It's always been easy to make fun of Oklahoma; the prevailing view among the soi-disant tastemakers on the coasts is that we're some sort of non-union New Jersey. And indeed, we do seem to earn the cheap shots on occasion, what with our occasional tendency to elect to public office people who should be manning a fry station at Mickey D's.

But I think it's safe to say that no American city anywhere close to this size (population 525,000; metro area about a million) has been through a transformation anything like Oklahoma City's over the last decade. The obvious incident, of course, is the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in April 1995, which put the city on the media map for the first time since the oil bust of the early 80s. At that point, though, the city had already been on the road to recovery for more than a year.

What made the difference was something called the Metropolitan Area Projects, which headline writers almost immediately compressed to "MAPS". There was nothing inherently unusual about MAPS; many municipalities over the years had made grandiose plans for sports venues, for libraries, for convention centers, for just about everything. But Oklahoma City was the first to wrap everything up into a single $238-million package, in the fall of 1993, and in effect dare the voters to approve it.

They did, though not by much; about 54 percent voted to approve the plan, with most of the resistance coming from areas near the inner city who had heard this sort of thing before.

As the public projects neared completion, private projects sprung up, as investors decided they wanted to be in on the action. Ron Norick, then mayor, predicted $140 million in private investment would spring from MAPS. In fact, the private sector has now kicked in over $400 million, with more than $600 million on the drawing boards.

It wasn't at all an easy decade. The costs rapidly grew beyond the quarter-billion mark. The five-year temporary sales tax to fund MAPS was eventually extended by six months. The bombing took a lot of attention and resources away from the development. There were plenty of squabbles and disputes along the way. And there's always the question of whether tax money should be spent in this manner in the first place. Still, anyone who remembers the mausoleum that was downtown Oklahoma City in the 80s and early 90s is likely to smile at its renaissance. I know I do.

The Vent

7 December 2003

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 Copyright © 2003 by Charles G. Hill