The MAPS story may be old news to Oklahoma City residents, but it impressed a group of mayors from across the nation as the U.S. Conference of Mayors wrapped up Monday at the Cox Convention Center.
Mayor Mick Cornett was joined by his three predecessors, Kirk Humphreys, Ron Norick and Andy Coates, as they recounted how the city went from oil bust to an NBA city with a vibrant downtown thanks to MAPS, MAPS for Kids, the Ford Center tax and MAPS 3.
The panel then took questions from attendees, many of which focused on how the city maintained the unity and voter support necessary to pass so many large tax initiatives.
Cornett said he called NBA Commissioner David Stern the day after the Ford Center vote passed with about 62 percent in favor and apologized that 38 percent of voters didn't approve of the plan, though Stern said it represented overwhelming support.
Waukegan, Ill., Mayor Bob Sabonjian said he would have no chance of convincing voters in his area to approve anything like MAPS.
"It's interesting how effective they were in being able to push these things through,” Sabonjian said. "When they talk about getting 62 percent of the vote and being embarrassed by that, where I'm from, that would be a landslide.”
Sabonjian said he visited Bricktown on Friday and could tell the MAPS projects have been successful.
"When you look at what it's accomplished, I think it's money well spent,” Sabonjian said. "I'm just very impressed by Bricktown. The crowds that were down there Friday night weren't driven by the mayor's conference. There is an obvious attraction and affinity between the people that live here and what they've helped create and maintain.”
Kansas City, Kan., Mayor Joe Reardon said he was impressed that two decades worth of Oklahoma City mayors and council members worked toward the same goals as they tried to make MAPS successful.
"To see this continuity in mayoral leadership across several administrations is something I'm a big believer in,” Reardon said. "A one-time vote like this would be not so rare. Time and again, having the public come back and renew a vision is very unique. It clearly shows that strong leadership is willing to come forward and take risks and present a vision to the public and ask them to get on board. It's clear here that the government has delivered.”
As the conference came to an end, Cornett said he has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from his fellow mayors about the conference and Oklahoma City.
"Usually the mayors are mentioning the friendliness of our volunteers and how they've never met a nicer bunch of people,” Cornett said. "Bricktown was a huge success Friday night. Most mayors have an area of town they would love to turn into Bricktown, and they don't know how to do it.”
Reardon said he took pride as many mayors from the east and west coast got to see Oklahoma City's progress up close.
"It's fun as a Midwestern mayor to see Oklahoma City host the conference, and for mayors from all over the country to come here and see what a great city in the middle part of our country is doing,” Reardon said. "I'm just proud to play a role in it even though I'm not from Oklahoma City. I think a lot of mayors are really impressed.”