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Mayor declares victory for Ford Center upgrades

By Bryan Dean and John Estus Modified: March 5, 2008 at 9:46 am •  Published: March 5, 2008
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Oklahoma City leaders scored a big league victory Tuesday night as voters overwhelmingly supported a proposal to upgrade the Ford Center in the hopes of landing an NBA franchise.

“We really are creating a city where people want to be, and this is a golden age in Oklahoma City,” Mayor Mick Cornett said. “I think someday we will look back and people will realize it.”

With all precincts reporting, 44,849 voters, or 61.9 percent, approved the proposal to 27,564, or 38.1 percent, against.

The proposal would extend a 1-cent sales tax, which is currently paying for MAPS for Kids. The tax is set to expire at midnight Dec. 31. If the measure passes, the tax would extend through June of 2010, raising about $121 million. About $20 million of that money would pay for a new NBA practice facility.

The rest would go toward improvements at the Ford Center, including decorative floors and walls, new bathrooms and concession areas, restaurants, suites, a family fun zone, NBA locker rooms and offices and a host of other renovations.

Cornett declared victory about 8:30 p.m., nearly an hour before the vote was final, to thunderous applause and cheers at a watch party thrown by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber at Nonna’s in Bricktown. The chamber put on a “Big League City” campaign to support the proposal.

Doug Sanderson, secretary of the Oklahoma County Election Board, said turnout for the vote looked to be about 30 percent, about double the average for a city election and higher than the 2001 MAPS for Kids election, which had 25 percent turnout.

Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said the chamber’s campaign supporting the proposal paid off.

“It looks like voters are responding very positively that this is the right thing for us to do — to be a big league city,” Williams said.

With voters giving their approval, the next vote will be in the hands of NBA owners, who are scheduled to meet next month to vote on a proposal by the Seattle SuperSonics’ owners to relocate to Oklahoma City.

Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman who leads the Sonics ownership group, thanked city leaders and citizens Tuesday night.

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