OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma lawmakers walked across the bare floors of the unfinished American Indian Cultural Center & Museum on Tuesday as museum administrators urged the passage of legislation to provide funding to complete the structure and open it to tourists.
But the House author of the Senate-passed $40 million funding measure said approval in the House is not assured and may ultimately depend upon the work of members of the House's Native American caucus.
"They are going to have to impress on the other members that this is something that is good for the whole state," said Rep. David Dank, R-Oklahoma City. A total of 24 of the House's 101 members, including 16 members of the majority Republican caucus, are part of the Native American caucus as enrolled members of one of the state's 39 federally recognized tribes, Dank said.
"It's going to take a lot of work on the part of the Native American caucus," Dank said. "It's going to be very, very hard."
More than a dozen members of the House and Senate walked through the concrete-and-steel structure as museum director Blake Wade urged approval of the funding measure that would take $40 million from the state's Unclaimed Property Fund to help complete the museum. The bill is pending in the House.
The money would be matched with another $40 million from private sources including $7.4 million from Oklahoma's federally recognized tribes, $9 million from the city of Oklahoma City and donations from various private and corporate donors.
"Let's go ahead and get it finished," Wade said. He said the 173,000-square-foot structure at the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 40 south of downtown Oklahoma City will be "a destination spot" that will tell the story of tribal cultures and history for visitors from around the nation and the world.
"Oklahoma is Indian Territory," Wade said. "We want to do everything we can to make this work."
Chickasaw Nation Gov. Bill Anoatubby said the structure was designed as a "world-class facility" that would house exhibits provided by tribal nations and renowned museums like the Smithsonian Institution.
"This wonderful facility will be something to marvel at," Anoatubby said. "Imagine what it can be. Imagine what it can do."
If funding is approved, the cultural center will be self-sustaining and administrators will seek no additional funding from the state, Wade said. Completion is scheduled for 2017 if funding is authorized this year.
But some lawmakers have expressed skepticism about the facility's financial future. The state already has spent $64 million through three separate bond issues to help pay for the project, which also has received funding from Oklahoma City and the federal stimulus.
"More money. More money. And the taxpayers don't want to do it," said Rep. Mike Reynolds, R-Oklahoma City, one of several House members who toured the structure.
Other lawmakers seemed more willing to consider voting for the plan.
"It needs to be finished. I think this is a good way to do it," said Rep. Mike Christian, R-Oklahoma City, a member of the Choctaw Nation.
"This is a state asset. It is the state's responsibility," said Rep. Randy McDaniel, R-Edmond. "This mission is to get it completed."