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Downtown Kansas City streetcar ballot offers unlikely option for Oklahoma City

Oklahoman business writer Steve Lackmeyer looks at whether a downtown election can be crafted similar to one in Kansas City that recently approved a $100 million streetcar system.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: January 29, 2013

Imagine if just 350 people living downtown could determine, via mailed-in ballots, whether to increase sales and property taxes to pay for a dream improvement like an enhanced streetcar system that would extend into the NW 16 Plaza District and the Oklahoma Health Center.

Such was the case just last month when voters in downtown Kansas City voted 351 to 198 for a one-cent sales tax increase and 344 to 206 to increase property taxes to pay for a $100 million, two-mile streetcar system.

The vote wasn't without controversy; only residents living in the downtown boundaries of the special tax election were eligible to vote. That left owners of large expensive office and retail developments subject to much of the bill, but unable to weigh in unless they too lived in downtown Kansas City.

Downtown Oklahoma City is already set to build and operate a $130 million, six-mile streetcar system as part of MAPS 3, which was funded through a penny sales tax approved through a citywide election.

But could a downtown Kansas City style ballot be sought to add to the Oklahoma City streetcar system in later years? Could such a ballot be used for other dream capital improvement projects for the urban core?

I do not know of anyone locally contemplating such an effort, but I did reach out to two people well versed in the world of public/private project financing: the city's economic development coordinator, Brent Bryant, and Cathy O'Connor, president of The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City.

The short answer is “no.”

It's not that Oklahoma City hasn't developed a reputation of being innovative in the world of project financing. The complicated mix of tax credits, brownfields grants, tax increment financing and a long-term ground lease were all applauded by observers of the deal that brought the long-vacant Skirvin Hotel back to life in 2007.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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