Downtowners got their shot at quizzing Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett on Thursday, and they learned he advocates a light rail system as part of a MAPS 3, but any vote on such an initiative is at least two years away. Cornett, speaking to Urban Neighbors at the Skirvin Hilton, acknowledged he originally hoped to propose a MAPS 3 initiative later this year. But those plans, he said, were set aside when it became clear he would need to call a vote sooner to modify Ford Center for an incoming NBA team.
Sensing voter fatigueWith that tax extension passed along with bond issues for public works and city schools, Cornett said, he's not sure if voters are eager to see another vote anytime soon. "I sense some voter fatigue, frankly, coming out of the March 4 vote,” Cornett said. Cornett agreed with another questioner that he would like to see an NBA practice arena built downtown, but team owners have indicated they may follow league tradition and seek to locate in the suburbs close to where players live. Responding to a question about public transportation, Cornett said he wants to see a light rail system that serves downtown and tourists. But he added he would want to see Edmond and Norman participate in funding additional rail links to those suburbs. "I don't think we're going to create more interest in downtown by making it easier to live in Edmond or Norman,” Cornett said. Cornett also suggested that Oklahoma City, Tulsa and other cities eventually could approach legislators about providing operational funds to match any capital investment.
A statewide issue"The state Legislature should address public transportation, because right now their participation is pitiful,” Cornett said. Cornett also rejected a suggestion submitted by another member of Urban Neighbors that downtown's Oklahoma Spirit trolley system is mismanaged by the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority. Instead, Cornett said, the city is struggling to sell the idea of public transportation in a community that has been planned and developed for vehicular traffic. "We're just not very good at getting people to ride them (the trolleys).”
Crime, poverty addressedDiscussing other issues, Cornett said he is satisfied the city is adequately addressing homelessness and gang violence. He said downtown's "parking problem” is more perception than reality, but added he is trying to find a way to make parking free in Bricktown. Cornett agreed more affordable housing is needed downtown, joking he would have trouble finding a home in his price range. He said the city is ready to assist housing developers by providing tax increment financing for related infrastructure needs. Cornett said he has a 1910 photo of downtown that reminds him of the building boom that occurred during those early years. "My guess is we are in the busiest period since that time,” Cornett said. "There is more energy than there has been in my lifetime, and that feels really good.”
Downtown commuting?Organizers of Thursday's event for downtown residents and merchants estimated 150 were in attendance. Steve Newlon, board member of Urban Neighbors, said one of biggest concerns expressed by members was that of public transportation. "A lot of downtown residents would find it beneficial if the routes (for the Oklahoma Spirit trolleys) were reconfigured for the housing developments,” Newlon said. "I'm glad to hear that's being reviewed.”