Every January, the Mayor speaks to the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce on the State of the City. The State of the City message looks back on recent accomplishments, updates the Chamber on current developments and looks ahead to the future.
Mayor Cornett delivered the sixth State of the City message on January 25, 2005.
It is 2005.
116 years since our great grandfathers drove a stake into the ground and called it home.
98 years since the state legislature selected our City as the state capitol.
63 years since the conception of Tinker Field.
12 years since the beginning of MAPS.
10 years since a bomb blew up our federal building.
6 years since an F-5 tornado entered our City at one end and exited the other.
3 years since we began MAPS for Kids.
It is 2005 and I don't have to tell you that the state of our City is pretty good. But I do remind everyone that the state of the lives of 520 thousand people cannot be summed up as a whole. We have low unemployment, but if you are unemployed, things could be better for you. People have problems, cities have problems, but overall, how is Oklahoma City doing compared to municipalities across the country. There's no doubt, we're in an envious position.
This afternoon, I want to spend a few minutes to talk about priorities, direction and focus. Take stock of 2004 and certainly to look ahead to the rest of 2005 and beyond.
As most of you know, the list of projects and ideas that come through City Hall is both incredibly large in number and incredibly diverse. Nonetheless, to get things accomplished, you must have priorities. Nearly a year ago I spoke to many of you and identified three of my priorities for 2004.
Number one is the continued successful implementation of MAPS for Kids.
Number two was determining the appropriate funding solution for the improvements that we wanted to make at State Fair Park.
And number three dealt with our City budget and to begin to work toward finding a long-term solution to the City's budgetary stress in the General Fund.
Let me first brief you on those three issues.
During my readings, I collect quotes that I think might serve me at a later date and one that I scribbled down applies well to MAPS for Kids. It applies well because there are so many highly visible positive initiatives playing out around the City‚Äîso much positive energy‚Äîthat I think sometimes it's easy to forget the generational, sociological, and economic impact of MAPS for Kids. So, yes, there's a large number of positive things going on but, its important to focus. The quote that I use to help focus my perspective and have made part of my message to you and other citizens of Oklahoma City is:
The big thing to remember is that the big thing is the big thing. And the big thing is MAPS for Kids.
Yes, there are some new and exciting projects, concepts and ideas in Oklahoma City but we must not lose our focus and our commitment to ensuring that MAPS for Kids is implemented successfully. Our children, our quality of life and our growth depend on it.
So with that in mind, here's a quick overview and an update.
MAPS for Kids is funded by two sources. A penny on the dollar sales tax for seven years will generate just over 500 million dollars. And there was a 180 million dollar bond issue passed at the same time. So, that's a total of nearly $700 million dollars. Of that nearly 700 million, nearly 550 million will be spent on projects in the Oklahoma City Public School System and the rest will be spent on improvements in our suburban school districts.
So, we collect the penny on the dollar for seven years. We have three years behind us, and four years to go in that process. This summer, we will pass the halfway point of collecting that penny on the dollar. The seven-year tax will cease at the end of 2008. Because we pay for these MAPS projects as we go, the construction schedule will continue to roll out projects through 2010.
So we're still early in the process. Here's where we stand:
1. Construction Projects
We're entering a phase of MAPS for Kids where we'll have groundbreaking ceremonies and ribbon cuttings on a monthly, and sometimes weekly, basis for several years to come.
2. Transportation Projects
That's an entirely new fleet. 80 buses have already been delivered. The other 80 buses will arrive later this year.
3. Technology Projects
4. Suburban School District Program
The MAPS for Kids Program is proceeding as planned, with projects being completed as scheduled. And again, since final revenues for the program will not be received until January 2009, the last projects are not scheduled for completion until late 2010.
It's my opinion that MAPS for Kids will have significant, long-term effects on the City. There's obviously the educational aspect, there's an economical impact and there's an impact on urban sprawl.
For over 100 years, we've been a City that has grown and expanded on the edges, and this century of perimeter growth has left us with a 21st century City that has more than its share of inefficiencies. Cities in general, because of their size, are always looking for ways to become more efficient. For our City, MAPS for Kids is our best long-term weapon toward creating a market in the inner City for housing, and retail, and job creation.
Still, some of the toughest work and tougher decisions involving MAPS for Kids remains in front of us. From a standpoint of population growth, some sections of the school district are growing faster than others. I believe the appropriate response will be to make some alterations to the original plan that was conceived four years ago. I know the school district is currently seeking public input before it requests any changes. Hopefully, whatever alterations that might be necessary can be made in 2005. Overall, it's important to remember that the overall program has plenty of capaCity. And by that I mean, if you look at MAPS for Kids as a whole, even with these demographic shifts, there's plenty of classroom space and there's enough money to complete the projects. So, student capaCity and financial capaCity are both in good place. The question is, with these demographic shifts taking place, where are the kids going to be living in 2010 and 2015 and what do we need to do to make sure there's classroom space for them in their neighborhood.
For example, it's interesting to note that the Putnam City school district no longer considers itself a suburban district, but an urban one faced with many of the same challenges as traditional inner-city schools.
The implementation of MAPS for Kids was our number one priority in 2004 and it is number one in 2005.
Our second priority for 2004 was working on a funding solution for the improvements we need to make at State Fair Park. The issue is probably still fresh on your minds. We took a funding solution to the voters just over a month ago. It passed. The result is that Oklahoma City will remain the Horse Show Capitol of the World. There's still a lot more that we'd like to do at the Fairgrounds but we're very pleased that this first phase is underway. The first action you'll see at the fairgrounds is the demolition and removal of All Sports Stadium. That will start here in the first half of 2005.
The third priority was to begin to address a budgetary issue that affects the City's general fund. As Mayor, I want to ensure we are on a long-term track for budgetary success and continue to manage our resources efficiently. Therefore, I have organized a task force to ensure we are doing just that. Ultimately, it will lead to positive effects for under-funded City services for parks, animal welfare, code enforcement and other areas.
So there you have my top objectives for 2004. Now, to know where we're going – and to know where to focus – it's important to look at where we've been:
As you know, this City began on a single day. They fired a pistol and at the end of that day, our City's population had grown from zero to 10,000. Think about that, in one day, we went from a spot on the prairie to a City of 10,000 people. That's rapid growth – and I think our Planning Department is still paying for it. The citizens elected a mayor, then they shot him. But I'm proud to say that the citizens have not shot any of the last 34 mayors. Doesn't mean they didn't want to.
Our City and our state grew rapidly. Remember that in 1930, our population was at a point that we had 9 U.S. House members, up from our current 5. Boom and bust since then, and more bust than we'd like to admit.
All along there's been a healthy dose of aviation. It has led to Tinker Air Force Base, the FAA, and the Air National Guard. The latest aviation landmark will take place next winter with our latest round of improvements at Will Rogers World Airport. I am told they have only been working on this airport project for 2 or 3 years but I swear it seems like 20 or 30. I know the airport employees are as anxious as the passengers.
We talk a lot about the annexation of the 1950's and 60's. Let me show it to you.
The blue area on the first map illustrates where we were in 1940 with a population of 205,000.
The second shows our City in the 1960's when our population was at 324,000.
The third is pretty much what it looks like today with a population of nearly 525,000 and a MSA population of 1.1 million.
More recently, the period of 1985 to 1995 can be summarized as follows.
The economy was suffering from the oil bust. The OKC school facilities were declining with no hope in sight. Our triple A baseball franchise was considering a move to another City.
We had worked on some economic initiatives but had failed, specifically a United Airlines facility, a large federal defense facility, and the era was capped with the bombing of the A.P. Murrah Federal building.
Since then, much has been accomplished. And it's been accomplished in an environment of teamwork and consensus building. The citizens, the business community, and City Hall have worked in unprecedented solidarity. This has been a key component to our success ‚Äì the ability of the public and private sectors to work together is easy to say, but something many cities fail in actually doing.
Those early City leaders of 100 years ago and 50 years ago that came before us were a hearty bunch. They made certain that we rode on the crest of scientific advancement whether it was in a new industry like the oil business or whether it was in agriculture, a business nearly as old as the land itself. They created a City that grew at an incredible speed.
And this generation‚Äîour generation ‚Äì is making clear that we do not intend to be a follower when it comes to new ideas and a higher standard of life in the 21st century American city. We intend to lead. There are bigger cities but none that should draw our envy.
What's the state of the City? That's a question that's not answered by the mayor; it's a question each citizen answers themselves.
We've created a lot of new jobs, but if you need a job, then things could be better. We've made great strides in not only recruiting new companies, like Dell, but also in seeing our existing businesses grow and flourish. Let me assure you, more good news on the job front is coming.
For the most part, our children live in a faith-based City which clings to long-held American values. But opportunity is not knocking on every door of every neighborhood in this City. We have work to do.
We have fewer homeless people than most cities our size, but we still have too many. We have work to do. We passed a plan in Council this year that will work to unite our resources so that we can make a difference in this area.
I do want to say that I am extremely proud of our private sector's support for homeless issues. People give their time. Corporations and citizens give their money. One such group is the City Rescue Mission, run by Rev. Glenn Cranfield who is here today. They are doing remarkable work in this area. Incredible success stories are emerging at this and other shelters. And most of these miracles are being created without a penny of governmental assistance.
We know, from the experience of other cities, that homeless populations don't necessarily decrease as a City's economic situation improves. And there is a painfully growing trend of single mothers joining the homeless population. We have work to do.
Our level of education is showing a healthy upswing. By percentage, we now have more college graduates than Dallas. But we still have too many high school dropouts. And a lack of education is a direct reflection on many of our social problems. We must continue to push our students to seek higher levels of education. We must continue to create educational environments that will attract quality teachers. And we must continue the recent trend of electing responsible citizens to school boards and other political positions.
We must create a community that supports its educational leaders because we must continue to pass our school bond elections. The great strides that are being made as part of MAPS for kids will only transcend generationally if the public retains confidence in school boards and administrators. At the current time, we are very blessed, with a growing amount of trust between our citizens and our educators. We must be protective of this critical balance of confidence.
If you want someone to live in your City, whether you want to keep them here or recruit them here, you must have a ‚Äòquality of life' that will be appreciated. As a whole, compared to other cities, our quality of life is outstanding.
Natural resources? We have all the fresh water this generation will ever require, and we're actively seeking to sew up water rights for the rest of this century.
As for fresh air to breathe, Oklahoma City ranks as the 2nd large City in the nation ‚Äì just behind Jacksonville, FL ‚Äì in compliance with the Clean Air act.
Affordable housing? We offer great value to the homeowner. There is probably no better City in America to own a home.
Traffic congestion? There's a trouble spot here or there, but go visit another City our size or larger. You can get from one part of our City to another with incredible ease any time of day. In fact, we're one of the few cities where the police can actually watch for speeders during rush hour!
As for demographic patterns, people continue to move to the edges of our City. It's been that way for over 100 years and seems likely to continue for the near future.
But we are also seeing the beginning of a new trend in downtown housing. Past housing market studies tell us there is a market for more than 6,000 housing units in the downtown area. We currently have only 800 units! And, we're about to begin a new market study to examine how much the demand for downtown housing has grown.
I think we're seeing the very beginnings of a generational shift toward the inner City. With all of our investments in streetscape projects, the work of civic groups like Downtown OKC, and most importantly, with initiatives like MAPS and MAPS for Kids, we are creating a marketplace in the inner City. We have streetscape projects in Capitol Hill and the Stockyards to the south. I drove through Capital Hill the other day and was reminded of the opportunity that exists. To the north, we're working on 5th, street and 10th street and 23rd. We are building an elaborate trail system that connects the inner City to our suburban rim.
It's our view at City Hall, from an efficiency standpoint, that the citizens of Oklahoma City will be much better served if we create a more densely populated City.
One thing I have learned in the past ten months as mayor is that a lot of people like to write you letters. Some are friendly letters, some are not. Some are critical, and some offer lots of free advice.
I recently received a letter that said simply: "Mayor Cornett, I hope we can develop the river."
And you know, not long ago, I was concerned that we wouldn't be able to find very many people who had an idea and the funding for developing the river. But, I think the question is quickly becoming, not 'can we develop the river?' but rather, 'will we be able to control development on the river?' Here's my concern. What we don't want to do is have river development compete with downtown development. Rest assured there will be development along the river. But while we consider development along the river, we must make sure we don't create two downtowns. We should develop the river with projects that make sense for the river. But always remember that a City receives its primary identity from its downtown. We saw what happened a generation ago when downtown retail and businesses deserted downtown for the suburbs. We've made some important headway in that area; let's not repeat that mistake.
This is probably a good time also to speak on the ever-increasing attention given to downtown. Some would say too much attention is given to downtown. I don't think so. If you live in Oklahoma City, downtown is important to you. It's where the City receives it's image, it's where tourist pay your taxes which support your police officers, pay your firefighters and raise money to fix your streets. One example, the Ford Center has become one of the most successful concert venues in the world. Concertgoers travel regionally to see top-level entertainment in Oklahoma City. Maybe you live 10 miles from downtown like I do, maybe you live 20 or 30 miles from downtown, it still affects you because it's the heart of our City.
This is a great era in Oklahoma City for parks. Our last two bond issues have allowed us to do a lot of great things for our Parks department. Topical issues right now include Edwards park in Northeast Oklahoma City when completed it will have one mile of fishable shoreline. Biggest park related event in 2004 was the opening of Southlakes Park in South Oklahoma City‚Äîthe first regional park to open in our City in 20 years. It's loaded with amenities. If you have not been out to see it, make the trip. And we held a groundbreaking for Route 66 Park in northwest Oklahoma City. It will open in 2006 and you will be impressed.
In 2004 we completed MAPS. The library opened and the river held its first events. We dissolved the citizen committee that served as our oversight board for 11 years. When the Norick Library opened this summer, we held a ceremony and we were so excited that we triumphantly released some balloons into the air. A couple of days later I visited with some grade school kids at my alma mater, Coronado Heights Elementary. A girl who is in the fourth grade came up to me‚Äîand remember if she's in the fourth grade, she's younger than MAPS‚Äîanyway she came up to me and said "Mayor Cornett, I saw you on television releasing those balloons,‚"I said yes, it was really exciting and I explained to her in detail about MAPS and how it had transformed the City. We built a canal, a sports arena, we made improvements to the Civic Center, the fairgrounds and our convention center. We put water in the river, added a trolley system and finished it off by opening a brand new downtown library. And when I had finished bragging about the efforts of our generation. She said "Mayor Cornett, were those balloons biodegradable?" She has high standards. Higher than mine, apparently. Just as we were not content to live in a City of stagnation, she expects a high level of excellence for the City that she will inherit. She was three years old when we opened the ballpark. She doesn't know what the City was but she sees what it is and dreams that it will be better still. God bless her.
As many of you know, we are in the early stages of relocating I-40 as it travels through downtown. One of our top priorities for 2005 is to continue to prepare and plan for this great opportunity to re-invent a large section of the central City. There are multiple layers of issues involving I-40's relocation that are receiving a lot of our attention at City Hall: there are funding issues, land use issues and other planning issues that will affect our City greatly for a century or more.
We have a growing population of Spanish-speaking residents in Oklahoma City.
Currently, in our public school system, we have about 1/3 Hispanic students, 1/3 African-American and 1/3 Caucasian. Within five years Hispanic students will be the majority. Many teachers have expressed concern to me about students who speak English at school but go home to Spanish-speaking environments and the effect that has on their learning.
I mentioned a few moments ago about our success in public-private partnerships. This area is another example. One of my goals has been to make sure we have classes that teach English as a second language to any person who lives in Oklahoma City. And that these classes are taught by qualified teachers, and that these classes are free, and, you knew this was coming, that these classes are funded by the private sector and not government.
We're already on our way. Through a partnership with the Mayor's office, U.S. Cellular, the Latino Community Development Agency and OKC Public Schools, this past semester hundreds of students enrolled in these classes. We need to grow them larger. To the extent that you in the private sector are looking for an area to support. Give me a call. We need more ESL classes and more qualified ESL teachers.
Tourism remains a great opportunity for growth. I still believe our single largest under-tapped financial resource is our interstate traffic that drives through our City and doesn't stop.
We are rapidly creating reasons to stop:
You know of Bricktown, our National Memorial and our incredible museums, our world-class zoo, our unmatched public golf courses, our sporting events and our concerts. But coming soon‚Ä¶. The American Indian Cultural Center, The Land Run Monuments along the Canal, improved facilities at State Fair Park, and in Bricktown, an upscale hotel and two more exciting restaurants: Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, and Nonna's.
Along with tourism, we are working toward a higher level of communications for our citizens and visitors. It's as easy to see as the ever-increasing standards for our channel 20 television station to the new downtown signage‚Äîwhat we call the wayfinding system---that helps you find your way around. Coming soon, with the cooperation from ODOT, new signage on I-40 that should make it easier for all of us to know what exit we need to take downtown.
A financial solution for the Skirvin is one of our big success stories of 2004. We still have not closed on the deal – remember any real estate deal has to close‚Äîbut the asbestos removal is already in progress. It is my belief that the Skirvin will reopen as a four star hotel in 2006. That's the year before our state centennial and before our City hosts the Big-12 basketball tournament.
And for our children that don't know the meaning of fear, we're about to open up a skate park along the river in south Oklahoma City that I believe will be one of the best in North America. Why does it have to be so good? Well, we don't have a recent history in this City of doing things second rate. Our kids are growing up expecting their City to be the best in whatever it does. And that's the way it should be.
Oklahoma City became known around the world as a City with a special spirit of resilience, courage and faith following the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in 1995. On April 19 of this year we will remember what happened to our City exactly 10 years ago. Hard for many of us to believe, but over 100,000 of our citizens, didn't even live in Oklahoma City ten years ago. Since 1995, our City has moved ahead and prospered in many ways completely unrelated to the bombing. Yet April 19, 1995 haunts us still. Those who were here then will always remember. But all of us that are here now should never forget.
There are many economic success stories. With the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce leading the charge, high tech jobs are coming. Dell Computer is bringing over 1,000 new jobs, many of them high tech jobs, to Oklahoma City in 2005 with the intentions to bring many more. Dell reports that as they get more and more involved in Oklahoma City they are more and more impressed. I want to thank state leaders, the governor and his staff as well as Congressman Istook and his staff for helping us with Dell.
Medical research is the fastest growing segment of our economy. And I don't have to remind you that high tech and medical research are typically higher than average paying jobs. Further proof that as we create a city where people want to live, higher paying jobs will be created.
Politically, cities across the nation are working to defend their tax base. Unfunded mandates are on the increase. Special interest groups are working to take away tax resources that cities have relied upon for decades. It filters down to our bottom line. It creates increasing stress on our ability to fund public safety and other services. Is it just me or do others believe it's unsettling to know that municipalities across this state and across the nation, have to hire lawyers and lobbyists to protect themselves from their own state legislatures and congress. I don't get it.
In sports, we have much to brag about. Not only the Red Hawks and Blazers and Yard Dawgz, but special events like Big 12 Baseball and Basketball, NCAA Wrestling and Basketball. Major League baseball is coming to the Brick this spring with two games between the St. Louis Cardinals and Baltimore Orioles.
However, in sports, we have scarcely scratched the surface of what our City deserves and can support. I would like to see three specific additions: one, a destination motorsports entertainment complex; two, a major league sports franchise; and three, there is no reason that Oklahoma City should be the largest city in the United States without Division I basketball. The City we are creating both deserves and demands it. We need to support and encourage Oklahoma City University to return to Division One status.
Before I close I want to express my thanks to the men and women who work for the City on a daily basis. A city staff is much more than police officers and firefighters. They dig, they shovel, and they plan. They build parks, they plan schools, and they devise ways to become more efficient. To the extent that I cannot thank each and every one of them each and every day, let us all show our appreciation for all they do to make this a great City.
And I also want to thank our civic leaders. From people that work in their own neighborhoods, to church volunteers, and to the business leaders that are in the audience today. You are creating an incredible City. We hear a lot about Oklahoma City's historical leadership and no question they produced some remarkable achievements, but I will take this generation of civic leadership and match it up with any in our City's history. You are unselfish, you are hard working, and together you create the solidarity so necessary in competing with other communities. Trust me, it's impressive and as I visit with other mayors throughout the country, I realize how lucky we are.
And finally, as I put down my thoughts for this address on the state of the City, I realized that there was an overall theme. And not a theme that needed a complete sentence to describe, but a theme that could be summed up in a single word: focus. The state of the City in 2005 is the result of several great successes. And those successes occurred because we focused. Focused on our weaknesses. Focused on solutions. And focused not just on the issue of who we are, but what can we become.
You know, it's pretty obvious that, technically a city never, physically moves anywhere. But philosophically, and perceptually, cities do move. And we talk about it regularly.
"That city is really moving ahead.‚"
"That city is really going places.‚"
"That City is falling behind.‚"
Sure, some cities remain stagnant but most are, perceptually, moving forward or backward at any given time.
To me, one of the interesting aspects of this is that when a city moves, it never gets to a destination. It's not like a trip that you or I might take where we get on a bus in one city and arrive in another city, having completed a trip. A city never totally arrives at its destination. It's an endless journey. And that's how it should be. If we, in this City, ever rise out of bed one morning and announce to ourselves that this City has 'made it', or that this City is 'finally there' we are done. And we will have lost the focus that got us to where we are today.
One final note, to that 9-year-old girl. Those balloons? They were biodegradable.
Thank you for coming.