By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
Ward 2 City Councilman Ed Shadid is advocating for two initiative petitions filed Jan. 2. The first calls for citywide vote to prohibit use of sales taxes for a new downtown convention center and hotel. The second would end the MAPS 3 sales tax in 2015, instead of 2018.
If both measures secure ballot status and gain voter approval, the result could mean a sales tax cut for residents. Supporters will have 90 days to gather 6,000 valid signatures for each petition.
“We’ve had hundreds of people who have come to the Initiative Facebook page (facebook.com/okchcci),” said Shadid. “There’s a wide range of people across the political spectrum collecting signatures.”
Since 1993, a series of Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS), financed by 1-cent sales taxes, have financed a range of government projects.
Shadid, who is challenging incumbent Mayor Mick Cornett in the March 4 election, says the 2009 cluster of measures known as “MAPS 3” did not include disclosure that a downtown convention center would require construction of a downtown hotel to become viable.
Shadid has pointed to analyses predicting annual taxpayer subsidies of $50 million to $200 million would be required for such a hotel.
Several community leaders criticized the local initiative proposals, including Council Members Meg Salyer and Larry McAtee.
Council Member Pete White supports getting voters involved. “I think what the Council feels privately is that we are going to borrow significant amounts of money, if not the entire $200 million, to make this 735 room hotel happen,” Shadid stated.
“If we were to engage in this $200 million hotel we would be paying substantial amounts of interest which is a radical departure from the MAPS program where funds would be collected and then spent to avoid borrowing interest payments.”
In an interview with The City Sentinel, Shadid continued, “If the hotel wasn’t able to generate enough revenue to pay off its loan payments the difference would come out of the general fund, which is our annual budget for our neighborhood parks, our transit system and our police and fire departments and personnel.
“We’re following a recommended development scenario from a Chamber of Commerce study that they have refused to release to the public.”
The study was done in 2009, the year of the MAPS 3 vote. [Pat McGuigan’s report outlining the executive summary of the 2009 report is on page 1-2 of this week’s edition of The City Sentinel.]
Shadid introduced a resolution on December 31 asking the Council to request that the Chamber release the study to the public. It failed in a 6-3 vote.
Shadid observed the reason that Pat Ryan and Meg Salyer gave for nondisclosure is that “it’s a private matter.”
Shadid reflects, “The hotel and the convention center have always been talked about as a package. That would likely decrease support for MAPS 3 if they talked about the hotel and the public subsidies that would likely be needed.”
Heywood Sanders, the nation’s preeminent authority on convention centers said, “OKC is highly unusual, if not unique, in the lack of transparency and the absence of public information on the proposed convention center and convention center hotel.”
Sanders will speak Thursday, Jan.23, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., concerning convention center development issues facing Oklahoma City. The free public event will be held at the Bricktown Hotel and Convention Center, 2001 East Reno Ave.
In a recent blog Shadid wrote, “In Nashville taxpayers just spent $128 million plus 20 years of property tax abatements for an 800-room hotel. The proposal in OKC is 735 rooms.”
Shadid poses the question of how many new conventions the city will actually generate?
“The Atlantic Cities” publication wrote in 2012 that the time for convention/hotels is over saying the actual number of conventions hosted in the U.S. has fallen over the last decade. Attendance at the 200 largest conventions peaked at about 5 million in the mid-1990s and has fallen steadily since.
Sanders states, “The overall convention marketplace has shifted dramatically, in a manner that suggests that a recovery or turnaround is unlikely to yield much increased business for any given community. Less business means less revenue to cover facilities’ expenses, and less money injected into local economies.”
Christopher Leinberger, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution said, “You need to look very carefully before building another convention center in this country. These centers require huge investments, money that could be better used to bolster the quality of life, the parks, the retailing, or the homeless situation.”
Shadid said, “This is politics at its most basic level, which is economic power and dispersal of economic resources. At what point does that power need to be dispersed back to the people?”
Even as the convention center debate continues, the Shadid campaign remains active on other fronts.
Councilman Ed Shadid backs initiative petitions to stop OKC’s new convention center and hotel
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