The Oklahoma City Council was advised Tuesday that a new garage and a publicly subsidized conference hotel are unknown costs the city faces beyond the $250 million set to be spent on a new convention center.
City Manager Jim Couch and Michael Carrier, president of the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau, said they are unable to predict how much subsidy will be needed for a conference hotel that consultants have indicated is critical to opening a successful new convention center.
Consultants gathered at a 2009 Mayor's Development Roundtable months before the MAPS 3 election that year were the first to suggest a hotel of 650 to 700 rooms was needed as part of any new project. A panel convened by the Urban Land Institute the next year said the city faced a minimum subsidy of $60 million to build a hotel.
“A convention center hotel is something we will need,” Couch said Tuesday. “And yes, most convention center hotels do need some sort of subsidy.”
The convention center is the most expensive of the MAPS 3 projects and is planned to be built and opened by 2019 on the site of the former Fred Jones Ford dealership south of the Myriad Gardens.
Couch said the city has yet to acquire the property or start designs — steps needed before talks can start with possible conference hotel developers.
Couch said he is confident the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority has the bonding capacity to build a new garage to serve the new convention center, a new Core to Shore park, and the Chesapeake Energy Arena.
Such unknowns were cited by Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid as he reiterated criticisms of how the city communicated costs of the convention center during the MAPS 3 campaign.
“The hotel rooms were always an integral component to the convention center,” Shadid said. “It was irresponsible and inexcusable not to talk about it (the hotel) during the MAPS 3 campaign, and it would be even more irresponsible to not talk about it now.”
Shadid called the garage and hotel two legs on a “three-legged stool” and said the convention center cannot be considered without the parking or a hotel.
“We are adrift at sea,” Shadid said. “We do know that no city has been able to do it (a conference hotel) relying on the private sector alone.”
Councilman Pat Ryan led the majority of the city council, including Gary Marrs, Meg Salyer and Larry McAtee, in rebuffing Shadid's complaints, noting they had long considered the need for a hotel and parking and that studies and planning continue.
“We can't solve all the problems in advance,” Ryan said. “We don't know what the private sector will do in terms of hotel rooms; we don't know what the private sector will demand with parking facilities. I suggest we focus on the convention center … it's the only item we can consider now and have any ability to influence.”
Ryan added the city council is “not the U.S. Congress kicking the can down the road.”
Marrs said discussions during the MAPS 3 campaign did mention a conference hotel. When the pitch for a convention center was first made by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber in March 2009, the proposed project mentioned a hotel but not the need for subsidies.
“We did talk about it,” Marrs said. “It's been a subject we talked about when we started putting MAPS 3 together. … I don't believe there was ever any subterfuge trying to hide the fact there would have to be some amenities that came along with this.”
A convention center hotel is something we will need. And yes, most convention center hotels do need some sort of subsidy.”