Today city staff went out even further insisting that $30 million of the $280 million Core to Shore convention site favored by Mayor Mick Cornett be used to buy out an OG&E substation on the site regardless of whether it’s chosen for the convention center.
As you’ll recall, the mayor tried to tell the MAPS 3 citizens’ advisory board at its very first meeting that this site, and the current location of the Southwest Producers Cooperative are the only two viable sites for a convention center. He also instructed the committee that no matter what, $30 million of the $280 million for the convention center would be used to buy the substation property – essentially telling them if they chose a different site, they would have $30 million less to work with.
Recall also that the resolution the city council passed never mentioned $30 million for the substation – only that $280 million go toward construction of the convention center. The city council never had a public discussion or vote indicating otherwise.
So on July 23 of last year I reported the following:
Councilman Larry McAtee, a member of the oversight committee, said the selection process will be handled fairly, and without bias.
McAtee said the city council never agreed to reserve $30 million for the OG&E property, that no public discussion of such a purchase has occurred, and that $280 million will be budgeted for a convention center regardless of what site is chosen.
“This will get cleared up as we move forward with the process of selecting a site, and selecting the consultants, and looking at the details of the sites,” McAtee said. “There will be an open selection process for the convention center.”
I talked again with Councilman McAtee on Tuesday. He said this whole matter remains to be “debated,” and that he needs to visit with Wenger because he believes the instructions as I’ve reported are incorrect.
“I say give the voters what they voted for,” McAtee said. “And what the voters voted for was a $280 million convention center that was to be located at a later time.”
Conversations with other council members indicate they also had not agreed to dedicate $30 million of MAPS 3 funds for the substation. In fact, on Tuesday Councilman Pete White suggested at the council meeting (Cornett was out of town and not present) that the $30 million be spent on a wellness center for south Oklahoma City if the substation site is not chosen for the convention center.
Now for the good part: Despite all this, despite previous comments by MAPS 3 program manager Eric Wenger in the past that there was no direction on spending $30 million on the substation, that all changed Tuesday at the meeting of the convention center subcommittee. The meeting began with a report by MAPS 3 consultant Mike Mize that the CITY COUNCIL had instructed him to reserve $30 million of the $280 million convention center funding for the substation (when asked about this, he said this instruction came through Wenger).
I asked Wenger, and he confirmed the instruction. I asked him if he could direct me to any moment that the city council had made any such policy decision. He instead told me this instruction was passed on by Mayor Mick Cornett.
I then went to Assistant City Manager Cathy O’Connor. She also could not provide any moment when the city council voted and publicly committed to this expenditure. She insisted, however, that this was always a part of the budgeting for MAPS 3.
Where? When? So far, there is no documentation of any such decision. And clearly there seems to be some dispute by the council on this matter.
So here’s the punchline to all this: the threat of having $30 million less to work with if the mayor’s favored site wasn’t chosen went nowhere with the committee, which includes civic leaders like Russell Perry, Larry Nichols, Roy Williams, and Kirk Humphreys. They threw out both of the Core to Shore sites favored by the mayor and went with four other sites as finalists, three of which were added into consideration after the mayor told the citizens’ advisory board that they really had only his two favored Core to Shore sites to consider.
This committee’s vote was unanimous. Consultants with Populous then provided them with their preliminary scoring, which matched the committee’s choices.
This, my friends, ought to get interesting.