Mayor Mick Cornett's speech Thursday was billed as the State of the City address. He talked much more about the city's future than its current state of affairs. Whether the topic was Ford Center improvements, downtown development or weight loss, Cornett's comments at the Cox Convention Center often focused on what Oklahoma City will be like decades from now. "A lot of what I'm going to discuss today may seem like big dreams,” Cornett told an enthusiastic crowd. "But these dreams, opportunities really, are no larger and no more difficult than this city has faced time and time again.” Cornett began his speech by playing off the lyrics of a Flaming Lips song called "Do You Realize” as he touted the city's progress. He talked of job growth and a growing tourism industry. He bragged about the success of the Oklahoma River and residential development downtown. Then Cornett turned his attention from the present and talked about what Oklahoma City can be. The mayor talked about MAPS for Kids before focusing on public health. Cornett unveiled a program Dec. 31 aimed at decreasing the city's obesity rate. Nearly 14,000 people have signed up on a Web site that helps them track their weight loss. The program has gained international media attention. "Let this be the year we stop pretending that obesity will go away on its own,” Cornett said. "With an obesity rate at 25 percent, you can only draw the conclusion that we as a community have failed to set a high enough standard for ourselves.” Cornett said that standard is changing. In addition to the Web site, he pointed to the city's recent bond issue which included 350 miles of new sidewalks. "We are creating neighborhoods where you can live and not have to own a car,” Cornett said.
Downtown plansDowntown was next on Cornett's list of priorities. He unveiled artists' conceptions showing what downtown could look like 20 years from now after Interstate 40 is moved south and the former Crosstown Expressway becomes a boulevard. The drawings showed a new convention center, a large park and retail and residential developments stretching from the boulevard south to the river. "Few cities get the opportunity to rebuild a new portion of their downtown from scratch, and we intend to make the most of it,” Cornett said. Cornett said much of the city's future hinges on the March 4 vote on a temporary 1-cent sales tax to fund improvements to the Ford Center. The proposal is intended to lure an NBA team and keep the Ford Center competitive in hosting events such as the Big 12 basketball tournaments. The Seattle SuperSonics have applied to relocate to Oklahoma City, and NBA owners are scheduled to vote on the application in April. The State of the City address was hosted by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, which is also leading the campaign to pass the Ford Center proposal. Larry Nichols, chairman of the chamber and chief executive of Devon Energy, spoke in support of the proposal before introducing the mayor. Nichols encouraged those attending the speech to fill out cards pledging support for the Ford Center proposal either by giving money or volunteering to display signs or handing out campaign material. "The initial polling looks good,” Nichols said. "But we all know that single issue votes are the ones that are the most at risk.” Cornett said the proposal is not without opposition. He was forceful in his contention that passing the tax is in the city's best interest. "Being a big league city in 2008 means sharing an international stage with the greatest cities in the world.” "That can happen here, and we are ready for it. A decade of momentum hangs on the balance of that March 4 vote. You are going to hear from people who want to hold us back. Don't let them.”
This conceptual view from a pedestrian bridge on the Oklahoma River looks north along Hudson Avenue to the existing downtown skyline. Provided by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce