The Edmond Sun

April 1, 2013

OUR VIEW: OKPOP — great idea, bad timing

The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — The Route 66 museum in Clinton has been such a success that Bob Blackburn, executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, said the turnaround project proves that popular culture is a best-seller when it comes to museum projects. It also proved that when a community gets behind a project and raises the funds to launch it, they all can reap the rewards of the increased tourism and recognition.

With that success, Blackburn and the Oklahoma Historical Society now have their sights on a much larger version of that Clinton idea in the guise of the OKPOP, an Oklahoma museum of popular culture. The state agency proposes to build a 75,000-square-foot museum in the Brady Arts District of Tulsa that will showcase the numerous Oklahomans who have made an impact on popular culture nationally and internationally.

The agency has some heavy hitters already committed to donating their collections such as Garth Brooks, Bob Wills, Kristin Chenoweth and other stars, but those donations are contingent upon having a facility designed to showcase them.

Blackburn says the time is now to achieve a significant museum presence in the eastern half of Oklahoma and he’s got the partners lined up and ready to help pay for the vision. There’s just one small catch — a $42.5 million state bond issue.

And that’s where we find fault with the proposal.

The historical society proposes the $42.5 million bond issue to pay for construction of the facility and it will repay the bonds at $2.2 million per year. The society also says it will raise $15 million privately, which includes a $3 million promise from the City of Tulsa and a $2.5 million land donation from the Bank of Oklahoma, which will in exchange receive free use of the 650-space parking garage that will be built with the facility.

Under the agency’s plan, it will need to find bridge funding to make the bond repayments for the first five years and in the sixth year the payments will be made out of its annual agency appropriation and from interest earned from a $3 million endowment plus any additional fundraising and revenue from the venue and its parking garage rentals. Blackburn promises that no new funding will be needed from state general revenue.

We love the idea of the cultural museum. We love that the historical society has a fairly decent business plan to support the project. But the problem remains that the state of Oklahoma has some real, pressing needs such as funding a new Medical Examiner’s office and repairing our state Capitol, which is crumbling onto people as they walk in the doors. Then there’s the undecided fate of the American Indian Cultural Center that is still in need of a huge amount of cash to finish it.

In the current climate of economic uncertainty and federal sequestration, we find it difficult to believe that legislators, and much less voters, will find the passion or patience to support a bond issue of this nature. It’s truly unfortunate timing.

We would like to see the City of Tulsa do its own MAPs-like project to improve the Brady Arts District much like Oklahoma City breathed life into Bricktown. It was a multi-year commitment by taxpayers, but it has paid off. We think the same can occur in Tulsa to achieve worthy projects like OKPOP.