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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 Published: December 17, 2012

Convention center debate

The MAPS 3 convention center will be the only MAPS 3 project to not be in the construction phase by the end of 2013, but it will still be an important year for the program's most expensive component. Consultants will release a concept study that will make recommendations on the eventual design of the convention center, and how it should fit in with the rest of the urban core.

The concept study will surely sharpen the ongoing debate about how big the convention center should be, what the event space configuration will look like, how a potential headquarters hotel would fit in and what kind of subsidy the convention center and hotel will require.

City officials also hope to finish the acquisition of the former Ford dealership site that the city council chose for the convention center. The site is west of Chesapeake Energy Arena and south of Myriad Gardens, and will also border Oklahoma City Boulevard and be across the street from the MAPS 3 park.

Civic leaders also hope the convention center will be served by the MAPS 3 streetcar, which is also in for a big year in 2013. Among other things, the city intends to finish the acquisition of the Santa Fe Train Depot for the intermodal transit hub.

Auditor's investigation

State Auditor and Inspector Gary Jones is expected to finish in 2013 his office's investigation into alleged financial impropriety, and alleged efforts to cover it up, related to a public safety capital project in Oklahoma City.

Oklahoma City police Capt. Bradd Brown made a whistle-blower report that sparked the investigation. Brown alleges Kerry Wagnon, a city employee who manages the project, “misappropriated and prepaid project funds for personal gain,” and efforts to hide the impropriety from the city council reached as high as the office of City Manager Jim Couch and Assistant City Manager M.T. Berry. Wagnon, Couch and Berry have firmly denied the allegations and said they expect Jones' report to show they did nothing wrong. Brown declined to comment.

The allegations are a relative rarity in Oklahoma City, which hasn't been affected by any serious corruption scandals in recent memory.

Senior wellness centers

Perhaps the most sluggish MAPS 3 project so far has been the senior wellness centers. The MAPS 3 Citizen Advisory Board's subcommittee for the project didn't get any satisfactory bids from potential operating partners after it issued a request for proposals for the first center, and the project is now behind schedule.

Subcommittee Chairman Michael Dover and other officials remain optimistic, saying they'd rather take their time to get things right at the expense of being late than hurry through the process only to find themselves with a bad deal.

The subcommittee is expected to issue a refined request for proposals soon with an eye on selecting an operating partner in 2013. Then plans for the first senior center can come into focus, which officials hope will provide some momentum for the remaining centers.

Remaining issues include whether the centers can include aquatic elements, which were popular with voters, without a hefty subsidy, and choosing how to provide the best mix of services and activities for different demographics.


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