Is The American Indian Cultural Center And Museum A Worthy Investment?
OKLAHOMA CITY - It started as a vision for our state almost 20 years ago. A place for Oklahoma to showcase its 39 Indian tribes.
Now, seven years after construction began on the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, work has grinded to a halt. Funds have dried up.
When you drive down the I-40/I-35 corridor, you see a mound of dirt and shell of what's to come.
For the first time since construction stopped I'm allowed inside to see what our money has paid for so far and possibly the last ditch effort to finish it.
Shoshana Wasserman is passionate about her Native American roots. A member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, she's excited about sharing the stories of all 39 Oklahoma tribes. As director of communications and cultural tourism, she's limited to a model, a complete design that's a long ways off from the real thing.
"I believe so strongly in the project that I know it will happen," Wasserman said. "It's just a matter of when it will happen."
Senator Kyle Loveless has made it his mission to complete this project.
"If you're building a house, you don't stop and redo things," Senator Loveless said. "I go ahead and finish it because you don't get a return on your investment."
To finish it, Senator Loveless will need support from his fellow lawmakers, and he faces an uphill battle. Taxpayers have already invested $67,000,000, roughly half of the $150,000,000 project. The Native American Cultural and Educational Authority has secured $40,000,000 more from private donors, if the state matches another $40,000,000.
Some lawmakers, like Senator Cliff Aldridge, believes the state has spent enough.
"Most of the general people of Oklahoma say we've put enough money into it already and we need to stop," said Senator Aldridge.
A lot of people may ask why the tribes running casinos don't foot the bill.
Senator Loveless said that's one of the biggest misconceptions about the project.
"They think it's tribal owned, it's not." Senator Loveless said, "It's tax payer owned. It's a facility of the state of Oklahoma."
However, Senator Loveless said every Oklahoma tribe has contributed.
"I don't think it makes sense not to finish it," Senator Aldridge said. "I think the question obviously comes down to who's going to do it."
Executive Director of NACEA Blake Wade believes it's the state's obligation to get it done now.
"Everyone will love and be so proud of the American Indian Cultural Center when this is up and going, we will pay the state back in real quick time," Wade said. "They'll forget the price tag because we're paying it back."
One reason center officials tell me the price tag is so high, it's built with Smithsonian standards. Many of the art and exhibits will also come from the Smithsonian. If legislators approve the $40,000,000, it's expected to open by the end of 2014.