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Last-Minute Proposal Could Save American Indian Cultural Center

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The state project, first conceived in 1994 and under construction since 2006, has been sitting idle since 2012. The state project, first conceived in 1994 and under construction since 2006, has been sitting idle since 2012.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

The future of the troubled and increasingly controversial American Indian Cultural Center and Museum went from bleak to bright on Tuesday, thanks to a last-minute proposal to help cover millions of dollars in construction and operating costs.

Perhaps it's fitting that the proposal came from one of the sovereign nations that the facility would celebrate.

The Chickasaw Nation, which already operates its own Native American museum -- the Chickasaw Cultural Center -- made clear that is willing to help get the state center up and running, in return for the right operate it and develop surrounding properties.

For supporters of the project, it's a long-awaited dose of good news.

The state project, first conceived in 1994 and under construction since 2006, has been sitting idle since 2012. The price tag had soared to $171 million and a growing number of lawmakers, most of whom were not in office when the project was first approved, decided the center was a project the state could not afford.

At the end of the 2015 session, however, legislators approved a compromise bill which, essentially, asked Oklahoma City to take the project off their hands, in exchange for a promise of $25 million in additional state funding.

For the past couple of years, project advocates had been asking the state for $40 million to match another $40 million in pledged private donations. They claimed that the combined total -- $80 million -- would be sufficient to complete the project.

At a meeting Tuesday afternoon of the Oklahoma City Council's Committee on the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, consultants presented their findings on remaining construction costs, marketability potential, and the potential for developing adjacent commercial property.

Overall, the reports painted a very negative picture,

City leaders were told that completing the project will cost another $95 million, which is, at least, $30 million more than what's been promised from the state and private donors.

Consultants reported that operational costs would exceed revenues by approximately $2 million per year, and that options for private development around the museum site would be very limited, due to factors such as poor access, industrial encroachment, and utility relocation.

The final item on the agenda was a presentation from the Chickasaw Nation. A spokesman said the tribe would be willing to underwrite a portion of the remaining capital costs and cover up to $2 million annually in operations costs for the facility's first seven years, in exchange for the right to develop the surrounding property.

Mayor Mick Cornett said they did not directly solicit the Chickasaw Nation for help, but it is very welcome.

"We still believe that the concept is valid," said Cornett, "but on the operations side and raising the amount of money that's necessary to finish [the project], that's beyond the grasp of the city of Oklahoma City, and so the idea that we might have a potential partner that gets us to that original vision is a breath of fresh air and perhaps really good news."

Cornett says the next step is for the city to go back to the state and explain that there is a potential third partner, and try to craft a deal that works for everyone.

Just for the sake of clarification, the spokesman for the Chickasaw Nation made clear that they would have no intention of opening a casino on any of the adjoining property.

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