Creating a healthy city is one of Mick Cornett's passions.
So the latest blow to the voter-approved MAPS 3 senior health and wellness centers, one of the mayor's signature programs, would seem to be a setback.
Not so, Cornett said after the Oklahoma City-County Health Department withdrew its proposal to open a senior center in one of the city's least healthy neighborhoods.
“You know, almost every MAPS project has traditionally had a little bit of controversy, and it almost always subsides once the project gets opened,” the mayor said.
The health department's withdrawal leaves the city weighing proposals for just two of the senior centers promised to MAPS 3 voters four years ago.
The idea was popular with voters, who were told they could expect four or five senior centers at a total cost of about $50 million.
A central feature of the centers will be swimming pools and warm water therapy pools to sooth aching joints.
Social activities, medical services and fitness classes will be offered, with the mix based on needs and desires of seniors who use them.
Public health officials declined to say why they withdrew, but Ward 7 Councilman John A. Pettis Jr. had criticized their chosen location.
Pettis contended the site, at the Northeast Regional Health and Wellness Campus on NE 63 near Interstate 35, was too far from most residents' homes.
At a council workshop in September, Pettis said that the health department was unwilling to open a senior center at an inner-city site preferred by Ward 7 residents.
His opposition to NE 63, he said, was “nonnegotiable.”
Pettis later said he could work with the health department, but Cornett said Pettis “wants another round at trying to get a different location.”
“It seemed like they're fine with that, and I think under the circumstances, we don't have to hurry it,” Cornett said. “But I wish we were under construction now on a northeast facility.”
Council members were told in September that money to build the first MAPS 3 senior center was waiting to be spent.
As of Aug. 31, only $239,000 had been spent on the senior health and wellness centers, the least of any of the eight MAPS 3 projects.
The city already had spent $15.3 million on the proposed $130 million downtown park.
Voters approved a 1-cent sales tax in 2009 to pay for the senior centers, the park, a convention center and other projects. It continued MAPS funding that began 20 years ago.
MAPS 3 is expected to raise $777 million before it expires after 10 years.
The two senior health and wellness center proposals still under consideration were submitted by Healthy Living and Fitness Inc. and NorthCare.
Healthy Living is affiliated with Putnam City Baptist Church. It has proposed a senior center with a strong social emphasis at the church campus on N Rockwell Avenue at NW 115.
NorthCare is a well-established nonprofit that offers a broad array of health services.
Its first proposal was for a center on the northwest side, as well. NorthCare now is considering south Oklahoma City, at a spot adjacent to Capitol Hill High School.
Healthy Living and NorthCare both have proposals designed to succeed without subsidies, a requirement set by the city that scuttled some earlier proposals.
Bill Fleming, a spokesman for Healthy Living, said he expected negotiations for a contract to begin within a few weeks.
Council members expect any center to serve seniors regardless of ability to pay, to be flexible in its programs, and to operate without city subsidies.
If those expectations are met, design and construction still would take at least 18 more months before Healthy Living's center could open, Fleming said.
“I feel very confident that our model works and will be self-sustaining,” he said. “You want to make sure you do something that's viable for a long time.”
The health department said it would focus its efforts on developing another health and wellness campus — this one in south Oklahoma City neighborhoods plagued by high teen birthrates, high infant mortality rates, and high death rates from cancer and heart disease.
Cornett said the parting over the MAPS 3 senior center was on good terms.
“We have two more, if both of them withdraw, then we may have a problem with the model,” he said.
“If at least one of them is willing to go first and ready to go, then I'm confident the model's going to work fine.”