More than 100 mayors descending upon the city may not sound as exciting as a Thunder game or a night out in Bricktown, but the impact of their visit could be just as huge for Oklahoma City as those improvements.
OKC will play host to the 78th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors, scheduled Friday through Tuesday at the Cox Convention Center. Mayors from 36 states will gather to discuss policy issues " with oil-spill reaction and the new Arizona immigration law being among the top priorities " and urban needs facing the nation's cities.
And they'll do it while staying in Oklahoma City hotels, eating at Oklahoma City restaurants and leaving money in Oklahoma City coffers.
"One-thousand-plus people (are) coming to the city and filling up the hotels and the restaurants and visiting our sights," said Mayor Mick Cornett. "Certainly there's money coming into the city that wouldn't be here otherwise."
Beyond that, the high-profile national event, which often features a visit from the U.S. president, will bring more than just an immediate economic impact. By bringing in mayors from the East Coast and West Coast, most of whom have never been to Oklahoma before, the city stands to gain some significant exposure.
"So we have an opportunity to bring them in, and if they're treated nicely and they have a good time, chances are they'll go back and say nice things about us," Cornett said. "And that image can help us create jobs and certainly help us with tourism down the line."
The city has a chance to strut its stuff in front of the nation's top mayors. Roy Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber, hopes the city leaves guests wanting more.
"We want them to meet our people. We want them to see the hospitality (and) the friendliness of Oklahomans," Williams said. "We want them to see the diversity of culture we have here. We want them to see the diversity of food we have here."
Cornett said he hopes to show the distinguished guests both what they expect of Oklahoma City and what they don't. As such, the entertainment lineup shows just about every facet of Okie life one could imagine. Conference attendees can bask in the indie at the deadCENTER Film Festival, be taken out to the old RedHawks ball game, two-step at a hoedown, and pay their respects at the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
Oh, and there's also a joint performance with the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and a little band called The Flaming Lips " a combination both Cornett and Williams said they're anxious to see.
That's what the city can do for its guests. As far as reciprocating that hospitality, the conference will be a building block for the city's future, Williams said.
"It becomes then something we can point to and tell other groups and organizations, you know, 'Look, we hosted the U.S. Conference of Mayors; we can certainly host your group,'" he said.
And what about that traditional visit by the POTUS? Unclear.
"You never know. He had intended to appear at the last one and didn't," Williams said. "We tend to think that maybe that increases our odds, but we just have no idea."
With or without a commander-in-chief cameo, Cornett is hopeful for what the conference means for Oklahoma City.
"I want to exceed their expectations. I want to debunk any stereotypes they might have," Cornett said. "And I want them to view us as a city that is trying to build a higher and higher quality of life for our citizens just like they are in their cities." "Nicole Hill
photo Mick Cornett. Photo/Shannon Cornman