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Proposed Oklahoma City Convention Center will include more space, room to grow

BY BRYAN DEAN Modified: November 22, 2009 at 7:36 am •  Published: November 22, 2009

/> It would also be more convenient for those using the building by including things such as fiber optics, electrical wiring, Internet connectivity and compressed air in the floor, which could be easily accessed by exhibitors.

In addition to serving as a community center for luncheons, banquets, graduations and other events, Williams said there will be some bells and whistles.

"Sort of the new paradigm of the convention center is that it’s much more inviting to the citizens,” Williams said. "It has amenities such as retail shops, cafes, coffee shops, other kinds of things that local residents would want to patronize.”

Convention center arms race?
Several national studies question what has become an arms race between major cities to see who can build the biggest and best convention centers.

A 2005 study by Heywood Sanders of the Brookings Institution said convention business is declining nationally, with attendance at the 200 largest trade shows at 1993 levels.

Since then, the situation has only gotten worse, said Sanders, a public administration professor at the University of Texas-San Antonio.

Sanders cautioned against promising voters vastly increased convention business.

He said many cities are using the same strategy as Oklahoma City when it comes to luring more business.

"I can go down the list of folks who say all we need is a bigger convention center and ‘this’ will happen,” Sanders said.

"There may be some people who succeed, but more often than not more convention center space yields essentially no more business.”

Williams said those numbers apply more to large cities.

"Our strategy is not to compete against New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, those cities that are going after the huge conventions,” Williams said. "Those are the conventions that are losing their size. That’s not our market. We are going after the medium-sized conventions and meetings that are still being attended. That market is strong and solid.”

Another factor in the city’s favor is that the area is a bit of a new player in the market.

As MAPS has raised the city’s profile, conventions are considering coming here for the first time, Williams said.

"We’re not selling the product we were selling 10 years ago,” Williams said. "Oklahoma City is a completely different destination. We are like a new product on the market. We’re not an old product with a new building.”

Ongoing coverage: MAPS 3


Election Day

Dec. 8

Who can vote?
Registered voters within Oklahoma City limits

What is included in the $777 million plan?
→Downtown park, $130 million

→New convention center, $280 million

→Mass transit initiatives, $130 million

→Oklahoma River improvements, $60 million

→State Fair Park improvements, $60 million

→Health and wellness aquatic centers for senior citizens, $50 million

→Additional bike and pedestrian trails, $40 million

→Sidewalks, $10 million

→Contingency funds, $17 million

History
The Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) was a collection of nine projects such as the Bricktown Canal, Ford Center and AT&T Bricktown Ballpark. They were paid for by a five-year, 1-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1993. The tax raised $363 million after voters agreed in 1998 to extend it for six months. MAPS for Kids passed in 2001 as a follow-up to MAPS and raised $714 million through a seven-year, 1-cent sales tax and a school bond issue. Work is still ongoing and includes the renovation or rebuilding of every school in the Oklahoma City district and money for capital projects divided among suburban districts with students in Oklahoma City.

Support
The Yes for MAPS campaign is principally organized and funded by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber and led by Mayor Mick Cornett. According to the campaign’s Web site, www.yesformaps.com, other supporters include Oklahoma City All Sports Association, Bricktown Association, Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., OKC Beautiful, Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma, Oklahoma City University, The Foundation for Oklahoma City Public Schools, Oklahoma City Museum of Art, Oklahoma State Fair Inc., South Oklahoma City Chamber and Arts Council of Oklahoma City. Supporters contend the proposal is the next step as the city continues the growth that began with MAPS in 1993.

Opposition
Oklahoma City’s police and fire unions have organized against MAPS 3, forming a committee called "Not This MAPS." Union officials claim the city needs to keep up staffing in the police and fire departments before moving on with MAPS 3. More information can be found at the opposition Web site, www.okcissues.com. The city has said a use tax could be used for fire and police services if MAPS 3 passes. Union officials are currently in contract negotiations with city officials.

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