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Will convention center change impact other projects?

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A rendering of what a new downtown convention center might look like. - CITY OF OKC
  • City of OKC
  • A rendering of what a new downtown convention center might look like.

A change in location for a new convention center could send ripples throughout downtown, impacting everything from tax incentive discussions to streetcar planning.

Oklahoma City officials announced Tuesday the former car dealership site west of Chesapeake Energy Arena would no longer work as the location for the new MAPS 3 convention center due to the land’s high cost.

The city had $13 million budgeted for land acquisition, but property owners asked for $100 million. As the city relaunches its search for property, the existing Cox Convention Center site might become a more desirable option, as might other city-controlled properties.

Increased property values in the growing downtown district priced the city out of its first choice for land, which could raise questions about an effort to expand a tax increment financing (TIF) district in the area.

The city has used increased property tax revenue through TIFs to fund projects like Project 180, the Oklahoma Health Center, John Rex Elementary School and several residential projects. However, the high property values that have forced the city to reconsider its convention center location could give ammunition to those who feel TIFs are no longer needed in the district.

“This should give us pause,” said Councilman Ed Shadid, who has been an outspoken critic of the proposed convention center site.

Hours after winning reelection in Ward 2 on Tuesday, Shadid said he was happy the city had moved away from the proposed site and felt it indicates property values downtown are strong and projects can survive without tax incentives.

“I think this is a great day for MAPS 3 and for the city of Oklahoma City,” he said. “I always thought it was a mistake to put the convention center between two parks. It was too expensive, there was no scenario for this to work, and I think we are going to come out with a much improved MAPS 3.”

A new convention center location also will impact plans for a proposed convention center hotel, which the city has started to talk to developers about.

“Obviously, this will delay us,” City Manager Jim Couch said. “I can’t say how long, but this will push the project back by months.”

The previously proposed site for the convention center put it on the route of the new streetcar line. Some of the potential new locations would put the convention center a block or two from the route.

Streetcar subcommittee member Jeff Bezdeck said he thought streetcar route changes were “possible” and councilwoman Meg Salyer (who also won reelection Tuesday), said she had not had time to consider the ramifications of the site change on the streetcar, but felt it was a topic worth discussing by the committee.

Nathaniel Harding, streetcar subcommittee chairman, said he did not think a convention center site change would impact the streetcar route.

“I think all the potential locations [for the new convention center] will be served by the streetcar route as its planned,” Harding said. “We certainly did not expect for the convention center to be the only destination [on the streetcar route]. It’s just one of many destinations for the streetcar and I think all of the potential locations all work equally well with the route.”

The previous convention center site also was located along the new downtown boulevard.

“It shouldn’t impact [the boulevard] no matter where they put the convention center because all of the boulevard is going to be built in the right of way we already have,” said Cole Hackett, a spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Transportation. “It might change traffic a little bit but won’t impact the project timeline.”

The nearly $300 million convention center was the centerpiece to the MAPS 3 vote and has been pegged as a core downtown development project. A convention center is still coming — the city hopes to break ground in 2017 — but the city now faces a series of decisions to make about a major downtown development project that also will impact other issues and projects.

 

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