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Oklahoma lawmakers tour future Indian museum site as vote looms

With a $40 million decision looming, the purpose of this road trip was to tour a cavernous concrete and steel structure in Oklahoma City and hear the visions of promoters who hope to soon turn that vacant shell into a world-class American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.
by Randy Ellis Modified: March 19, 2014 at 9:00 am •  Published: March 18, 2014

With a $40 million decision looming, about a dozen state lawmakers took to the road Tuesday.

The purpose of their road trip was to tour a cavernous 173,000-square-foot concrete and steel structure in Oklahoma City and hear the visions of boosters who hope to soon turn that vacant shell into a world-class American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.

“The potential is tremendous,” said J. Blake Wade, executive director of the entity developing the museum.

The museum overflows with tribal symbolism.

Its circular design is symbolic of the circularity of life found in nature and is reflective of the circular formations often found in American Indian social and ceremonial activities that take place in circular arenas.

Prominent museum features are designed to align with sunrises and sunsets of seasonal equinoxes.

About 156,000 vehicles a day pass by the site, located just southeast of the intersection of Interstate 40 and Interstate 35. Those vehicles are filled with Europeans, Asians and Americans — many of whom yearn to know more about the American Indian culture, he said. And Oklahoma is the right place to satisfy those yearnings, since it is home to 39 federally recognized tribes with vibrant and diverse cultures.

The problem is money.

State funds sought

About $91 million has been spent on the project so far, but builders ran out of money in July 2012.

Since then, the state agency that runs it has been paying about $68,000 a month to secure and maintain the site.

Backers say it will take $80 million to finish the museum, and they have $40 million in pledges lined up if the state will just provide the other $40 million.

The state Senate is supportive — having already voted to spend $40 million from the state’s Unclaimed Property Fund to finish the project, as long as the other $40 million in pledged funds come through as promised.

Museum backers claim a majority of House members also have indicated support but say they do not yet have the support of a majority of Republican House members. Since Republicans are the dominant party, with 72 of 101 votes, museum backers say they are attempting to obtain the support of at least 36 House Republicans. They believe that would get them a vote on the House floor. The House’s 29 Democrats have announced their unanimous support for the museum’s funding.

Wade said he remains optimistic that the Republican votes can be obtained.

It’s the votes of people like state Rep. Dennis Casey, R-Morrison, that backers are trying to get.

Casey said he was leaning against the project before taking Tuesday’s tour and finished the tour the same way.

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by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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