Next year will be key to maintaining voter confidence in the MAPS programs as the direction of several key projects begins to unfold.
Important decisions related to the senior wellness centers, convention center and a 70-acre park downtown are among the most significant of Oklahoma City's MAPS 3 agenda items for 2013, but some amount of construction is expected for almost all of the projects.
In total, eight projects comprise the $777 million package approved by city voters in 2009.
David Todd, the city's MAPS program manager, said communication with voters will be critical for those tasked with planning and developing the sales tax-backed program.
Setbacks mark 2012
A few setbacks marked 2012 for the MAPS 3 program, similar to the fits and starts experienced during the original MAPS program. Opinions on a design plan for the proposed downtown boulevard are mixed, for example, and the current MAPS budget will fund less than half of the 70 miles of sidewalks promised to voters.
But Todd said most everything else is on pace to meet voter expectations.
“MAPS 3 probably has more public involvement than probably anything in the history of the city,” Todd said. “Not only are there 80 citizens on the subcommittees, but we've already had two public meetings (for the park) that were well-publicized. We sat there for an hour and a half and let everybody talk about what they wanted to talk about.”
The first MAPS program, approved in 1993, relied on resident-staffed committees to develop individual projects, but a trust authority made project decisions with MAPS for Kids, approved in 2001.
MAPS 3 marked a return to the resident committees but also a return to controversy not seen since the initial MAPS proposal. Both passed with a 54 percent approval rate, the narrowest approval margins of the penny sales tax elections.
City Public Works Director Eric Wenger, who preceded Todd as MAPS director and worked on the original programs, said he thinks project developers have learned to be realistic and honest in developing the budget, scope and schedule for each of the proposals.
“We've got those who were here originally that are still advising using best practices, using previous experiences, to make sure it's successful — and it's not just one or two people, it's a core group,” he said. “We built all the processes in MAPS 1 that are actually still used today.”
Mayor Mick Cornett said the dance of developing such a massive public improvements project requires balancing the expectations of the public with the guidance of experts.
Where city planners might be focused on the pedestrian potential of the proposed boulevard, for example, city engineers are concerned about the ease of getting traffic into and out of downtown.
In any case, Cornett said, Oklahoma City residents have become used to the process.
“They're patient, they're waiting for these projects to open up, and they're basing their expectations on the projects before,” he said. “The key is to ultimately meet their expectations, not to meet their expectations in 2013.”