Funding has been depleted and construction on the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum will halt Sunday, the center's executive director said Thursday.
In a news conference at the half-constructed museum, Executive Director Blake Wade said construction crews will provide site maintenance until more funds can be acquired.
Wade said the board of directors for the cultural center voted unanimously Thursday for a plan to preserve and protect the empty shell of the estimated $170 million building.
The project has never been fully funded and has been constructed in stages as funding became available to the state agency created to design, build and open the museum.
Completion hinged on a $40 million bond issue that was defeated by the Senate this past legislative session. It was the third time the Senate had denied funding for the project in similar bond proposals.
Wade said private donors who had pledged $40 million contingent on state matching dollars seem willing to grant an extension on their pledges for “a reasonable amount of time.”
Armed with letters of support from Gov. Mary Fallin and The Research Institute for Economic Development, Wade said project backers are working hard to secure pledges and new donations.
“We have worked diligently over the last two weeks, working with our donors to make sure that they know we're not quitting,” Wade said.
In reality, actual construction progress had halted at the site awhile ago once a logical stopping point had been reached; hope that funding might arrive shortly prevented complete “mothballing” of the facility.
The American Indian Cultural Center was conceived in the early 1990s and the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, a state agency, was created to develop the museum.
With about 250 acres of contaminated land donated to the state by the city of Oklahoma City, remediation and eventually construction began.
Wade said they have so far spent about $91 million on the project and $80 million is needed to see the project completed. The optimistic completion date was December 2014.
Wade said he was unwilling to change his goal from that date even with the setback.
The construction company — Centennial Builders — will maintain the site until funds are found for construction to continue.
Wade said the cost is roughly $52,000 a month, and he said his agency has enough cash to pay for 12 months of site maintenance.
Among the ongoing costs are security, electricity and water to the site, and maintenance of the already installed heating and cooling system.
Wade said the political environment for passing a bond issue will improve now that the election season is over.
“We're working with the city,” Wade said. “Gov. Fallin has given us her support. The legislative leaders are going to do it. I do believe, there is no doubt in my mind, that this next year we will get these funds matched.”
The Native American Cultural and Educational Authority receives roughly $1.5 million every year for operations, salaries and maintaining the construction site. Wade said there will be no layoffs among their nine employees. He said they are down from their authorized level of 14 employees.
Construction of the building, with its distinctive circular shape, tall glass windows and prominent mound, began in 2005 after the state first approved a $33 million bond issue.
In 2008, the Legislature approved an additional $25 million bond issue.
And in 2010, after the Senate had defeated a $43 million bond issue proposal, Gov. Brad Henry allocated $6 million in federal stimulus funds to keep construction going.
The rest of the funding to date has come from the federal government, with a $16 million grant, and from various tribes throughout the state.