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Sales tax hike sought in Norman for 'quality of life' improvements

by Jane Glenn Cannon Modified: August 18, 2014 at 8:00 pm •  Published: August 18, 2014

A $171-million-plus list of “quality of life” improvements is being promoted by Norman Forward, an ambitious initiative petition drive calling for a spring election to pass a 15-year, half-cent sales tax to fund the package of amenities.

Here’s the wish list:

A sports and wellness center that includes an all-sports stadium, a multipurpose arena, 20 tournament-ready baseball and softball fields, multiple practice fields, basketball/volleyball courts, an aquatics center and a senior citizens center.

Indoor soccer arena and 20 new soccer fields.

New central and east-side libraries.

Citywide parks improvements.

Development of two large, community parks: Ruby Grant Park on the west side and John Saxon Park on the east side.

Proponent Mike Fowler said the petition is the result of years of study by businessmen and various stakeholders to determine what Norman needs to move forward as a city.

“It’s got something in it for everybody,” Fowler said.

It’s also a one-vote proposition: It’s the whole package or nothing.

Fowler admits it’s putting all the eggs in one basket, but he and other organizers believe it’s the best way to accomplish what a variety of people would like to see happen.

Reservations expressed

Not everyone agrees that the package has something for everyone.

“There’s nothing in it for the homeless. There’s nothing there for the low-income, struggling families,” said Lisa Schmidt, with Variety Care, a health care organization for low-income and uninsured residents.

“When they say ‘quality of life,’ whose quality of life are they talking about? It’s not the homeless or low-income, struggling families. It’s a wish list, but it’s not their wish list. We have people sleeping in cars because they have no homes and children going to bed hungry, and their wish list does not include more soccer fields.”

Schmidt said she wants a new central library “as much as anyone,” and she’s long been a supporter of getting a state-of-the-art aquatics center.

“My concern is that there are struggling families who need help now, not six or more years down the road after this has been accomplished. I’d like to see something in this package that improves their quality of life now,” she said.

Fowler says the enhancements to Norman’s sports community would benefit all children, as well as provide a considerable boost to the city’s economy.

The sports venues, which would be contracted out and operated by private companies, would earn enough to maintain the quality of the facilities and allow for discounted prices for local residents.

Economic impact

The city’s economy would benefit from hundreds of visitors to Norman who come for tournaments and other athletic events and spend money on hotels, restaurants and shopping while they are here, he said.

“Norman families involved in sports travel to other cities for tournament play and spend their dollars there. This would allow them to host tournaments here, instead, making it more affordable for them, as well as bringing in outside revenue from visitors,” he said.

Everything on the “wish list” is something that has long been needed in Norman, from new central and east-side libraries to an all-sports arena, indoor soccer arena and senior citizens center, he said.

Supporters of the Pisces Project, a citizen-driven movement to get a state-of-the-art aquatics center in Norman, has lobbied for 10 years to get facilities that meet competitive swimmers’ needs, Fowler said.

“What happens is that basic needs get taken care of first, and rightfully so, but in the process, things like the aquatics center keep getting pushed to the bottom of the list,” Fowler said.

Don Rother, director of coaching for the Norman Youth Soccer Association, said Norman can’t host anything but the smallest tournaments now because of limited field space and parking restrictions.

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by Jane Glenn Cannon
Senior Reporter
A native of Oklahoma, Jane Glenn Cannon is an award-winning reporter who has covered everything from crime, courts and government to entertainment and features. She wrote a popular personal column for many years. She is a former associate writer...
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