Oklahoma City leaders scored a big league victory Tuesday night as voters overwhelmingly supported a proposal to upgrade the Ford Center in 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 compared with 27,564, or 38.1 percent.
The decision extends a 1-cent sales tax, which is currently paying for MAPS for Kids. The tax was set to expire at midnight Dec. 31, but will extend through June 2010, raising about $121 million. About $20 million will pay for a new NBA practice facility. The rest goes toward improvements at the Ford Center.
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.
Voter turnout was 30.8 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 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.
Improvements at the arena will include 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.
Setting the stage ‘for something bigger'
With Oklahoma City voters giving their approval, the next vote will be in the hands of NBA owners, who are scheduled to meet April 17-18 to vote on a request 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.
"Congratulations to Mayor Cornett and the City Council for their visionary leadership,” Bennett said. "Thanks to the Oklahoma City chamber and the business community for their unwavering support and guidance. Above all, we are grateful to the citizens of Oklahoma City for their continued commitment to excellence.”
The team is leaving Seattle because the city and the state, Washington, has refused to publicly finance a new arena.
The SuperSonics still face hurdles in leaving Seattle. The city has sued to force the Sonics to honor their KeyArena lease, which extends through 2010.
NBA Commissioner David Stern has said the team leaving Seattle is an "inevitability.