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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

Similar efforts turned a toxic piece of land along the Oklahoma River in one of the city's most impoverished neighborhoods into a Dell computers service center that still employs hundreds.

Special assessment districts, meanwhile, were used for a long overdue renovation of downtown's underground pedestrian tunnels, as well as funding for the downtown business improvement district.

But Oklahoma City, while seen as being innovative in such efforts, also has been comparatively conservative in its interpretation of how such assessment districts and public financing can be employed.

Consider that while Tulsa used its downtown business improvement district to pay for much of the $39 million construction cost of ONEOK Field ballpark, Oklahoma City officials are reluctant to use business improvement districts to pay for any major capital projects. Good luck getting the municipal counselor's office in Oklahoma City to sign off on using a district to even pay for a hot dog stand, not to mention a ballpark.

Don't be surprised, however, if a new special assessment district isn't at least considered for helping pay for operations of the future downtown streetcar system. As with most of the MAPS 3 projects, no funding plan was established for the streetcar system once it is built. But even then, such a vote will involve a petition of all of downtown's property owners — and not a mail-in ballot for residents as done in Kansas City.

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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