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Funding sought for Tulsa pop museum

As the deadline for lawmakers to submit bills for the 2013 legislative session nears, Bob Blackburn, executive director for the Oklahoma Historical Society, pledges to seek funding again for the OK Pop Museum in Tulsa.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Published: December 18, 2012

The basement of the Oklahoma History Center is packed floor-to-ceiling with artifacts waiting for the space to tell their story to the public, says Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society.

But that space — a proposed $42.5 million museum of popular culture in Tulsa — depends on funding approval from the Oklahoma Legislature this session, something that has proved elusive for the project to date.

Last session, the Senate approved a $20 million bond issue to fund the OK Pop Museum in Tulsa, but the House never considered the bill.

“I think it's going to be very difficult to get any bond issue passed through the Legislature,” said Sen. Patrick Anderson, R-Enid.

“We've become much more fiscally responsible.”

Anderson, who opposed the Pops Museum funding, said he would be much more likely to support projects like the restoration of the Capitol building or the medical examiner's office.

“A good project, a needed project, I think the Legislature could act to do something,” he said. “A want versus a need I think it's going to be much more difficult to get the Legislature to approve that.”

Lawmakers will likely consider bond issues for multiple projects during the 2013 legislative session, including restorations of the crumbing state Capitol, the unfinished and financially broke American Indian Cultural Center and Museum and other state buildings.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said he is still supportive of the Pops Museum.

“We want to look at alternative ways that we can get that funded, including possibly turning it private,” Bingman said. “We have capital needs, many capital projects statewide and we've just got to figure out a way we can prioritize and figure out a way to get them done.”

Blackburn said Monday he hopes a bit of financial-strategy this year will give the museum the political support it needs.

In the past, his agency has requested a bond issue that increases the state debt level, something a cadre of politicians is vocally opposed to at the Capitol.

Instead, Blackburn said the Historical Society will issue bonds to replace existing debt as it is paid off.

In 1999, the state agency sold $32 million in bonds to start construction on the Oklahoma History Center building at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive.

A second bond issue was taken out for $18 million to finish the project.

The 215,000 square-foot museum has been complete for years but the agency still makes $2.5 million payments annually on the debt.

That funding comes from the general revenue stream and is allocated to the History Center to pay off the debt.

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