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Oklahoma City's rise called for a joint effort

Oklahoman business writer Steve Lackmeyer notes that the ongoing challenge of rising together is key to downtown Oklahoma City's emergence this week on the international stage.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: June 17, 2012

Editor's note: Steve Lackmeyer's OKC Central column was refocused for a weeklong series looking at Oklahoma City's revival.

The weekend of June 8, 2012, might very well go down as one of those historic moments in the history of Oklahoma City.

For many people, the quick immediate reasoning for such a conclusion is that Friday was when the world began to focus its attention on the city's first appearance in the NBA Finals.

One event, one attraction, one show alone does not make for an urban renaissance. Nineteen years ago a fairly radical proposition was pitched to residents: sporting fans, arts patrons, library supporters, the business community, river advocates, Bricktown developers and merchants and Meridian Avenue hoteliers all had to join up in supporting an unprecedented public investment in the urban core or gain nothing.

Now those very same groups all shared in the fruits of their decision to support the Metropolitan Area Projects that gave Oklahoma City so much of the momentum celebrated this week.

Without MAPS, there would have been no Thunder, no NBA, and no Finals. There would have been no drag boat races drawing thousands of people to the thriving boathouse row along the Oklahoma River. There would no movie screens to accommodate sold-out audiences attending the deadCenter Film Festival. And it's difficult to imagine the Red Earth Festival remaining downtown, with the parent organization's museum located next to what would be a closed, dark Skirvin hotel without the advent of MAPS.

“Rise Together.” The marketing folks employed by Clay Bennett in promoting the Oklahoma City Thunder couldn't have been more brilliant in crafting that slogan for the young team.

Oklahoma City, given a choice in 1993 by former Mayor Ron Norick to support a MAPS ballot that benefitted competing interest groups, chose to “rise together.” A long-divided arts community that struggled for years with multiple homes for the Oklahoma City Museum of Art settled their differences and built a museum that sought to rise up with the still fledgling downtown revival in the late 1990s.

The museum's board and its visionary director, Carolyn Hill, somehow saw the potential of independent cinema and added a theater as part of their new home. That theater is now the focal point of the deadCenter Film Festival, which moved downtown from its birthplace at the University of Central Oklahoma.

The deadCenter Festival moved to rise together with the museum, a revitalized Philharmonic, Oklahoma City Ballet, Carpenter Square Theatre and other arts organizations that have concentrated around the Civic Center Music Hall.

As more than 500 journalists from around the world arrived downtown to cover the NBA Finals, they had to be blind to not see that this downtown renaissance story far exceeded basketball.

The truth is, it was no big deal alone that the river was hosting thousands of drag boat racing fans last weekend. Indeed, it's common now for large crowds to gather along boathouse row throughout the year — now that the river is home to a variety of water sports.

It's also no big deal that the film festival drew large crowds to often sold-out independent movie screenings. It's no big deal that more than a half dozen Hollywood actors were in our midst. The film festival has grown exponentially since it started at UCO a dozen years ago.

It's no big deal that the Red Earth Festival continues to draw visitors from throughout the world, or that with so many competing attractions, RedHawks baseball remains popular with families enjoying one of America's oldest pastimes.

We've grown accustomed to seeing filled-up downtown hotels and restaurants. The continued influx of companies relocating their offices to downtown Oklahoma City (which not long ago struggled with vacancies) is even becoming a common occurrence.

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's...
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