Oklahoma City leaders scored a big league victory Tuesday night as voters overwhelmingly supported a proposal to upgrade the Ford Center in the hopes of landing an NBA franchise. “We really are creating a city where people want to be, and this is a golden age in Oklahoma City,” Mayor Mick Cornett said. “I think someday we will look back and people will realize it.” With all precincts reporting, 44,849 voters, or 61.9 percent, approved the proposal to 27,564, or 38.1 percent, against. The proposal would extend a 1-cent sales tax, which is currently paying for MAPS for Kids. The tax is set to expire at midnight Dec. 31. If the measure passes, the tax would extend through June of 2010, raising about $121 million. About $20 million of that money would pay for a new NBA practice facility. The rest would go toward improvements at the Ford Center, including decorative floors and walls, new bathrooms and concession areas, restaurants, suites, a family fun zone, NBA locker rooms and offices and a host of other renovations. Cornett declared victory about 8:30 p.m., nearly an hour before the vote was final, to thunderous applause and cheers at a watch party thrown by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber at Nonna’s in Bricktown. The chamber put on a “Big League City” campaign to support the proposal. Doug Sanderson, secretary of the Oklahoma County Election Board, said turnout for the vote looked to be about 30 percent, about double the average for a city election and higher than the 2001 MAPS for Kids election, which had 25 percent turnout. Roy Williams, president of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, said the chamber’s campaign supporting the proposal paid off. “It looks like voters are responding very positively that this is the right thing for us to do — to be a big league city,” Williams said. With voters giving their approval, the next vote will be in the hands of NBA owners, who are scheduled to meet next month to vote on a proposal by the Seattle SuperSonics’ owners to relocate to Oklahoma City. Clay Bennett, an Oklahoma City businessman who leads the Sonics ownership group, thanked city leaders and citizens Tuesday night. “Congratulations to Mayor Cornett and the City Council for their visionary leadership,” Bennett said. “Thanks to the Oklahoma City chamber and the business community for their unwavering support and guidance. Above all, we are grateful to the citizens of Oklahoma City for their continued commitment to excellence.” The team is leaving Seattle because the city has refused to publicly finance a new arena. The SuperSonics still face hurdles in leaving Seattle. The city has sued to force the Sonics to honor their lease in Seattle’s Key Arena, which extends through 2010. NBA Commissioner David Stern has said the team leaving Seattle is an “inevitability.” Oklahoma City officials have touted the potential relocation of an NBA team to Oklahoma City as an economic development tool that will help move the city forward as it competes regionally with cities like Dallas and Kansas City. “It sets the stage for potentially something bigger,” Cornett said, referencing the likely arrival of an NBA team. “We’ve done what we need to do to continue to impress that NBA relocation committee.” If the NBA does not locate a team here, the sales tax will last through Dec. 31, 2009, raising about $100 million for Ford Center improvements. The practice facility would not be built. Cornett has also promoted the improvements as a way to keep the Ford Center competitive with newer arenas when vying for events. “I’m thrilled that the voters believe in the future of Oklahoma City,” Cornett said. “This assures that we’re going to be competitive in getting Big 12 events and NCAA events, concerts and conventions. The improvements are going to be fabulous. I can’t wait for the people to see them.” Contributing: Staff Writers Berry Tramel and Michael Kimball Bryan Dean: 475-3206, email@example.com
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