The Edmond Sun Editorial Board
The Edmond Sun
When Gov. Frank Keating and his wife Cathy led a huge fundraising effort in the 1990s to see the completion of the Capitol dome, hundreds of regular Oklahomans rallied to the cause. Children collected pennies and donors gave what they could to see the project come to fruition.
But a lot has happened since that rallying point for pride in the state’s American Indian heritage, resulting in a large bronze statue of a native warrior gracing the top of the dome. The recession, uncertainty from Washington politics and a change in priorities have all helped create a different landscape as the Native American Education and Cultural Authority desperately tries to finish the $171.5 million American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. Officials have said they need $80 million to finish the building and its opening exhibits, but a failed effort in the state Senate in May dashed their hopes of $40 million in matching money for the $40 million in private money promised to the project.
A bill to abolish the authority and move the project to the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department did not gain favor either.
So what to do? The state has a huge embarrassment sitting on its hands plus about $500,000 in annual maintenance upkeep so that citizens don’t lose the investments already made.
Many have argued that Oklahoma shouldn’t be in this situation when its state Capitol is literally falling down around the heads of legislators and visitors. And other infrastructure necessities such as those at decrepit Veteran Administration facilities are in need of cash infusions.
Without debating the need of the American Indian Cultural Center, we can forthrightly state that a solution must be found.
Scaling back to lessen the costs would be a great place to start. For example, according to the center’s own website, it has been commissioning public art for the museum since at least 2009. Certainly, a museum needs art, but some of those expenditures probably could wait until the most important components are paid for and in place. The scope and mission of the cultural center is grand in scale. We’re not suggesting that this is not a worthy cause for grand scale, but bottom line is we still have to be able to pay the bills.
This project needs a leadership team that can invigorate the process and find new solutions. We would place our bets on the leaders at Oklahoma City who pulled off the MAPS strategies. If the state is incapable and/or unwilling to finish the cultural center, then let’s give the project to Oklahoma City as part of the continued revitalization of the Oklahoma River and downtown Oklahoma City. The land originally was donated by Oklahoma City, so returning it is not too far in left field. Even if it means completely repurposing the project to another use, that would be better than letting millions of dollars go to waste.