In a city where success stories are sprouting up like wildflowers, one may be the most unlikely to bloom of all. A big, boxy 50-year-old building that's time has come and gone, its brand-new replacement gleaming just two blocks away. And yet, the city’s old convention center could be on the verge of a comeback as stunning as the city's renaissance itself.
“Frankly, there wasn’t another use for this building on the horizon,” said former mayor Mick Cornett.
“We’d probably be putting boards up,” added current Oklahoma City mayor David Holt.
That dreary outlook such a far cry from the hub bub the construction site generated 50 years ago. Families would make a special outing of driving to see the massive Myriad Convention Center rise up out of the heart of downtown Oklahoma City.
It was big, and modern and clean. At the beginning of events the arena announcer would cement its prominence in your mind by booming out: "Welcome to the incomparable Myriad!" Almost immediately it took the top shows away from the Civic Center.
“The first three concerts: Charley Pride, Sonny and Cher in February of ‘73 and then Liza Minelli,” recalled Oklahoma City historian Bob Blackburn.
And it took the top sporting events from the utilitarian fairgrounds arena: hockey, basketball, the National Finals Rodeo.
The Myriad, later called the Cox Center, even played a critical role during Oklahoma City's darkest hour, a home away from home for rescuers.
“That really is where the term Oklahoma Standard was born because of how people brought food and met the needs of people who were here,” said Oklahoma City National Memorial Executive Director Kari Watkins.
But over 50 years, and despite upgrades, it became ill-suited for 21st century needs. The MAPS sports arena drew the Thunder and top concerts and MAPS 3 built a shiny new modern convention center. The once incomparable Myriad became the inconvenient Myriad.
“Someone said to us have you looked at the Cox Convention Center and we were like ‘In downtown?’” recalled Matt Payne with Prairie Surf Media.
Enter stage left: two Okies from Hollywood.
Filmmaker, writer, photographer Matt Payne and actress, writer producer Rachel Cannon.
“Matt and I moved out to Los Angeles as a couple of Oklahoma kids,” said Cannon. “We’re used to taking risks and doing big bold things.”
And their idea was big and bold.
Overwhelming to most of us, they dubbed their company, Prairie Surf Media. They convinced city leaders to rent them the Myriad for $150,000 the first year on the understanding that they would turn it into studios for TV and Film productions. Even the arena itself.
“So, what this space does is it lends itself to huge movies,” explained Payne. “Indiana Jones, Star Wars style, Marvel Films.”
One movie has already filmed at Prairie Surf. But Payne and Cannon are working hard to recruit new productions.
“A year from now we think this place is full,” said Cannon. “A TV series, maybe a move shooting on the other side and packed with production. Hopefully packed with students.”
And they’re making progress convincing the Oklahoma Legislature that the Myriad can be a movie making hub.
Right now, Oklahoma has a pool of $8 million movie makers can draw rebates from for taxes they've paid while shooting here.
Payne and Cannon are urging lawmakers to strike while the iron is hot and bump it to $50 million.
“This is literally going to be the catalyst for so many high paying jobs in tech and automation and post production and music and all of that will come because this exists,” said Payne.