OKLAHOMA CITY — The downtown arena vote won in a landslide Tuesday night, 71% to 29%, and I was happy for all concerned.
The civic leaders who have delivered on promise after promise for 30 years of penny-sales tax votes. They have shown they can be trusted to do what they say they’ll do, and for the many and diverse projects to produce what the leaders say they will produce.
The Thunder owners, who brought the franchise to town 15 years ago and have provided a stable organization that is the envy of most of the NBA.
The Thunder players, some of whom hopefully still will be wearing blue when the arena opens in 2029 (we’re looking at you Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Chet Holmgren and Santa Clara Williams).
The arena workers, whose jobs are assured for another three decades of ballgames and concerts as downtown OKC remains an entertainment destination.
But I’m happiest most for the Oklahoman masses, some of whom have yet to be born. Oklahomans who in the new arena will make memories to last a lifetime.
I first walked into the Civic Center Music Hall circa 1970. It then was 33 years old, having opened as Municipal Auditorium, and aging. It since has been renovated into perhaps the coolest place in OKC.
I’ve been to the Civic Center for dozens of events. Never saw a basketball game there; that was a little before my time. But I’ve been to the Civic Center for concerts and musicals and even a commencement or two.
I first walked into State Fair Arena circa 1969. It then was four years old but seemed a lot older. I didn’t know how nice or ratty it was; you don’t know or care about such things when you’re 8.
Since then, I’ve walked into State Fair Arena hundreds of times, for high school basketball games and the National Finals Rodeo and Disney on Ice when my daughter was entranceable.
I walked into the Myriad for the first time in 1972. It was brand new and spectacular. Opulent, even. Seemed like it had been dropped into downtown from Outer Space.
Over the years, I walked into the Myriad hundreds of times, for college basketball showdowns and graduations and concerts. I’m no music aficionado. But my wife is. And Trish the Dish saw Elvis at the Myriad in 1976, a memory she’ll carry the rest of her days.
I walked into the Paycom Center for the first time in 2002, when it was called Ford Center. It was fine; more functional than fabulous, but what did we care? It meant NCAA regionals and Big 12 basketball tournaments and more concerts for OKC.
Since then, I’ve walked into Paycom hundreds of times, mostly for Thunder games, but not always. Sure, I saw LeBron James there, but I also saw James Taylor.
I thought of all these buildings, all still standing but some not for long, and how many times I have darkened their doors in this long Oklahoma life.
And I realized what the Tuesday night vote was really about.
Sure, big business and civic pride, marketing and city branding, economic development and plain old sports devotion.
But at the core, the vote was about memories. All those events and experiences that stay with us for years and decades after the lights dimmed and the cheering stopped.
We can say that these coliseums, some still grand and some still crumbling, don’t really matter. That they are mere brick and mortar.
But as we learn when we move away from a childhood home, or we tear down a beloved gathering place, places matter. Not like lives, not like people, but brick and mortar are not just mere.
And the vote Tuesday night assured that when it comes to the Thunder, and whoever is the hottest music acts of 2040, Oklahoma Citians will have memories to make.
What was it Dr. Seuss wrote? Oh, the places you’ll go.
The coliseums where we gather are important. They matter because they bring us together in a world when isolation often is thrust upon us by culture or circumstance.
The public square is no more, and shopping meccas and churches and in some cases even restaurants are losing their magnetism. We don’t assemble the way we once did, and the world is poorer for it.
But every once in a while, a team or a talent makes us break those bonds, and we assemble to cheer and to chant, to sing and to shout. And those are experiences we’ll treasure to the end of our days.
The latest generation of Oklahomans has memories of going to Paycom Center, and when they are gray-haired or no-haired, their spirits will be warmed by such halcyon days.
And the next generation of Oklahomans will make memories in the new building, courtesy of SGA or some other star of stage and court.
You can put a price tag on the arena, and civic leaders did. But you can’t put a price tag on the memories. Over the years, our coliseums have cost us money, sure. But the cost of not building them would have been greater.
A loss of community. A loss of assembly. A loss of memories.
Instead, the memories will keep building, in those of us old enough to have walked into the Myriad when it was built, and those of us so young they have yet to be born.