Development For New Downtown Convention Center Back To Square One

Wednesday, March 4th 2015, 8:04 pm
By: Alex Cameron

Officials with the convention and visitors bureau here are expressing disappointment and frustration, in the wake of the city's decision to abandon efforts to acquire the property selected for a new 550,000 square foot convention center as part of the MAPS 3 program.

That decision, announced Tuesday by Mayor Mick Cornett, came as the city determined it would be too risky to the project's budget to go further with condemnation proceedings. The city had budgeted $13 million for the purchase of the 12-acre tract, located just south of the Myriad Gardens and just to the west of the Chesapeake Arena.

Owners of the property, REHCO LLC, valued the property at more than $100 million, leaving it to a panel of arbiters to determine the final price the city would have to pay.

"We could just see it wasn't going to work, you know, at the end of the day," said Cornett.

The move comes just as the city was getting ready to look at bids for an adjoining convention center hotel, and with considerable time, effort and money already invested in the project.

Mike Carrier, President of the OKC Convention & Visitors Bureau, has been as excited about the prospect of a new facility as anyone in the city. Carrier downplayed the long-term impact of this development, but is clearly frustrated to see progress halted.

"We have spent a lot of time on that particular piece of ground, looking at options and talking to hotel developers and a variety of things," said Carrier, "so it's certainly disappointing, [but] it's not the end of the world."

Carrier acknowledges meeting planners had already contacted his office about coming here in 2019, the year city officials have targeted for the new facility's completion. He says they will now have to explain that the only option for 2019 may still be the Cox Convention Center.

Cornett said he's still hopeful a newly-sited convention center can open in 2019. Carrier would only say that it depends on how quickly the site selection process can resume and an adequate alternate site can be acquired.

Carrier is one of those who felt that the current location was the perfect fit -- at the hub of what many believe will become the new city center.

"We had an opportunity to do something that most other cities will never get to do," said Carrier, "that is to put a convention center in the middle of a [city] that it can be developed around in a lot of different ways."

The total budget for the convention center, the most expensive MAPS project ever, is currently set at $287 million. Figures obtained from the MAPS office show, through February 26, $2.56 million has been expended on the project so far. The majority of that has gone to pay the architect, Populous, for working on a conceptual design.

"All of the investment that has been made," said Carrier, "is not wiped out, in terms of the architect's time."

MAPS officials say that some of the design work could carry over to another location, and some of the money spent on site selection will pay off now, as that process is reopened and project leaders reconsider locations ruled out earlier.