MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

March 29, 2013

AIM seeks inspiration in talk with OKC mayor

Cornett: Convincing public to accept change big challenge

— Action in Muskogee officials sat down with Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett on Thursday and asked for “inspiration.”

Cornett shared the challenges and triumphs of the OKC Metropolitan Area Projects, or MAPS program, and told AIM officials their biggest challenge will be convincing the public to accept change.

AIM is very similar to MAPS, said Tim Faltyn, Connors State College president and chair of the AIM steering committee.

“And what this group is looking for is inspiration,” Faltyn said to Cornett. “We’re really close to a spot where we can start announcing publicly what we will do, and we hope to announce that by September and hopefully be looking at funding for those things in the spring.”

AIM is a group of community leaders seeking to make changes in Muskogee in eight designated areas — education, infrastructure, living and visiting, the economy, safety and security, community pride, a clean and beautiful community and health and wellness.

The third phase of MAPS, which Cornett spoke about Thursday, is a 10-year construction program funded by a one-cent sales tax initiative that is estimated to raise $777 million.

MAPS 3 projects include transportation projects, the Civic Center Music Hall, Cox Convention Center, Bricktown Canal and more.

Cornett told the chairs of Muskogee’s initiatives the biggest challenge they face is change.

“What you’re really talking about is change, and change is hard, Cornett said. “If you’re changing something, people get nervous. Invariably, when you’re trying to enact change, somebody’s not going to like it or it would have already happened.”

But Cornett said that doesn’t make change bad, only a challenge AIM will have to deal with in the near future.

Cornett said AIM should listen to its community and offer plenty of forums and polls along the way.

“We polled a lot, and everything that got on the ballot item was polled,” he said. “My polling data showed the convention center was receiving over 50 percent approval, but there were some things I wanted to put in MAPS 3 — but didn’t because they didn’t poll well.”

The city had a website where the public could give feedback and held many polls, Cornett said. Plus, the mayor had to lead the way and be a “cheerleader” of sorts, he said.

“I talked for several months about the really big aspects of it, the convention center, the ball park,” he said. “I talked about it openly so people heard about it and knew the conversation was still going on.”

Additionally, Cornett said AIM should be certain every project it undertakes has a positive impact on the economy.

“We also want every single element in there to be a catalyst for economic development,” Cornett said about MAPS. “We’re not taking care of normal day-to-day operations with MAPS — it’s about elevating the standard for the community.”

Asked if OKC can show statistics and numbers that show the MAPS 3 project positively impacted the economy, Cornett said there has been sales tax revenue growth.

“We’ve annually seen a growth rate in sales tax revenue of about 4 percent over a 20- to 30-year period,” Cornett said. “This year, we are at 6 or 7 percent.”

Today, one penny on the dollar sales tax means $100 million in sales tax revenue for OKC, he said.

“Perhaps a better gauge (of the success of MAPS) would be what the private sectors did in response,” Cornett said. “We spent $1 billion over the years, and the private sector has spent $5 billion.”

Cornett used Bricktown as an example of the private sector reaction to MAPS projects.

“The city put the canal in and the ball park, and we expected the private sector to react by bringing businesses there. But it was slow at first,” he said. “Then we had to do a somewhat controversial incentive to get Bass Pro Shops to come in there, and once they did, everything fell into place and growth happened quickly.”

Reach Wendy Burton at (918) 684-2926 or wburton@muskogeephoenix.com.

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