MAPS vote, though it would be a one-cent sales tax that kicks in at the end of the current MAPS 4 one-cent sales tax. It’s not a continuation of MAPS, more like a cousin.
If the formula works, why not stick with it?
And we know that it works. We’ve seen it time and again. Projects got done. Momentum built.
Take the river. The section of what was then known as the North Canadian River running through downtown in the 1990s was a disaster. It was a dumping ground. People didn’t want to go near it much less be on it or, God forbid, in it.
Building a riverfront?
Constructing recreational dams?
Why would anyone want to do that?
But those things were part of the original MAPS, and once those projects were done, the Boathouse District began taking shape. Then came a training center for US Rowing and the headquarters for USA Canoe/Kayak.
MAPS 3 then added a whitewater training facility, which may well be the site of the whitewater competition during the 2028 Olympics. (How often does Oklahoma City have something Los Angeles doesn’t, aside from a lower cost of living and less traffic?)
And now, developers want to be on the river, including those putting in a $400 million resort.
Build it, and they will come?
Oklahoma City now has a track record that voters can rely on. Our leaders know how to do these types of projects. They can do the dreaming, the planning, the developing and the executing. Yes, the faces have changed over the years, whether in the mayor’s office or the city council chambers. But our city leaders have continued to do these things the right way for the past 30 years.
There’s no reason to believe that has changed or will change with the new downtown arena.
Oklahoma City residents who said yes to the original MAPS 30 years ago this week had no guarantees. Would the projects get done? Would the leaders see the vision through? Would the benefits outweigh the costs?
They trusted that would be the case.
Tuesday as we go to the polls, we can have faith once again, not blindly but because we have our eyes wide open. We can see the jaw-dropping transformation that has come before, and we can envision the bright future that is ahead.