Municipal Counselor Kenneth Jordan, City Manager Craig Freeman, Mayor David Holt and City Clerk Frances Kersey participate in an OKC City Council meeting Tuesday, June 18, 2019. (Ben White)

Before plans are finalized, before the public votes and before the first shovel of dirt is moved, Oklahoma City officials will gather this summer for a series of public discussions to shape what MAPS 4 will look like.

Approved Tuesday at OKC’s City Council meeting, the four community discussions will feature ideas ranging from a new multi-purpose stadium to expanded transportation infrastructure.

Ahead of the meetings, public appetite for another extension of the game-changing MAPS sales tax appears to exist. A Sooner Poll taken last month found nearly 62 percent of those surveyed were in favor of continuing the $0.01 sales tax for MAPS.

But that doesn’t mean everyone agrees on how the money should be spent. Some want more parks and bike lanes, while others want big-ticket capital projects like a new arena at State Fair Park or a downtown soccer venue. Others wonder if it makes sense to approve additional capital projects without designating more money for existing projects and social services.

How it all plays out will be the subject of much debate in the coming weeks.

What’s on the menu

The public sessions will be held 9 a.m. in the OKC City Council chambers, 200 N. Walker Ave. Each meeting will feature a different set of items for discussion:

  • July 9 — Palomar Family Justice Center; parks; sidewalks, bike lanes, trails and streetlights; Freedom Center.
  • July 11 — Youth centers; beautification; Oklahoma State Fair coliseum; senior wellness centers; animal shelter.
  • July 31 — Transit; homelessness; Chesapeake Energy Arena and NBA enhancements; diversion hub.
  • Aug. 6 — Mental health; multipurpose stadium; innovation district.

The list is the product of citizen input, leaders say. It will eventually be whittled down by the City Council, and voters are expected to go to the polls some time in December.

Improvements to Palomar Family Justice Center in Oklahoma City are among the scheduled presentations for July 9. That agency works to provide short and long-term care for victims of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault.

Expanded youth center options, senior wellness centers and a new animal shelter will be on the July 11 docket. That meeting will also feature a presentation of one of the most potentially controversial items, a new arena at State Fair Park.

The July 31 meeting will focus on transit, and potentially improved bus shelters. More improvements to Chesapeake Arena will also be presented.

A multipurpose stadium is the highest profile item for the Aug. 6 meeting. That could serve as the home for Energy FC or a future Major League Soccer team.

City leaders talk amongst themselves in the OKC City Council chamber ahead of a regular meeting Tuesday, June 18, 2019. (Ben White)

Holt: Something for everyone in MAPS 4

In an interview, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said he’s pleased with the list of items from which the council will ultimately choose. He said the plans are a reflection of what he hears from citizens.

“I think I pay pretty good attention to the needs of our city and what’s important to the people of Oklahoma City,” Holt said. “If you went back to my state of the city address in January, you’d see me talking about how I feel this MAPS is going to be different, and it’s going to be focused on neighborhoods and human needs. I also talk about the need for creative solutions to operational issues that are raised by MAPS projects.”

Holt also praised the transparency of the process and civic participation in coming up with ideas.

“I think (former Mayor) Mick (Cornett) did a great job of inviting ideas,” Holt said. “I think there’s an ever-increasing level of expectation among the public for transparency and public input. I’m excited about the meetings. It meets a lot of important needs in our city.”

Holt said he believes those who have their doubts will be pleased with what’s offered in the end.

“I think there are people who are always going to be skeptical,” he said. “Until it’s done and we have a final package to vote on, there will be people who won’t believe it until they see it.”

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Shadid expresses concern over plans

A critic of past municipal projects, former Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid believes this version of MAPS will likely include too many capital projects that stretch already strained resources. In an interview, he cited two recent examples.

“With MAPS for Kids, we built all these schools, not just in Oklahoma City but also in Edmond and Moore — anywhere where kids from Oklahoma City went to school,” Shadid said. “Then, after they were built, we just turned them over to the district. That didn’t work out so great after education funding got slashed.”

Shadid said MAPS 3 had a slate heavy on capital projects like the OKC streetcar and Scissortail Park, which he said exacerbated problems with operational funding.

Now Shadid believes voters once again will be presented with ideas that include big capital projects, but he also sees broadly supported efforts like expanded parks and sidewalks potentially creating more long-term funding problems.

“Why on Earth, given that you’ve struggled in the last decade, would you bring another $800 million in capital projects that will require operations and maintenance dollars? And these are relatively good times,” Shadid said. “We got a taste of what it looks like in bad times in 2016 when parks funding was slashed.”

To that end, Shadid is working on a separate petition initiative that would allow for sales tax monies to go to operational expenses for parks and transit on a permanent basis. His proposal would be separate from MAPS 4.

The public weighs in

Holt posted on Facebook the council had voted unanimously Tuesday to hold the MAPS 4 planning meetings. Respondents’ opinions on the proposals varied, but most were generally positive.

“Thank you so much for the update! I can’t wait to see how all of this unfolds and so appreciate you taking suggestions from the public. The OKC transformation has been amazing!,” Guin Geyer wrote.

Mike O’Hair offered similar feedback.

“I am glad to see that we have a huge push to things that address beautification, health and wellness, impacts to Mental health, while also keeping focus on things that impact a larger core idea of what MAPS has been about,” O’Hair wrote.

Others had concerns about more projects for downtown, an area of the city that has seen much investment over the last 30 years.

“Why are we only doing stuff for downtown?!? Oklahoma City limits goes further then just downtown!! When’s election????,” Aimee Gerkin asked.

One person said the streetcar made him less likely to support MAPS 4.

“I would never support the Maps program. The street car farce is enough evidence, for me to not want the same decisions to be made over again,” Darrell Gaynor wrote.

Possible MAPS 4 projects revealed, meetings set