ON the first of this month, work stopped at the half-finished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City because the money needed to build it had run out. It's highly unlikely work will resume any time in the near future, and maybe that's a blessing.
The break provides the opportunity to assess the project and consider whether it's worth completing. We're not sure the answer is yes.
The Oklahoman has been a strong and consistent supporter of the museum and cultural center for the past decade, when it began to move from an idea to reality. We have felt all along that a first-class facility celebrating the state's 39 federally recognized tribes would be an asset to the city and the state. In a 2003 editorial, written not long after then-Gov. Brad Henry signed a measure authorizing a $33 million bond issue to help pay for the project, we said it “deserves the support of all Oklahomans.”
At that time, the total price tag was $110 million and the projected opening was late 2007. The federal government was to match the $33 million in state money, with the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority — a state agency created in 1994 for the purpose of building and operating the site — raising the remainder.
But five years after it's original projected opening, the cultural center is only halfway to the finish line and it's estimated that getting there will cost $170 million — to say nothing of what it will cost to operate once it's open.
In all, about $91 million has been spent on the project to date. Work began in 2005, after the initial bond issue from the state. The Legislature in 2008 approved an additional $25 million bond issue. Two years later, after the state Senate rejected a $43 million bond issue proposal, Henry directed $6 million in federal stimulus funds to keep construction going. The remainder of the funding so far has come via a $16 million federal grant, and from various tribes.