Oklahoma City 2013: Oklahoma City prepares for critical year

A number of key decisions and debates will mark 2013 in Oklahoma City. MAPS 3 projects get into full swing, an election puts almost half of the city council seats up for grabs, the design of the downtown boulevard will be hammered out and an auditor's report into alleged corruption is due.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL mkimball@opubco.com Published: December 17, 2012

A year in the life of a city is like a game in a season for big-time college football around here. They're all big, especially when you lose one.

It will be no exception in Oklahoma City for 2013, which will be as important a year as any. Critical decisions related to MAPS 3 and other urban development projects, elections for four city council seats and an audit report on alleged impropriety in a public safety capital project are all due next year, and how things turn out will reverberate for decades.

This year has been mostly a success for Oklahoma City, with robust economic expansion and the lowest unemployment rate in the country fueling unprecedented sales tax revenue growth. And though plans for some big civic projects have proved divisive, the debate has been allowed to play out in public through many open meetings attended by crowds of engaged and vocal city residents and business owners.

So what are some of the most important things on the horizon in Oklahoma City for 2013?

Boulevard decisions

The design of the downtown Oklahoma City Boulevard is likely to be finalized, and construction should begin. The boulevard's purpose and design have been the focus of a noisy debate in recent months.

Some decisions to be made in 2013, like narrowing the road from six lanes to four, seem to be formalities after a general consensus was reached after a series of public discussions. But more decisions expected to be divisive are also coming.

Chief among them will be the design of a western section of the boulevard as it passes through a complicated series of intersections at Reno and Western avenues and Classen Boulevard. Designs for sections of the boulevard in the downtown core will follow.

Advocates of a flat and narrow roadway, with a low speed limit, that is friendliest to development and pedestrians have been pitted against those who want maximized traffic efficiency in a growing downtown.

The Oklahoma City Council will likely choose its preferred design in early 2013, which will then be submitted to state Transportation Department and federal transportation authorities for ultimate approval.

City council elections

Four of the nine city council seats will be up for elections in the spring, and all four incumbents told The Oklahoman last week they will seek re-election.

Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs, Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee, Ward 4 Councilman Pete White and Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly will face primary elections March 5 if they're opposed, and the top two candidates in each primary will square off again April 2 if no one gets a majority in the primary.

Kelly, however, will lose his council seat if re-elected but convicted of the felony DUI charge he faces in a pending Oklahoma County District Court case. Kelly was arrested in January on suspicion of drunken driving for the second time in less than three years.

Kelly's felony charge was automatic because of a new state law, but a pending appellate case that could affect situations like Kelly's, where the defendant's first DUI conviction came before the law was enacted, has helped push back Kelly's preliminary hearing for months, set most recently for March 15.

Kelly would keep his seat if exonerated or if convicted of a misdemeanor through a plea bargain. Kelly pleaded not guilty at an early court appearance, has denied being drunk at the time of his arrest and said public judgment of him should be reserved until the case plays out.