Thursday, May 12, 2011

Oh really, Oklahoman?

The Oklahoman Editorial Board has called the convention center project the "crown jewel" of MAPS3. Oh really?

So this is not about livability or quality of life issues, I take it? Screw the streetcar, is basically what this means. There is no way to read what the Oklahoman spin-machine is churning out with this and not come to the conclusion that they are advocating to move the convention center up at the expense of the streetcar. Here are the reasons why the Oklahoman is egregiously WRONG.

1. The convention center means nothing to average people in OKC who will never interact with it, but will however be able to use the streetcar or visit the park as much as they like.

2. The streetcar was by far the issue that carried the ballot, whereas voters generally reacted quite unfavorably to the convention center--it alone would have failed by a huge margin if it weren't riding the streetcar to ballot victory.

3. Basically because the city just threw "the people" a bone with the streetcar and the park, those projects should at least come first.

4. You can build a city around a modern transit system and a central park. How do you build a city around a convention center? That's nuts. But by pushing it up in the schedule, or by giving the CC (convention center) the most important piece of real estate in OKC, we are basically trying to plan a city around a CC. That is insanely idiotic.

5. Talk about flat-out betraying the people, who thought they voted for a livability ballot that would have put parks, people, and transit first. Nope, it's all about the convention center apparently! And to think that the big wigs were going to throw the people a bone for once!

6. The streetcar project will be seriously endangered if it is pushed back. First of all, it is up against huge opposition even after it was passed on the ballot as a modern streetcar system--this gives its opponents more time to strip its funding for the CC. Secondly, the streetcar project can get us 6 miles of track if we do it now, with today's construction costs--in the future this is unlikely. Thirdly, and the biggest point, is that we would receive matching funds from the federal government that would potentially double what we can do, so by starting now we could possibly get 12 miles of track just for $120 Million. The CC however has $280 Million, which is a huge amount of money--AND there is no federal government matching funds program for convention centers. So from a strategic standpoint, which sounds better?

7. The investment attracted by the streetcar is not only likely greater than that attracted by the CC, but it's also real. The streetcar creates its own sphere of downtown--in streetcar cities, there is always an incredible real estate bubble within 3-4 blocks of the line. In Portland every $1 spent on streetcar was turned into $18 in real estate investment, a lot of which came from outside Portland. OKC real estate, a classic case of divestment, could use such an investment catalyst. Often the only real estate investment brought in by a convention center that can be directly traced, other than restaurants that receive customers sometimes, is a taxpayer-subsidized convention hotel. In other words, nothing to brag about for ROI (return on investment). Also, the economic development benefits of conventions is starting to come under fire--lots of research being done to prove that the projected convention visitor numbers are way too high. The reason--it's become a rat race with every city. The economic development figures that the MAPS3 subcommittees are using DO NOT factor in real estate investment, where streetcar is clearly huge, and do not factor in the fact that every other city in the U.S. is throwing tons of money at conventions as well.

8. All of the first few MAPS projects (MAPS1, and 4 Kids) had cost overruns that voters had to approve additional funding for. They just don't want the convention center last because they suspect voters would vote against additional funding just for a convention center. However, the streetcar project is highly expendable to them. Let that be the project that cost overruns will put in jeopardy, is their thinking. So essentially the people would get what they didn't want out of MAPS3, and not what they wanted more than anything, which was transit. That sounds equitable, right?

The Oklahoman editorial also throws around the word "Momentum." That's a difficult phrase to get past right now. How could you dare argue against the infallible "momentum" that we so cherish? It's a buzzword trump-card that they have going. But I'll tell you one thing: In the 60s during urban renewal, they made a lot of huge mistakes that they now regret in the name of "progress." But how could we possibly go up against the beating drum of "momentum," the word that we use today instead of "progress." Our voices of reason are being marginalized by dollar signs and delusions of people who want that damn convention center come hell or high water, as they say.

You thought you voted for a streetcar system, a park, an amazing riverfront, sidewalks, bicycle trails, and senior centers. WRONG. You voted for a convention center, first and foremost. Perhaps now we see the reason the council did not want to commit to a timeline before the votes were cast.

Or perhaps someone will come in and do the right thing and push back against these powerful convention center interests.

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