The MAPS 3 citizens subcommittee tasked with evaluating sites for a new convention center unanimously agreed Tuesday to recommend the former Bob Howard Downtown Ford dealership location, but not without some stinging criticism of city staff and consultants for delivering a report described as “nonsense” and written with “rose-colored glasses.”
Members of the MAPS 3 subcommittee, which includes Devon Energy Corp. Executive Chairman Larry Nichols, former Mayor Kirk Humphreys and Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams, repeatedly rejected a site south of the Oklahoma City Arena long favored by Mayor Mick Cornett.
Consultants with Kansas City-based Populous concurred Tuesday with the committee's choice of the former dealership at Reno and Robinson avenues and with their rejection of the site south of the arena.
But the committee was visibly upset by a cost analysis that appeared to show much lower site costs for the location south of the arena compared to the former dealership.
The consulting group reported it was instructed by city staff not to consider the estimated $30 million needed to buy and move an Oklahoma Gas & Electric substation south of the arena as advocated by Cornett.
Nichols called the cost analysis “nonsense.”
“It's a cost,” Nichols said. “You've got to move that utility. How can you decide to say that with one site you see the cost to move the utility, but not with the other?”
MAPS 3 Program Manager Eric Wenger then reminded the committee that city staff has chosen to redirect $30 million of the convention center's $280 million budget to the substation relocation.
Wenger previously insisted the reallocation was done at the direction of the city council. But in a recent workshop, city council members unanimously disagreed with Cornett and city staff that they had issued such instruction.
Williams said voters were told in all campaign materials and in a list of the projects on the city's website that the convention center's budget was to be $280 million.
“Since we ran the campaign, I know a little bit about this,” Williams said. “We told the voters we were going to use $280 million for the convention center, and that's what they voted on — a $280 million convention center. It was not for a $30 million substation relocation. That was never in any of the campaign materials sent out, and it was never told to voters.”
Wenger said until the city council votes not to redirect the money, the budget will remain the same. Wenger also cited city council “instructions” in dictating that MAPS 3 central park could not be delayed to allow for the convention center to be started sooner.
When asked, Wenger again acknowledged no such vote had taken place and could not name which council member had given such instructions. Plans call for the park to be built south of Interstate 40 along Robinson Avenue.
Four council members reached by The Oklahoman on Tuesday — Gary Marrs, Pete White, Pat Ryan and Meg Salyer — denied giving any instructions. White added he was certain the rest of the council had not voiced an opinion on the park schedule.
The Oklahoman Archives show Cornett as having advocated for the park's completion by 2014 in conjunction with the expected opening of a new boulevard being designed to replace the current alignment of Interstate 40.
The committee disregarded the instructions cited by Wenger and voted to recommend that the park and part of the streetcar system be delayed to the end of the MAPS 3 timeline to start work in 2013.
Humphreys urged city staff and the city council to consider taking a fresh look at the park and development of the surrounding area known as Core to Shore, a largely blighted area between the current highway and the Oklahoma River.
“The park was conceived during Core to Shore,” Humphreys said. “Since Core to Shore was envisioned in 2006, a lot has transpired downtown. There was no Devon tower, the Myriad Gardens was a bunkered area that was not being used well, and now we have one of the great urban parks in America. Are we really going to build that park as originally envisioned when reality has changed?”
AT A GLANCE ...
A report by the consultant Populous suggests the following “cost premiums” for the three sites listed as finalists for a new convention center (per square foot):
• East Bricktown (Reno and Joe Carter Drive): $21.
• Core to Shore South (south of the arena): $4.
The subcommittee recommendation will be submitted to the MAPS 3 citizens advisory board and then to the Oklahoma City Council. The subcommittee has asked Populous to change the firm's report to fairly and accurately reflect utility costs.