Mayor Cornett delivered the eleventh State of the City message on January 13, 2010.
AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY
First of all, I want to thank the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber for their continued staging of this event. It’s a great symbol of the unity between the business community and the City government that this event is hosted by the Chamber each year, and I am grateful for the work that goes into it. I want to thank the Thunder for serving as the signature sponsor. I don’t know how many of you saw it, but after the Thunder blew out the Knicks Monday night a couple of the Knick players revealed that they didn’t sleep well the night before because the Skirvin Hilton is haunted and they were afraid of the ghosts. I am not making this up. Let me just say, if I knew I was going to have to cover Kevin Durant, I wouldn’t sleep very well either. And if there’s a ghost, he’s wearing number 35.
Before I get further along, I want to introduce my family. Seated down front is my wife Lisa and our three sons, and several members of my extended family. Would all of you please stand?
I also want to especially recognize Governor Bill Anoatubby of the Chickasaw Nation. Would you stand and be recognized? They’re getting very involved in Oklahoma City after their purchase of Remington Park. Welcome to Oklahoma City, and we look forward to seeing more of you.
I hope you’ll appreciate the relative brevity of today’s address. I have spent much of the last three years here and everywhere else discussing all of the futuristic issues involved with MAPS 3. And then I woke up on December 9th and realized I didn’t have anything to say. Now, were ready to get to work, and we’ve got a big assignment ahead of us.
The campaign for MAPS 3 was the largest I had ever been involved with, and certainly the most important. And I could not have been more proud of the unity that held that campaign together. From the business community, to the City Council, and ultimately to the largest voter turnout in city history, we came together as a community and made a major decision about the city’s future.
You no doubt saw a lot of me; probably a lot more than you wanted to see. But you also saw volunteers from every corner of the city working on this campaign. You especially saw young people, a generation so young they could barely remember the city as it was, a city with no water in its river and certainly no canal in that old warehouse district. Young people that saw MAPS 3 as “their” MAPS, a series of ideas that they can help build and then build upon. A generation born in the city that was, inspired by the first MAPS, in many cases educated in buildings improved by MAPS for Kids, and now invested in this community, anxious to see where we go from here and determined to be a part of it.
You also saw the business community, the job creators who have been so successful in creating opportunities for our citizens to work and be successful. A group that understands if you want to keep your talented young people in Oklahoma City and build tomorrow’s work force, you have to invest in a variety of quality of life elements. Let me personally thank the business community, especially the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
David Thompson is the Chairman and was uniquely supportive of the effort. David, on behalf of the City, my thanks to you, your board, your members and certainly to your President and CEO Roy Williams. Why don’t we have all of the Chamber volunteer leadership and staff that is in the room today stand so that we can show our appreciation.
And at the heart of the MAPS 3 effort was the City Council. They were there when the list of projects was put together. I have heard it said that a consensus is what no one person believes individually but what everyone agrees to support collectively. And so it was with MAPS 3. The list of projects we ended with wasn’t any one person’s list, not mine, not any individual council member, but it became ours. That level of solidarity is very unusual in a city of our size.
I know some of the Council members are here today. I would appreciate it if they would stand as I call their name, and then remain standing and we will acknowledge them together.
Your full City Council is Ward One, Gary Marrs; Ward Two, Sam Bowman; Ward Three, Larry McAtee; Ward Four, Pete White; Ward Five, Brian Walters; Ward Six, Meg Salyer; Ward Seven, Skip Kelley; and Ward Eight, Pat Ryan.
Let’s show our appreciation.
I also want to show my appreciation to City Manager Jim Couch and our City staff, whose work was absolutely critical in crafting the MAPS 3 proposal. Would all employees of the City of Oklahoma City please stand so we can show our appreciation? Thank you.
We also had an incident this past weekend that should remind all of us how well we are served by our Oklahoma City police force. As you may know, one of our officers, Kris Hunter, was shot in the line of duty. Another police officer, Daniel Godsil, took out the shooter. Kris and Daniel are here with us today. Gentlemen, would you please stand so we can show our appreciation for what you and your fellow officers do, and are willing to do, to keep our city safe.
It was three years ago, at this very event, we launched the first official phase of the MAPS 3 process. It was sort of a call for ideas. We announced the formation of a website, www.MAPS3.org and asked the citizens of Oklahoma City two basic questions. First, is MAPS 3 something you want to do? Are you even interested in seeing a list of projects that you could consider for MAPS 3? The result, in a very non-scientific survey, was that 85 percent of the respondents wanted to move forward with the process. The second question was very open-ended - What would you like to see in MAPS 3? There were 2,747 responses. We added them up and looked for some common themes. And three years later, I want to draw your attention to the results. Here’s what you wanted.
Number one - a runaway number one - was transit. And as you know, it was directly addressed in MAPS 3 with the modern streetcar, and funding for a transit hub. Put a check there.
Number two, infrastructure. On this, we didn’t wait for MAPS 3. In December of 2007, the citizens approved an 835 million dollar bond issue, with over 500 million dollars of that going to streets and bridges and other road infrastructure.
Number three, improve parks and build a new central park. Parks were included in that 2007 bond issue, and of course MAPS 3 included our new world-class, 70-acre Core to Shore park.
Number four, improve and expand the city’s bicycle and jogging trail system. We put it in MAPS 3, which will all but complete our trails system around the city.
Number five, beautification. Well, we are all over this. The 2007 bond issue, the Project 180 initiative, which will remake downtown over the next three years, and MAPS 3 all have significant beautification elements.
Number six, sidewalks. The 2007 bond issue adds hundreds of miles of new sidewalks, and we also put sidewalks in MAPS 3.
Number seven, improvements on the Oklahoma River. A whitewater course and River improvements are in MAPS 3.
Number eight, education. Again, we didn’t wait for MAPS 3. In 2007, the voters of the Oklahoma City Public School District approved a 248 million dollar bond issue that, among other things, includes gymnasiums in the 47 elementary schools that didn’t have them, a health initiative of particular interest to me. Meanwhile, many of the other 23 school districts that serve the students of Oklahoma City have also approved programs of work during this period. And at the same time, work on MAPS for Kids continues through 2012. Just because the tax collection ended doesn’t mean the work has. We’re in the final stages. Thirty-five of the MAPS for Kids schools are about to start construction in the next year, and we’re hiring the architects for the last 13 schools this week. In 2010, we will be selecting the site for the downtown grade school, and construction is coming soon on other high profile high school projects like Classen SAS, Southeast, Northeast, Capitol Hill, and Northwest Classen.
Number nine, downtown retail. Well, that one’s kind of tricky. I think it will be the result of MAPS 3, but it’s not directly part of MAPS 3, so no check mark there, but we understand it’s important.
Number ten, football! A new NFL stadium. Well, that would be cool. And I guess we could build one, but there wouldn’t be a team to play in it. But, seriously, about football and soccer in general, I will note that MAPS for Kids constructed a new football stadium at Douglass High School and the 2007 school bond issue has some money to improve Taft and Speegle stadia. How about half a check mark?
Number eleven, improve the Ford Center. This was approved in the Spring of 2008, so add a check. And the improvements will be continuing for the next year and a half. At its conclusion, we will have a world class NBA arena.
Number twelve was a tie. First, a new convention center. Check, it’s in MAPS 3.
Tied with the convention center for 12th was getting a permanent major league team and building facilities for them. We have the team - in fact they are sponsoring this luncheon today - and we’re building their practice facility right now, so, check that one.
Fourteenth most popular suggestion to make Oklahoma City a better place, senior citizen centers. They are in MAPS 3.
And finally, 15th on the list, totally free plentiful downtown parking. I have looked at this issue from every conceivable angle. I understand that as a concept, it is very popular. Truth is, we have lots of parking, and we’re building more. A lot of it is free. It probably will never all be free. I can’t find any other city in the United States that has an over abundance of free parking. But I hear you. And you never know.
We’ll throw that one out, so that leaves us with the top 14 voter getters. Of that, we get 12 and half checks. Our missed assignments? The downtown retail - It will come. The new NFL football stadium - That’s another story.
I wanted to draw attention to that list, because it’s a reminder that we have been on this journey together. Rarely has a community invested in itself as we have done, and never has a community been more united and inclusive in determining its direction.
As for MAPS 3, now the real work begins. Like everything else to this point, the citizens will have a big role. Currently, the Council and I are working on the composition of the Citizens Advisory Board. We’ve had hundreds of people apply, and that type of interest is unprecedented at City Hall. I anticipate we’ll be announcing the next steps very soon. Remember, the funding for MAPS 3 begins April 1st and runs until the end of 2017. We’ll be working with the advisory board on the order of the projects, and based on the history of MAPS and MAPS for Kids, I would anticipate the final MAPS 3 project to be completed by 2021. It’ll be here before we know it.
2009 was the year we will remember as the culmination of a series of public commitments, the execution of which will roll out over the next decade, transforming our city with a speed few American cities have ever seen.
If you take stock of the upcoming investments that our citizens have committed to, it’s a staggering list. Consider what will occur in the next 10 years. All of this, in the next ten years.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation, working with the City, will complete the massive relocation of Interstate 40 five blocks to the south. To complement that project, we will build a fabulous new boulevard to take its place, and a stunning pedestrian bridge to cross the new Interstate.
We will finish up the 73 school projects that represent MAPS for Kids. As I mentioned, 35 of those projects are now in design and about to start construction. And that will include a new downtown elementary school and five high schools. On top of that, we’ll continue the work of the 2007 school bond issue, which includes those gymnasiums I mentioned.
We will complete the upgrade of our sports arena, which should extend the Ford Center’s life through this decade and beyond. We will also complete the NBA practice facility, ensuring our major league status.
In just a few months we will begin Project 180, a three-year initiative that will redesign our downtown streets to be more beautiful and pedestrian friendly, and will transform the Myriad Botanical Gardens into a vibrant public space.
We will complete the projects included in the 2007 bond issue, which will improve our City streets, parks, build libraries, and even renovate our police station.
That sets the stage for MAPS 3.
We will be building a downtown streetcar system and a downtown transit center.
We will be building a modern urban park that will front the new boulevard and extend all the way to the river.
And on the river, we will have constructed the finest venue in the world for Olympic canoe, kayak and rowing sports.
And 10 years from now, when we gather for lunch to hear the mayor speak, we most likely won’t be here. We’ll have a new convention center.
And we’ll be able to see it all from atop Devon’s 850-foot skyscraper.
These are not just ideas. These are all funded projects, all approved and funded without any increase from the current level of taxation. These projects used to be more vision than reality, now they are more reality than vision. I have said this before, but it’s worth repeating. The last 10 years of this City’s history were incredible, but they will not equal the next 10 years. This is our future, and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch. It’s also going to require a lot of hard work and community oversight.
In June, in this building, the nation’s mayors will meet in Oklahoma for the first time. You may have heard me talk about this, and you’re about to hear me talk about it a lot more in the coming weeks and months.
The 2010 Annual Meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors is the most important political meeting this state has ever hosted. It will require an enormous effort, and the kind of hospitality we’re famous for. It will attract more than just mayors. Also Congressional leaders, Cabinet and other White House officials, governors, and world leaders. And even though parts of this city will look like one massive construction zone, the timing is perfect. More than anyone, mayors appreciate construction cranes. They appreciate big holes in the ground. They recognize progress. And though mayors have a lot of pride in their own cities, I know there is interest in our story. Thank you for giving me such a great story to tell.
There are a few other items I want to discuss today.
Next month, our community will break ground on the new WestTown Resource Center. This project is the result of years of consensus-building to determine the best way to deal with, and care for, our homeless population, and others that need temporary shelter and assistance getting back on their feet. We will be consolidating a lot of the resources that are currently spread out around the city. This is an important project and shows that even as we dream big, we remember that we have a responsibility to take care of others.
This April, we will mark 15 years since the Oklahoma City bombing. The National Memorial and Museum has become a national icon. And as we move farther away in time from that terrible day, the Memorial and Museum will become more and more relevant as a teaching tool for our world’s future, as much as our city’s past. Would Executive Director Kari Watkins please stand and be recognized? She and Foundation Chairman John Richels are guiding the Memorial through its evolving mission, and I want to recognize them for all they’re doing. Thank you for your work, and we look forward to the continued good works of the Memorial and Museum.
Regarding transportation, obviously the streetcar project in MAPS 3 is significant. But that’s just part of the story. Currently, the City is engaged in a study of our transit hub needs, and we are pursuing federal grants to supplement the commuter rail funding included in MAPS 3. Also, last summer, through the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, we began a series of meetings with other municipalities in the region to get a serious regional conversation going about public transit. The downtown streetcar is certainly a vital part of the region’s public transit needs, but going forward, transit needs to transition from being a city responsibility to a regional responsibility.
We’re working with the county governments and certainly the leaders of our surrounding communities nto determine the appropriate structure of a regional transit authority. As you know, our metro is designed really well for cars. We don’t have much traffic congestion. But it may not always be that way, and for that, and a lot of other reasons, including air quality and the aging of our population, we need to get prepared for the public transit needs of the future. We also need to begin establishing a track record of success in regional cooperation. I know we have some examples of regional partners in economic development sitting in this room today. We need to see our municipalities continue to follow that example, especially in transit.
Another great example of an area that requires regional partnership is public safety, as I’ve talked about in this forum before. Among the public safety issues our region will address this year is the county jail. We talk a lot about trying to fix it, but in that conversation, don’t ignore a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed. We as Americans and as Oklahomans are not adequately dealing with our mental health issues. It’s not just here. It’s happening all over the country. But we can’t be waiting for someone else to solve our problem for us. We need to solve it.
I want to also talk briefly about clean air and fresh water. These have traditionally been, and remain, Oklahoma City success stories. Relative to other cities, the quality of our air remains high. The federal government is changing its standards which, in the near term, is going to make it next to impossible for cities our size to avoid making some changes. But we should be able to deal with it, again working regionally with other cities.
And we are getting closer and closer to securing another long-term water supply for central Oklahoma. Compared to other regions of the country, we have an abundance of fresh water available. We are in the final stages of securing even more water rights, for our city and for our central Oklahoma region. When it comes to water and air, I think it is important to consider not just the current generation, but the next, and that’s certainly been our city’s history.
An area of our city services that is undergoing great change is the way we deal with animal welfare. Seeing that we at the city level were not able to keep up with the growing demands, we asked for help. And help has arrived. It’s a multi-layered effort. Right now, our animal shelter is working with the Central Oklahoma Humane Society, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and several rescue organizations, and we are doing much better. These are very passionate and committed groups. Here are some of the results. In October of this year, we set a record for adoptions with 777 animals, mostly dogs and cats, being successfully placed into new, and caring homes. 777 in one month! More signs of progress: In November of 2007, we had 125 dogs and cats transferred to rescue groups, but in November of 2009, just two years later, 404 dogs and cats were saved by these rescue groups.
Now, this isn’t a story of “mission accomplished” but it’s no longer “mission impossible” either. In October, the ASPCA committed 50,000 dollars to enhance our existing spay and neuter programs in low income areas, and we expect an additional 60,000 dollars to go into the program this year. I know a lot of people are looking for opportunities to make a difference in Oklahoma City. If you care about animals, these groups are making a difference and they could use your help.
When you discuss the economic state of our city, even in this time of uncertainty, you cannot help but come to two distinct conclusions.
One, economic times aren’t great, but it seems to be better here than other places. And two, no city has more to look forward to than us.
A couple of years ago when Forbes Magazine said we were the most recession-proof city in the country, they weren’t wrong. Looking back, it appears we were the last city to move into the recession. As the economy improves, what we hope is that we come out of it earlier, or with everyone else. Hopefully, just because we were the last city to get into the recession doesn’t mean we have to be the last one out.
We spend a lot of time examining our economic position. Just as the nation’s economy has slowed in the last year, our economy has slowed. But what are the numbers? Specifically, what are the numbers as it rates to families in Oklahoma City?
Well, I want you to look at this graphic. The U.S. average income is represented in blue, and Oklahoma City’s in red. Just six years ago, in 2004, per capita income for Oklahoma City was lagging behind at only 92 percent of the national average. Today, it is approaching 104 percent of the U.S. average. This remarkable income growth continues to be one of the most impressive stories that we can share about our city’s economy.
The Gross Metropolitan Product, which is the sum of all goods and services in the metro area has risen 33 percent since 2004, and we’ve moved into the top 20 percent of all metro areas in terms of GDP growth.
Now look at this graphic. In blue, that’s Oklahoma City’s percentage of population growth since 2004, the national number is in red, and Oklahoma is in green. Since 2004, our City’s population growth of seven percent has far outpaced that of both the nation, which is 4.8 percent, and the state, which is 4.6 percent. This speaks strongly to job and income growth, as well as quality of life improvements that have inspired people to move to Oklahoma City. I had a reporter from California ask my why so many from his state were moving to Oklahoma. I told him, It’s the reverse of the “Grapes of Wrath.” It’s the “Wrath of Grapes.”
Like seemingly every other community, our unemployment numbers are going up but they remain among the lowest in the country. In fact, we have had the lowest unemployment in the United States for eight of the last 12 months. Who else is doing well in this department? Typically, we are battling with Washington, D.C. to hold the number one spot.
All of this macro economic data has a real world effect on government, because when times are bad, you end up with fewer taxpayers and lower tax receipts. That means you have less money for core services like police officers, and firefighters. It also impacts infrastructure like parks and streets. And in city after city, even in Oklahoma, police officers and fire fighter positions have been eliminated, and parks and street budgets have been cut way back.
Well, what about us? What about Oklahoma City?
Well, if you are talking about city expenses, you are talking about public safety because it’s where roughly two-thirds of our money goes. And compared to other cities, we are still in an enviable position. In good times, we have handled our money conservatively. Early last year, at seemingly the first sign of trouble, our City Manager instituted a hiring freeze. Now, with the passage of MAPS 3, and accompanying “use tax,” we are in a position to buffer any shortfall, protect public safety, and actually increase the number of officers and firefighters on the street. Now, just like every other city, we need long-term solutions. We need the economy to turn around. And I believe it will. It always has before.
But if the question is: “How long can the city of Oklahoma City hang on to what is basically its current service level?” It just depends how long this recession lasts. But I doubt any other large city in the United States has weathered this economic slowdown better than Oklahoma City. And the passage of MAPS 3 should give us more confidence in the future of our economy than any federal stimulus package or bailout program ever could.
Speaking of big numbers, there’s one more topic I want to address today.
Our obesity effort seems to show continued success in spreading the word and opening up a community-wide dialogue about the dangers of being overweight. We have just started our third year and have moved past the half-way point of reaching our goal of a million pounds. Here’s the numbers as of this morning, from the website, www.ThisCityIsGoingOnADiet.com. Over 40,000 have joined including several hundred new participants in just the last few weeks. Our total weight loss is now 519,000 pounds. So, those 40,000 have lost over 12 pounds apiece. That is terrific. Let me use this time to lead you to this site if you think it can help someone in your family. It’s www.ThisCityIsGoingOnADiet.com. One of our many success stories in 2009 took place at the FAA center. They had 106 employees sign up hoping to make some progress on their weight loss goals, and when they weighed in a few months later, they had lost a total of 904 pounds. So, nearly nine pounds apiece, and just another example of an organization helping its employees deal with a difficult issue. Battling obesity is a winnable battle and it’s an important fight to win.
We are undergoing a lot of changes to help make this a healthier community. The bike paths, the sidewalks, the senior health and wellness centers, the new gymnasiums coming to the grade schools, are all significant steps. But it is still going to come down to individual action. It’s about what you eat, and how much you eat, and other lifestyle decisions that you make for yourself and your family. You can choose to be mad at Congress about health care, but we can’t blame Washington D.C. for our personal health. That’s up to us.
I will close with this.
A lot of times, when someone is going to lose weight, they will take a “before” picture. You know, what someone looked like “before” they lost weight. Well, if you own a camera, you might want to start taking pictures of downtown Oklahoma City because the way our city looks is about to change dramatically. Some of the changes will occur immediately, some will take several years to complete. But over the next ten years, the look of downtown is going to fundamentally change. And downtown should matter to you, no matter where you choose to live in the metro area. Yes, we are working hard to improve life throughout the city, you see it in the sidewalks and bike paths and senior health centers, but downtown is about to undergo a massive reconstruction. A change that will impact this entire region. So, remember that as you experience the inconvenience of the construction and the seemingly endless detours that are surely ahead. Just close your eyes, and the five to ten years of headaches will pass before you know it.
Winston Churchill once said “A lie gets half way around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” Oklahoma City is a great place to live. Don’t allow anyone to tell you differently.
Thank you to everyone who made today’s event possible, but most of all thank you to each of you for passing MAPS 3, and believing in the future of this great city.