Oklahoma Senate panel explores funding options for American Indian Cultural Center and Museum

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OKLAHOMA CITY — A massive, unfinished American Indian museum and a prime 210-acre plot of land along the banks of the Oklahoma River could revert back to Oklahoma City if the state abandons the $95 million project, but a city official testified Monday that city leaders don't want that to happen.

Wiley Williams, an attorney for the Oklahoma City Economic Development Trust, told members of a Senate budget committee the city donated the property to the state in 2005 with the requirement that it be used solely for the development and operation of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.

"I think it's fair to say it's frustrating to city management, the mayor and the council that action has not been taken to fulfill the expectations that a world-class museum and cultural center would be built on land donated by the city for that exclusive purpose," Williams told the committee.

The massive 173,000-square-foot structure at the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 40 south of downtown Oklahoma City was designed as a world-class facility that would house exhibits from renowned museums such as the Smithsonian Institution.

Although the bulk of the museum's outer shell has been constructed, the project, which has been plagued with mismanagement and cost overruns, has been mothballed for more than two years and needs more than $80 million to be completed. About $40 million in mostly private funding has been pledged to finish the project, but the increasingly conservative House of Representatives has balked at various proposals to pay for the necessary $40 million in matching state funds.

Last year, the Senate passed a plan to tap $40 million from the state's Unclaimed Property Fund, but the bill was not granted a hearing on the floor by House Speaker Jeff Hickman, who said he wanted support from at least 51 of the House's 72 Republicans before moving forward.

Republican Sen. Patrick Anderson, who requested Monday's interim study into how the museum could be funded, suggested one option could be to use a portion of General Revenue funds that are derived from tribal compacts on tobacco or gambling

The tribes currently pay the state about $31 million annually from tobacco sales and $122 million from tribal gambling fees, according to the Oklahoma Tax Commission. Of that money, about $27 million goes directly into the state's General Revenue Fund, the state's main operating fund. The rest of the tobacco revenue is allocated to various health programs, while the bulk of the gambling revenue goes toward education funding.

"We can't avoid the fact that we have this half-built project that remains, and I'm open to looking at different avenues to find a path to completion," said Anderson, R-Enid, who opposes a state bond issue to pay for the project.

The $80 million needed to complete the project covers architecture and engineering ($1.2 million); construction ($50 million); exhibit design, fabrication and installation ($23.3 million); furniture , fixtures and equipment ($3 million); and contingency funding ($2.4 million), according to Thomas Wilson, president of ADG, an Oklahoma City-based architecture and engineering firm hired to consult on the project.

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