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Oklahoma City's Proposed $280-million Convention Center
Aims to Improve City's Future

The Oklahoman, Oklahoma CityMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Nov. 22, 2009--OFFICIALS dreamed but could have not known in 1993 what the original MAPS projects would mean for Oklahoma City's tourism and convention business. But success in that area is indisputable.

Building on that success is a key part of the MAPS 3 proposal that will go before Oklahoma City voters on Dec. 8. So it makes sense that the biggest ticket item is a $280 million convention center that will benefit locals and visitors alike. History helps explain the story.

When it was built in 1972, the Myriad Convention Center wasn't so much a convention center as it was an arena with a few dozen meeting rooms around it. That was fine for a time, though the Myriad never did draw the convention business leaders desired.

So 20 years later, renovating and upgrading the center was important to helping the city lure more outsiders to town. The structurally outdated building proved expensive to upgrade, with a $63.1 million price tag. The plan worked. With a new wing of ballrooms and meeting space that totaled 100,000 new square feet, more and more conventions made their way to a city making a comeback.

While the upgrades were great for the city, other cities upped the convention ante. Many other cities in the region now have larger and better convention centers, according to a study commissioned by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. Consultants and local officials have warned that without a better center featuring the amenities now standard at competitors' centers, the convention business that brings $121 million a year to Oklahoma City will begin moving backward. That's despite being a destination that tends to exceed visitors' expectations. Considering how far our city has come, moving backward shouldn't be an option.

A new center is expected to cost about $280 million -- the most expensive of all of the MAPS 3 proposals. Because of the size of the project and that the city will use no debt for the new MAPS projects, city officials have said it could be 10 to 12 years before a new center opens. That's quite a wait, but it will have its rewards.

We already know that upgrading convention offerings draws more visitors and more money. That will be true again. Consultants also have estimated a new center will create more than 700 jobs.

It's uncertain exactly where a new downtown center would be built and what would happen to the aging Cox Center. Those questions will be answered with time.

The question before us now is whether we as a city want to keep moving forward and investing in ourselves. We hope the answer will be a resounding yes.

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Copyright (c) 2009, The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City

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