If a public project or initiative brings a tangible utility to the community that is paying for it, all is well. Evidently Oklahoma City was satisfied with the MAPS projects; after the first two, they approved a third. Now, we’re being asked to approve a fourth initiative, which goes to the ballot on December 10th.
This one seeks to raise a staggering $978 million via a ‘temporary’ penny sales tax. It will leave the present rate unchanged, as it’s replacing a different tax that is expiring next year. This wouldn’t be so bad if the project represented a real improvement to Oklahoma City. It’s only a penny!
Then again, it would represent a diversion of $978 million out of the economy into places it would not have gone naturally. No small sum, and especially egregious, in this instance: of the 16 proposals that make up MAPS 4, only a few are remotely valuable to Oklahoma City at large. In the interest of space, I won’t describe all of them, but there is some worth mentioning:
Oklahoma City is becoming saturated with event and sporting spaces. Is there a use for them? Is soccer really a popular enough sport to justify a $37 million dollar expense to build a stadium that will seat thousands? Oklahoma City tells us that there is, because there’s a lot of “hispanics” here, and that the World Cup was really popular. Sure it was, because it was the World Cup.
- Improvements to the Chesapeake Energy Arena
This provision spends a staggering $115 million on improvements to an existing building. This is more than Maps 4 seeks to spend on homelessness and mental health, combined. I might be more inclined to support measures like these if the sole focus was on homelessness, with which we have a genuine problem. But to spend so much public money on a project that will only really benefit a private organization (the Thunder) isn’t something we should be too interested in doing.
- Civil Rights Center
Really I think this is some sort of museum, it’s unclear. What is clear, is that Oklahoma has a troublesome history with Museums. All of us are old enough to remember the Oklahoma City Native American History Center, which to this day has not been opened. It began in 2006 and work halted in 2012, after burning through $90 million. How you can’t finish a museum in six years and after such a considerable amount of money is beyond anyone with a business sense. Now, an additional $50 million is being “invested” ($9 million of which comes from Oklahoma City, unfortunately) so that it might be opened by 2021. I know a lot of these facilities (the Oklahoma History Center for example, which is a nice facility) make a lot of revenue as event space, but there is no way that you can recoup an investment of one hundred and forty million dollars, especially considering the considerable operational, security, and maintenance costs of any large building.
I think the proposed Civil Rights center is a little more modest in scope, but the point remains: $16 million will be spent, but another $9 million will have to be spent on “long term sustainability.” Meaning, essentially, that public interest in the Civil Rights center will be insufficient to keep it open. We’ll have to subsidise it further.
Something ought to be said about the fashion of modern museums: the tendency is towards walls of text, photos, video screens, with historical objects becoming sparse. Not all are like this, but going to many museums now is basically like walking through a book. We can do that at home; if you don’t have enough tangible objects to fill a museum, you probably don’t need to open a museum.
Is there not enough space in the Oklahoma History Center for a Civil Rights exhibit? They have 200,000 square feet, you’d think they could fit it in.
- The Innovation District
Everyone I've talked to is really scratching their heads on this one. It’s not even certain that Oklahoma City knows the purpose of what they have proposed. One of the seven objectives seen in the MAPS literature reads thus:
To design a place for convergence that fosters synergistic connections and builds on existing strengths.
From what I gather, Oklahoma City intends on spending $70 million on some sort of meeting/event space over by the General Electric office in Oklahoma City. They claim that innovation can be “facilitated” within this building, and that we’ll bring together all of the major industries of Oklahoma. It’s also purportedly going to bring better jobs to Oklahoma (somehow) that pay better than the existing ones (somehow) and will bring over a billion dollars into the Oklahoma economy (somehow.)
Perhaps I'm being cynical, and maybe this is something that will one day be of use. However, it seems to me that we should occupy ourselves with solving the homeless and mental health problem, solving the traffic congestion problems, both of which serve as thorns in the side of a growing city?
For this reason, I’m voting no on the Maps initiative, and I encourage you to do the same.