A list of positive economic and quality-of-life rankings from various national publications was recited Thursday by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett to a record crowd at the annual State of the City address.
About 1,500 attendees, including visiting delegations from Lafayette, La., and Midland, Texas, gathered for the address, which was hosted by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and doubles as a fundraiser for the organization.
Also attending was former Mayor Ron Norick, who is widely credited with the city's ongoing renaissance through his efforts to launch quality-of-life initiatives 20 years ago with the Metropolitan Area Projects programs.
“Yes, things are good,” Cornett said. “Things are happening for us. We should enjoy it. We should appreciate it. We should learn from it. We know it won't last forever. But we need to make things happen while we can.”
Highlights of his speech included noting that the city has repeatedly claimed the nation's lowest unemployment rate among large metropolitan areas over the past two years; population growth is running twice the normal rate with 2,000 people moving into the city every month; and the city has had record-setting sales tax collections.
Cornett acknowledged the high rate of murders in 2012 but said the city is far safer than in previous years. He applauded police for a special anti-truancy program that is credited with cutting student truancy by 45 percent. He said police contacted 15,000 students and their families about truancy issues since 2009.
Cornett also provided an update on various city projects. He said MAPS for Kids, the makeover of city schools, is almost complete, with construction set to start soon on a downtown elementary and site selection being looked at for a new administration building for the Oklahoma City Public Schools.
Cornett said residents can still expect four senior wellness centers to be built as part of MAPS 3, noting a new round of requests for proposals from private organizations to operate the centers is awaiting responses. The first round failed to drum up interest, and new operational partnerships are being considered by the city.
Cornett said he believes design on the first wellness center could begin this year. He also said trails expansions are set to begin with a connection trail from the Oklahoma River to Lake Overholser.
Cornett estimated “hundreds of miles” of sidewalks will be built thanks to a combination of funding from MAPS 3 and city bond issues. He reminded attendees that site acquisition is under way for a new convention center and transit hub; engineers are looking at possible streetcar routes; and work is under way on improvements along the Oklahoma River. He said architects also are about to be hired to design a $60 million exposition center at State Fair Park.
Cornett — in his third term as Oklahoma City's mayor — delivered the address for the ninth time in its 13-year history. He's the fourth mayor of Oklahoma City to serve three terms.