Mayor Cornett delivered the eighth State of the City message on January 17, 2007.
Welcome to the State of the City for 2007.
If you live in Oklahoma City, feel free to pinch yourself. We have been a city for 118 years. We’ve had a history of good times and not so good times and I think it is clear that in 2006 we are in good times. And 2007 stands to be just as good a year, if not better. It was an incredible year. Our economy is soaring. Unemployment is low. Schools are being built. New hotels and new housing units are being built downtown and in the suburbs. We have emerged as a regional center of destination tourism. 2006 is going to be tough to top, but we have great momentum. And since it is our Centennial year we have every opportunity to top it.
A year ago, I stood before you in the State of the City address and discussed the city’s top priority: the implementation of MAPS for Kids. It is our decade-long approach to building new schools and providing our children with state-of-the-art technology. Let me report on the progress since last year. We are in a phase where the high schools are one of the main focuses.
Frederick Douglass High School opened up last January, so it’s been opened-up for a year. The new John Marshall High School opened-up this past fall with middle school students. It will be used as a high school next August.
And U.S. Grant High School, our largest high school, opened last week. And I would love to invite everyone in this room, in fact everyone in the community, to go down there and walk around and enjoy it. But security issues being what they are we can’t have a thousand people showing up and saying that the mayor invited us to come down and look around. So you’ll have to take my word for it. But it is a beautiful school.
And construction is just about to begin on Centennial High School. That’s in the northeast section of the city, at Britton and Kelly. And that open in the fall. The pace of Maps for Kids is ever quickening.
All in all, MAPS for Kids will rebuild or renovate 75 buildings in the Oklahoma City Public School System. Meanwhile, in the classroom, test scores are up. And financially, the School district is receiving consistently clean audits.
You know, when we started down this road, we set ambitious goals and we expected big improvement. And while I suppose a critic could still find something to complain about, the fact is our inner-city school system is significantly improved over where it was five years ago.
It is a work in progress but it is exciting to know that it is working and there is progress. To watch three new high schools open up in the past year has been thrilling to see.
One other effect has been a boom in the housing market in the school district. The Las Rosas neighborhood is a perfect example: new construction, entry-level housing in an area that has not had new development in decades. This would not have occurred without MAPS for Kids.
You know, when executed successfully, government is not separate from the people. I note that when I hear citizens discuss the success of the original MAPS projects they use the pronoun “we.” As in, “look what we have accomplished since MAPS.” And that is the buy-in that is so necessary to moving forward. In fact, I believe elected leaders should monitor and judge their success by the pronouns that their citizens use. Oklahoma City is moving forward largely because its citizens so identify with its success. Oklahoma City is our city. And its success is a reflection on what we’ve done. MAPS showed us what we could do for ourselves.
And MAPS for Kids is showing us what we can all do. It is providing incredible progress for the capital needs of our inner-city school system, but it is also meeting the needs of the suburban districts. All 24 suburban school districts that educate kids that live in Oklahoma City receive money from MAPS for Kids. The amount of the money is based on the number of Oklahoma City students that attend the school, and this money is going to districts all over the metro. It is going to Putnam City, Moore, Edmond, Mustang, Norman, Choctaw, Banner, Crooked Oak, Crutcho, Deer Creek, Harrah, Jones, Little Axe, Luther, McLoud, Midwest City and Del City, Millwood, Oak Dale, Piedmont, Robin Hill, Union City, Western Heights, and Yukon. Millions of dollars for expectations. Expectations of a better education. This is what we are doing for our schools. This is what we are doing for our kids and our future.
Now that we have moved past MAPS and we’re making great strides in addressing the City’s educational needs through MAPS for Kids, we must continue to develop and nurture that same culture that has brought us this far. We must not be complacent.
In the wake of MAPS, and more than five years beyond the vote on MAPS for Kids, I am asked nearly every day, “What’s next?” What are we going to do “next,” as in what initiative are we going to do after MAPS for Kids?
And after hearing that question every day for three years, you can imagine I have a pretty well-rehearsed response.
First of all, what we have to do is continue to make sure that we execute the plan for MAPS for Kids successfully. MAPS for Kids is making an impact all across the city. Not just in downtown, not just in the inner city school district, but in your neighborhood and my neighborhood. And because its direct impact is spread all across the city it is important that it succeed all across the city. And today I can report that it is succeeding all across the city. What city? Our city.
And because MAPS for Kids touches every neighborhood in Oklahoma City, I sense that we are getting that buy-in from the citizens that is so important. The original MAPS projects, because they were largely concentrated in the downtown area, also have had that feeling of ownership from the community. It is our downtown, our ballpark, our civic center, our sports arena, our convention center, our canal, our river, etcetera.
And as we move forward, it is crucial that we continue to be ambitious, but it is also crucial that we move forward together. And so that brings me back to the question I hear so often – “What’s next?” And today, with the collection of MAPS for Kids sales tax ending next year, I am ready to begin that conversation.
Now first, understand that MAPS 3 is neither mandatory nor inevitable. We live in a great city made up of great people, and it will be a great city with great people with, or without, a MAPS 3 initiative. But, MAPS and MAPS for Kids have been so successful that I believe we owe it to ourselves to at least consider what more could be done to improve Oklahoma City.
Today, I am announcing the beginning of that discussion. Effective immediately, we have launched a website: www.MAPS3.org.
This website will help us facilitate a community-wide conversation that centers around two basic questions:
We will accept feedback through May 15, so that’s basically a four-month period to give us your opinion. And on the Web site, you’ll be able to attach pictures and drawings of any idea that you might conjure up. And I urge people from all over the metro area to contribute. And I especially urge our children in our schools to come up with some ideas and remember to dream big.
If we’re going to do a MAPS 3, and keep in mind I said “if,” then it needs to be because we have recognized needs and we have recognized opportunities and we have decided that this is the best way to approach them.
You know, as mayor, I get asked from time to time a basic question. Basic questions are always the hardest. “Mayor, what are you about?” And to the extent that people insist on breaking down my thought process to some basic principles, I try to answer the question this way: “I try to concentrate on two things: education and jobs.”
In 2007, we are committed to improving education through MAPS for Kids, and we are continually working to provide a community where the private sector can create jobs. We are creating a city where people want to live, and as a result, the job growth has been impressive.
I’m confident that 2007 will provide its own success stories. Big or small, jobs are being created. You know, big companies are terrific. But we need to do more to empower the little guy with big ideas. We must break down the barriers that keep small companies from becoming big companies. We need to plant and nurture that entrepreneurial way of life. We need our residents and our young people first imagining, and then believing, that they have the potential to be their own boss. We need innovators. We need a next generation of ideas, a next generation of wealth, and a next generation of job creators.
We have a choice. We can send a message that the road to prosperity begins with education. We can teach young people how to put together a business plan and teach them that there are no short cuts to prosperity other than hard work and determination - who has the ideas, who has the willingness to work hard. Right here in Oklahoma City, Tracy McDaniel of KIPP Academy teaches his students that there are no limits on their future, no matter where they came from. And if a child in this city grows up believing that the best chance to their American Dream is to join a gang or to buy a lottery ticket and get lucky, then we have failed.
One thing employers will tell you about people in Oklahoma city is that we work hard. That we appreciate the opportunity to turn honest work into honest pay. We hear that over and over again. And, to keep that work ethic alive, we must be diligent in removing the barriers that keep children from reaching their potential as Americans. Poverty is a barrier. A barrier that can partially be addressed one family at a time by creating one more higher paying job. Language can be a barrier. And if you intend to live in Oklahoma City, you need to learn to speak English. Here in Oklahoma City, we are creating more classes teaching English to adults than ever before. These ESL classes are privately funded and I want to thank U.S. Cellular and the Latino Community Development Agency for helping us to meet this need.
And the third barrier is a lack of education. MAPS for Kids is a great start but I encourage everyone, regardless of age to increase your education. And if there's a young person in your family, take the time to read to them. We can remove these barriers and when we do we'll have an even greater work force to offer the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.
We also need to ensure that the next great idea has access to capital. We need to ensure that the next great idea does not die in a laboratory or in someone’s garage, or find funding somewhere else and leave the state.
Because of new technology, new types of jobs are being created daily. Here’s something to keep in mind, right now in Oklahoma City, by my guesstimate, we have about 10,000 kids in kindergarten. Now, some will grow up to have the traditional jobs: doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists. But two-thirds, two-thirds, of our kindergarteners will take a job that has not been created yet. We need to make sure that they have the education and the technology necessary to compete in the 21st century. And the revolutionary approach of MAPS for Kids is really helping to make that a reality.
We are a city in which life revolves around getting into your car and going somewhere. Well, until this weekend. You know, here’s a prediction about Oklahoma City. Ask the typical resident of our community to go around the block. And I challenge you that the first thing they will do is go look for their car keys.
That dependence on the automobile is not all bad. Through the years, it’s led us to create a great network of roads. And that network of roads is the envy of cities around the country. We have very little traffic congestion. There is more good news for us. Generally, the cost of gasoline is affordable. And that combination - free moving traffic and affordable gas - are key ingredients to our quality of life. We are very mobile. We go where we want, when we want. And in many of our peer cities, those days are gone.
But we are kidding ourselves if we think this is sustainable long-term. Traffic congestion is going to increase. Fuel prices are going to increase. And there are other costs to an automobile-friendly lifestyle. Although we remain one of the largest cities in the country still in compliance with the Clean Air Act, that status is in jeopardy. The exhaust from the cars is polluting our air. Fifty percent of our pollution comes from automobiles. Plus, our reliance on the car has created a sedentary culture. As a community, too many of us are overweight, and the increased cost of healthcare is weighing on our economy.
Listen to this, by the year 2030 – that’s just 23 years from now - the number of senior citizens living in the greater Oklahoma City area will more than double. Now that is startling to me. Right now we have 110,000 seniors; in 2030 we’re going to have 231,000. So how does that change our city? Well, in many ways, but to highlight just one, it is going to demand that we have a better public transportation system.
Now, public transportation means different things to different people. There is an inner city aspect of public transportation where you have a core of downtown that is served. There is commuter transportation that might get someone down Northwest Expressway or up Shields. And then there is the growing number of people that choose to live in Edmond or Moore or Norman or Choctaw or any one of the suburban communities. A lot of those people work in Oklahoma City. They need to get to work. There’s certainly a tourism aspect to public transportation, but when you start sorting all of these opportunities into one idea, it becomes massive, it becomes complex, and it certainly becomes expensive. Over the past two years, we have completed an exhaustive, futuristic look at transportation in our community.
Now, the plan includes four distinct methods of public transportation: Bus Rapid Transit, Commuter Rail, Downtown Streetcar, and Enhanced Bus Service.
And if you care to see the details, and I encourage you to look at them, they are available on the Internet. It is called the Fixed Guideway Study and the web address is: www.okfgs.org. Now, this conversation about public transportation needs to continue, but this much is clear - public transportation needs to be addressed not only from the core, but needs to be addressed on a regional basis. The funding needs to come from a regional basis. And it’s not only going to be able to come from the metro, it’s going to need to come from the state as well.
You know, in the coming years, we are going need to accelerate this conversation and move into action. We’re not going to be able to ignore our public transformation problems forever. The study and research is done for now. We’re at a point where we need to start thinking about long-term implementation. What are we going to do about it?
We live in a world that is changing rapidly. And it occurs to me that you can be for change or you can be against change but you better not ignore change. Change can be rapid – you can pick up your remote control and you can change the channel. But you can’t change your world by remote control. You’ve got to roll up your sleeves, you have to get to work. And ready or not, our city is changing. Now one big change is coming downtown. Interstate 40, as we know it, is moving several blocks to the south. This represents great change, but it also represents great opportunity.
The decisions we make concerning the land-use and the new streets are going to have lasting effects on our city. Our planning process involves taking a look at the impact that the relocation of the Interstate is going to have from the core of downtown all the way to the shore of the Oklahoma River. That’s why the planning process is called Core to Shore.
We are halfway through the process, halfway through a nine-month study looking at the effects and opportunities created by the relocation of the Interstate. And as you may have noticed, physical construction has already begun. But briefly put, a four-mile stretch of I-40 is going to be relocated several blocks to the south of the existing I-40 corridor and it will be replaced with an at-grade boulevard. And we must ensure that this new at-grade boulevard is a special place. We have engaged an inclusive planning committee. They are considering the impact and all of the opportunities created by the relocation of I-40. And we should expect a report at mid-year.
The Oklahoma City community offers a wide variety of places to live. And we have got it all, whether you want urban or suburban or rural. We have got everything you could image. And speaking of the suburbs, I want to thank those of you who live in the suburbs for supporting our efforts to revitalize the inner city. Thank you for realizing the importance of a vibrant city core. The truth is, you can’t be a suburb of nothing. And the quality of life in the suburbs is directly related to the quality of life downtown. We have many of the ingredients for a vibrant downtown already in place. And that benefits people throughout the entire community.
We do have our shortcomings. And perhaps the largest, in my view, is the way we treat our mentally ill. Our largest mental health facility is the County Jail. Jail should not be the answer to mental health. There’s a difference between being a criminal and being sick, and we have chosen to not recognize and not fund the difference. And our lack of concern for the mentally ill plays out not only at the Jail, but also in many of our homeless shelters. These homeless shelters are not equipped to handle the issue. And I understand it’s more of a state issue than a city issue, but we have funding issues at the Jail, and we have funding issues at our homeless shelters and it’s unwise to spend more money at those facilities when we are not addressing the core of the problem. And I’m hoping that 2007 is the year that we truly take on the issue of a lack of funding for mental health.
And for the third year in a row, I would like to take time in the State of the City address to discuss the idea of consolidating some of the public safety components of the local government. To refresh your memory, we have 14 fire departments in Oklahoma County. We don’t need that many. We have 24 school districts – not schools - serving students that live in Oklahoma City. Now, those are obvious examples of duplication of government. It’s inefficient. It is costing taxpayers in the metro millions of dollars a year.
And in 2006, for the second year in a row, your city council has placed a higher priority than ever before on street resurfacing. More lane miles of road are being resurfaced than ever before.
And there are several other issues that we’re working on down at City Hall: literacy is taking a higher profile, gang intervention, homelessness, animal welfare, and energy conservation are all the subject of distinct discussion.
Well, this past year has witnessed a series of very positive events, I’ll mention just a few today. At the State Fair Grounds, improvements to our horse show facilities are paying huge dividends. Organizing groups representing the different breeds in the equine industry are literally lining up to hold events in Oklahoma City.
And how about that airport?
The construction is complete. Business is up, we have more direct flights, and now we’re starting a construction phase to expand the parking opportunities.
Thanks to our state legislature, the Heartland Flyer continues to roll between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth.
Yes let’s hear it. That’s a terrific process, and we appreciate our legislature and our Governor for working on both of those items. The state’s also put considerable money into the Land Run sculptures. I want to specifically thank all the legislators who are in the room todayand the Governor for all that they do for us. But those two special items need to be acknowledged by this group of leaders in Oklahoma City, because we really appreciate all the work that’s done out at the State Capitol.
You cannot discuss current events without acknowledging the special relationship that this community has forged with the New Orleans-Oklahoma City Hornets. Hasn’t it been wonderful?
Being able to experience the NBA has been a great ride. And I think the world understands that we don’t want to get off. I will continue to work to ensure that we have our own NBA franchise long term. We don’t have immediate answers. But you all have done your part. And the NBA has noticed.
In six weeks, we will host the largest sporting event in our city’s history. In that first full week of March, the Big 12 men’s and women’s basketball championships will be played downtown at Oklahoma City. The men will play at the Ford Center, and the women will play just 58 steps away at the Cox Center. Now these events have never been held outside of Dallas and Kansas City. I have personally assured the Big 12 Conference that this will be the best series of championships they have ever had. And to help ensure that - now the men’s championship is already sold out - but I urge you to buy tickets and support the women’s championships here at the Cox Center. We will be judged as a city by how well we support the women’s championships. I am hopeful and I’m confident that we’re going to break their attendance records.
And when the Big 12 fans come to town they’re going to see three relatively brand-new hotels downtown. The Colcord opened up recently; the Residence Inn is about to open up along the Canal in Bricktown.
And 95 years after it first shaped our skyline, the Skirvin Hotel will open its doors.
You know, the term miracle is overused. But having watched this situation evolve since the hotel closed in 1988, and now, re-opening the Skirvin Hilton, after being closed for 19 years, is a miracle. And a lot of people deserve a lot of credit for this. I mean, so many people were involved in making this happen. I want to specifically thank our city staff for all their hard work in pulling it off. The Skirvin should open here in just a few weeks, in time for the Big 12 Tournament.
Our Oklahoma City Zoo is better than ever, and on March 10, they are going to open a new large exhibit dedicated to Oklahoma, entitled Oklahoma Trails.
The Oklahoma River has become one of the premier rowing venues in the United States. The United State Olympic Committee intends to hold more events right here in Oklahoma City. A full 12 years after the bombing, the Oklahoma City Memorial is hosting more visitors than ever.
We have a number of world-class museums in town that are continuing to gather national attention. And it’s not going to be long before the American Indian Cultural Center opens its doors. That is going to play a significant role in our ever-increasing tourism business.
Live outdoor theatre is coming downtown. Significant improvements are being made to the facilities in the Myriad Gardens, and Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park will open its summer season in June.
But I imagine with all of the things going on, this has slipped your mind. This is proof that time flies. The first MAPS project, the AT&T Bricktown BallPark, opened in 1998. That means that this is the tenth season for the RedHawks to play in the new stadium. They’re taking great care of the facility and in September, they will hold the Triple A Championship game there again.
But you can’t look at all of the great events in 2007 and ignore the fact that it’ going to be special. I imagine that 2007 is going to be remembered as the year of the State Centennial. I don’t think there’s any question about it. Many of the events that we are going to enjoy have been in the works for years. Blake Wade and Lee Allan Smith know how to throw a party, and in many ways 2007 is going to be a year-long celebration in this capital city.
I want to close this afternoon’s gathering by saluting the citizens of Oklahoma City who spend so much of their time volunteering for worthy causes. There are so many needs, and yet so many are met. I am continually amazed as Mayor at the way this community gives back - to the schools, to the churches, to children’s causes, to just simply helping out someone in need. It is inspiring to watch.
I have heard that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. You’re doing that.
The state of the city is stronger than ever. Thank you all for coming today.