A project well under way and another that could shape the city’s future took center stage at the Tower Theatre during Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper’s MAPS 4 meeting Thursday night.
About 50 ward residents quizzed city officials on what MAPS 4 would mean for their neighborhood, while also getting updates on the progress of the Better Streets, Safer City initiative passed in 2017.
For Cooper, elected earlier this year, the meeting served an important purpose.
“I want to engage more on the timeline of those projects,” Cooper said of Better Streets, Safer City. “I want them to know there is a timeline.”
Cooper said he wants residents to know there will be a similar timeline for MAPS 4.
“I want to be able to educate people on what it means if voters approve MAPS 4 next month,” Cooper said. “It will be a similar 10 year process. I would point to Scissor Tail Park that was approved by voters in 2009 and opened this year. It’s time we as elected officials start speaking to our constituents in terms of process and timeline.”
MAPS 4 goes before voters Dec. 10. The nearly $1 billion package would come with an array of items, from funding to help the city’s homeless and youth to a new coliseum at State Fair Park. City residents got their first look at the proposed items this summer during a series of presentations.
Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon hosted a MAPS 4 meeting Sunday.
Parks could see $140 million
People ask Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Director Doug Kupper a lot of questions about MAPS, and usually it involves their local park.
“What is my park getting?” Kupper said Thursday night when asked the most common question he is receiving from the public.
MAPS 4 funds would be directed for improvements and complete renovations to existing parks and youth centers. Four new parks would also be constructed around the city.
“There’s been a lot of questions and discussions about restrooms for parks and new playgrounds,” Kupper said. “Of course we don’t want to just slap one in there and have people complaining that they’re looking at a restroom from their front window. We want to have those conversations and be proactive, not just in this ward but all the others as well.”
Kupper said the proposed $110 million investment in youth centers is another important part of MAPS 4, which includes plans for construction of four new centers. The potential to improve neighborhoods is one of the most appealing things about this MAPS, Kupper said.
“In the conversations I’ve had with people, it’s been positive,” Kupper said. “I think it’s because we’re getting into neighborhoods with MAPS for the first time. That’s what’s near and dear to my heart — bringing MAPS into these neighborhoods, because I’m a strong proponent of strong neighborhoods making a strong city.”
City’s homeless could have a stronger net
Oklahoma City homeless advocate Kori Hall spent Thursday night’s meeting answering questions from residents about MAPS 4 and what it might mean for the city’s homeless population.
The MAPS 4 package includes $50 million aimed at improving the city’s homeless situation. During presentations over the summer, officials said the initial money could eventually be leveraged into $400 million or more through federal grants.
Hall works with the Homeless Alliance, HopeHouse and Frontline Church. She said one of the key aspects of MAPS 4 would be the improvement of existing public housing, along with the construction of new units.
“A big piece of homelessness is affordable housing, and we have a need for more of that,” she said. “But it’s not just about those who are currently experiencing homelessness. There are a lot of people currently in public housing units that will fall into disrepair over the next 30 years. MAPS money allows those to be maintained but also to add housing for those in need.”
Hall said the city is overdue for an investment that addresses homelessness.
“We’ve been missing that as a city,” she said. “The beautiful thing about the homeless piece of MAPS is that it links with other resources that are already being provided through the Diversion Hub, Palomar and the Justice Center. All of those organizations working together will create a net for those who fall into homelessness.”
Cooper addresses Greenwell opposition to MAPS
Cooper said most people who have reached out to him say they plan on voting for MAPS 4.
“They recognize this MAPS is an investment in people, parks and places in a way that previously it had been about entertainment and quality of life,” he said.
But not everyone on the council is on board. Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell said Tuesday he would not be voting for MAPS 4 because of the lack of “measurable outcomes.”
When asked what he thought of Greenwell’s remarks, Cooper took a long, thoughtful pause.
“I can’t imagine voting against MAPS 4,” he said. “I believe we have worked with the different people who have proposed the different projects to address accountability and there will be a citizens advisory board that each council person gets to appoint to oversee those projects. And there will also be subcommittees as well that will be able to hold these projects accountable. I think because of all those things, we will see measurable outcomes.”