Completing American Indian Cultural Center and Museum will benefit all Oklahomans

BY J. BLAKE WADE Published: August 5, 2012
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I would like to thank the generous donors who have pledged $40 million in support of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. We appreciate their willingness to affirm their pledges as we work with Gov. Mary Fallin and other civic leaders to develop the appropriate plan to complete the center.

Recently, Fallin sent a letter to these donors stating, “I have been a longtime advocate of this project, having served as lieutenant governor and chairman of the Tourism Commission during its inception. I know the value it can bring in tourism dollars and as an economic development tool. Please know that I do not consider this the final chapter for this project. I would like to ask for your patience as we look at all options available to finance the completion of this project, whether it be looking for other partners or returning to the Legislature next session with hopes of a bond issue.”

Expansion of tourism offers a major economic development opportunity for Oklahoma, which will result in jobs and increased tax revenues from out-of-state visitors. Studies show the American Indian experience provides Oklahoma with the distinction needed to compete successfully in the worldwide tourism market. Cultural tourists expect three things from Oklahoma: the American Indian, cowboy and Western attractions, and Route 66 experiences. In 2009, Price-waterhouseCoopers LLC stated: “The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum is an essential element in growing Oklahoma's Native American heritage and tourism product, not just in Oklahoma and surrounding states, but across the United States and potentially worldwide.”

Every governor since Henry Bellmon has supported this project. However, it has faced a series of challenges. In 2002, Congress passed legislation that authorized $33 million for the center. However, in 2003 the Iraq War began, followed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina, and then in 2008 the deepest recession since the Great Depression. As a result of these events, the $33 million wasn't appropriated by Congress, construction costs increased because of Hurricane Katrina and the opportunity for private fundraising was severely hampered. Completion of the center has thus been delayed, resulting in an increase in construction costs.

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