Oklahoma City could seek return of the riverfront land reserved for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum if the state fails to finish the project, a city leader told The Oklahoman on Monday.
Money to complete the center was left out of last Friday’s $7.1 billion budget deal between the state Legislature and Gov. Mary Fallin.
With the project unfinished amid growing doubts that it ever will be, Oklahoma City Manager Jim Couch said Monday that officials have a responsibility to city taxpayers to “go back and recover what we can.”
“We believed until Friday that it was going to get funded,” Couch said.
The unfinished $170 million center stands on the south bank of the Oklahoma River just off Eastern Avenue, near the junction of Interstates 40 and 35. The site consists of about 300 acres of prime property downstream from the city’s Boathouse District.
With the governor’s support, the state Senate agreed this spring to a $40 million proposal to match $40 million in pledges and complete the center. The state House refused to go along.
The deed, signed nine years ago when the city transferred the land to the state, includes a condition that the property “be used solely for the development and operation” of the cultural center and museum.
The deed states that the city “prior to exercising its right of entry for breach of the foregoing conditions” must give the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, the state agency authorized to construct and operate the center, 60 days written notice of the basis for a breach of the conditions.
Couch said there were no firm plans to deliver such notice. But he said city officials have a responsibility to residents to protect their investment.
The site is a former oil field that had to be cleaned up before the city transferred it to the state.
Couch said city taxpayers have “less than $10 million and more than $5 million” in the project.
The city council agreed in 2012 to kick in another $9 million provided the state came up with its $40 million.
Consultants who said the museum would be a national and international draw found the city could collect $4 million per year in new sales taxes once it opens.
Couch said last year the city probably would borrow money for its share and repay the loans with new tax money.
Conditions referenced in the deed include a cultural center, museum and park improvements.
Other anticipated uses include conference centers and hotels, motels, RV parks, and festival marketplaces for sales of art, rugs, jewelry, clothing and food.
Gambling is forbidden.
Mayor Mick Cornett and Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby, board chairman of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, signed the deed in May 2005.
Pat Downes, the Oklahoma City Riverfront Redevelopment Authority’s development director, said a move to reclaim the property would be a policy decision that the mayor, city council and trustees of the river trust would have to make.
He guessed the land alone is worth $20 million.
Downes said those involved “all have high hopes” that a resolution will be reached before the Legislature adjourns, which could be this week.
“My hope is that with all that’s at stake, calmer heads will prevail, and the project will be allowed to move forward,” Downes said.