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American Indian Cultural Center in Oklahoma City seeks private funding to finish project

Blake Wade, who headed Oklahoma's Centennial celebration, is the new executive director of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in November. He said his job “is to is to help raise the $80 million we need to compete it.”
BY ANDREW KNITTLE Modified: December 19, 2011 at 12:31 am •  Published: December 19, 2011

The new director of the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum said the project could end up costing a lot of money simply to maintain what's been built.

Private donations are being sought to complete the work.

Blake Wade, who headed Oklahoma's Centennial celebration, was named the new executive director of the cultural center in November.

The task given to him, he said, is fairly simple.

“This thing is halfway through,” Wade said. “My job, you could say, is to help raise the $80 million we need to complete it.”

Wade said the goal is get $40 million in the form of private donations, with the state of Oklahoma covering the rest through appropriations.

Not doing so — and not doing so with a sense of urgency — could cost the state big time.

“Every year we stall, this goes up in price. ... That's why I came on board,” Wade said. “Even if we stop and do nothing out there at the site, it's still going to cost us $500,000 a year just to mothball it.”

Reports also suggest that up to $4 million in revenue will be lost for each year the cultural center opening is delayed.

Wade said he will begin talking with lawmakers between now and the start of the next legislative session. He said elected officials must be ready to act in order to get the project done.

“In my opinion, it's gone too long,” Wade said. “We've got to act on this in the next legislation session.”

And things are off to a good start, he said.

“We already have $20 million, which is half of what we need,” Wade said, adding that private pledges are kept confidential. “But it's all contingent on the state providing the matching dollars.”

During the last legislative session, lawmakers failed to authorize $40 million in bonds to keep the project moving.

To date, the state has already invested $67.4 million in the project, with the federal government adding another $16.3 million, according to the center's website.

Private contributions, including $5 million provided by Oklahoma tribes, totals $6.7 million.

If all goes according to Wade's plan, the cultural center could be open “in three to four years.”

Quest to finish

Wade has some help in the quest to finish the ambitious project, which already includes a giant promontory mound, the modern-looking “Hall of People” sculptures and shells of buildings not yet complete.

A new TV ad with sweeping aerial views of Oklahoma City and two former governors has been airing in recent weeks, reminding Oklahomans about the importance of finishing the massive American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.

Wade also has a new fundraising team full of heavy-hitters, including well-known event planner Lee Allan Smith, Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, and former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer.

The commercial, produced by Ackerman McQueen and paid for by the Chickasaw Nation, doesn't feature a specific call to action, like most ads do, but the message is fairly clear.

Former state heads Frank Keating and Brad Henry each appear in the ad, touting the revitalized downtown, the Oklahoma River and even the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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