By Stacy Martin
Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett didn’t have to work hard to win over his audience of commercial realtors last week.
They were well aware of the downtown’s transformation from a moribund destination to a vibrant destination for both natives and visitors. They were also aware of the roles played by Cornett, Kirk Humphries and other civic, business leaders and taxpayers in making that dream come true.
He told a tale that began with the city’s boom/bust cycle that went bus for a protracted period during the 1980s. Oklahoma City was desperate for a solution ad saw a golden goose in United Airlines’ search for allocation for its $1 billion facility.
Oklahoma City offered the airline every incentive in the book, but failed in its bid, he reminded his audience. But he praised those executives in telling then Mayor Kirk Humphries why United had chosen Indianapolis over Oklahoma City.
“ ‘We just couldn’t see our employees living in Oklahoma City,’ ” Cornett said the executives related.
It was a call to action for everyone, city leaders and citizens alike. First, Humphries recognized the crumbling infrastructure of Oklahoma City area schools. Metropolitan Area Projects Kids was put out for a vote for a penny sales tax and passed.
A few years later, voters decided to continue to taxing themselves for a second MA PS measure, which underwrote the Bricktown Ballpark for the Redhawks ownership. The city’s core began to come to life.
“We had a ditch downtown which kept flooding,” he related, to the amusement of the audience. “
He said city leaders realized what an asset they had and filled the “ditch,” which has become a major economic boom, the Oklahoma River. Both Chesapeake Energy and Devon Energy have since built boathouses and other facilities that have attracted competitive boating events and Olympic training.
Voters have since agreed to continue taxing themselves with MAPS 2 and MAPS 3 to develop an arena for the ownership and fans of National Basketball Association Thunder, as well as other projects.
Project 180 has reformed landscaping and “street aping” with Tax Increment TIF Financing, which has deferred county taxes for Devon Energy Corp. The one-way streets downtown which made downtown difficult for commuters have been eliminated and green space is growing. It’s clear the public/private investment in downtown has created major changes.
But the County tax deferral seems a pittance compared to Devon’s new skyscraper, which cost the company nearly $1 billion.
Mayor Cornett also praised the unity of city leaders, which he said has aided in downtown’s upturn. Cities from around the country have visited to see it.
But Oklahoma City remains deficient in mass transportation, a result Cornett claimed is partly due to resistance among metro area residents.
Mayor Cornett is running for a fourth term as mayor of Oklahoma City. He is opposed by Dr. Ed Shadid, Ward 2 City Councilman.
The Metropolitan Association of Realtors’ Realtors Commercial Alliance President BIjan Babollah and RCA president-elect Jack Werner, CEO of A to Z Inspections, co-sponsored the luncheon for about 250 attendees.