OVER the next few weeks, lawmakers will decide the near-term future of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. What they do — or fail to do — will affect its long-term future as well.
It's time for a decision on the AICCM. This decision should be to appropriate enough money this year and next year to match the $40 million that private donors have pledged in support of the project.
A world-class cultural center and museum will draw visitors from around the world. Smithsonian-owned artifacts now in storage would come out of the closet and go on display in Oklahoma. Nearly five cents of every dollar spent at the museum will be returned to the state in the form of sales taxes. That money will be distributed statewide.
For Oklahoma City, the benefits will be even greater. Local sales tax receipts will stay here. The AICCM's site on the south bank of the Oklahoma River will enhance the exciting river developments taking place to the west. Completion of the project will stimulate growth and redevelopment in south Oklahoma City.
The project has the support of all 39 federally recognized Indian tribes in Oklahoma. These tribes didn't initiate the project but they were asked to support it. They have, with donations and pledges totaling in the millions of dollars.
Yet the AICCM is idle today because of lack of funding to complete it. Its detractors say no more public money should be spent on the project. But money is already being spent to maintain and secure the site. Abandonment of the project would cost the state millions of dollars to dismantle the infrastructure and repurpose the site.
We admit to our prior ambivalence on the project. Nearly $100 million has been spent to date and it's not close to hosting the first visitor. A state that can't find the will to repair its deteriorating Capitol building has many challenges. A can't-do attitude, however, doesn't make dreams become a reality. It kills them.
Dreams resulted in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Center being built in Oklahoma City. Dreams resulted in a canal cutting through a revitalized former warehouse district. Dreams dammed a river in three places and led to boathouses and training facilities for Olympic rowing teams. Dreams brought an NBA franchise to Oklahoma. Dreams and a public-private partnership built the Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum, consecrating a site of horrendous evil.
The dream for a Native American cultural center in a state recognized more than any other for its Indian heritage has solid underpinnings. Support was strong until the AICCM neared but couldn't reach the finish line. We must now cross that line with two annual state appropriations that will put $40 million of public money into the project.
State Sen. Kyle Loveless, in whose district the AICCM lies, is an evangelist for the project. Loveless has heard the arguments on why the state should walk away. He's heard the mistruths about anemic tribal support. He's felt the wrath of envy from boosters of other projects who want an equal appropriation. He's endured the uninformed opinions of those whose knowledge of the project doesn't reach to the point of even knowing where it's located.
Having jettisoned his own skepticism, Loveless came to the conclusion that Oklahoma can't afford not to complete the AICCM. We agree. World-class cities offer world-class amenities. The cultural center would be a world-class institution.
The future of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum hangs in the balance. Let's finish what we started. Let's draw visitors from every state and many foreign countries. Let's bring a piece of the Smithsonian to the banks of our river. Let's honor our heritage.
Let's turn a dream into a reality.