Oklahoma’s Unclaimed Property Fund would be tapped for $40 million to help complete Oklahoma City’s American Indian Cultural Center and Museum under a proposal confirmed Tuesday by the state Senate.
“I hope it happens,” said J. Blake Wade, chief executive director of the entity developing the American Indian museum. “Hopefully it will work out over the next days and weeks. I’d be very delighted.”
The plan will be presented to the state Senate Appropriations Committee for consideration on Wednesday and could be presented to the full Senate for consideration as early as next week, said state Sen. Kyle Loveless, R-Oklahoma City, co-author of the Senate Bill 1651.
The bill calls for the state to take $40 million in excess funds from the Unclaimed Property Fund and use that money to match $40 million in pledged private donations, Loveless said. The state will not release the money unless the private matching funds are provided, he said.
Officials have said the combined $80 million would be enough to complete the $170 million project, which remains unfinished despite $91 million already having been spent on it — including $67.4 million from the state.
The plan would not involve the issuance of any new revenue bonds, which could help resolve concerns expressed by state House members who have balked in the past at the prospect of the state issuing new debt.
State Treasurer Ken Miller is supportive of the proposal, said Tim Allen, his deputy treasurer for communications and program administration. The $40 million from the Unclaimed Property Fund is beyond what is necessary to make sure that anyone who files a valid claim with the state for abandoned property gets paid, he said.
The bill calls for the museum’s current governing structure to be abolished and for the creation of a public trust to manage it.
It would prohibit the museum from accepting any future federal funds, Loveless said.
Wade said the museum’s business model calls for it to pay all operating expenses from revenue generated by admission and gift shop sales as well as the lease of surrounding properties to complementary business enterprises.
Potential new development opportunities include hotels, restaurants, Indian art colonies and tribal business enterprises, he said.
“It is just going to be an exciting area there on the river,” he said of the museum and surrounding businesses that would be built along the Oklahoma River, east of downtown Oklahoma City.
“The exciting thing for me is this would give all of our American Indians the opportunity to bring in their art and sculptures,” Wade said. “We’re going to be able to sell these things. Everybody has been going out to Santa Fe (New Mexico), and we are going to be able to now have a place of our own where people can buy American Indian art and sculptures. We want to make sure it’s authentic by our 39 tribes in Oklahoma.”
The bill calls for any excess revenues generated by the museum, beyond what is needed to pay for maintenance and operations, to be used to help the state pay back bonds previously issued to help construct it.