The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum sits unfinished at the crossroads of I–35 and I–40. Its financial history has had its ups and downs, but there may be still be a happy ending for the museum, thanks to two state senators, Clark Jolley and Kyle Loveless.
“In determining what to do with the American Indian Cultural Center, we had several challenges,” Loveless said. “One, the tight budget year. Two, the house's insistence on no further indebtedness through bond packaging.”
Jolley, Loveless and State Treasurer Ken Miller came up with a plan that did several things.
“First, it transfers $40 million from the unclaimed property fund and it creates a public trust,” Loveless said. “Then in the long term over the next several years, whichever comes first, the doors being opened, or 2019, the long term cost of the cultural center meaning employees retirement, that kind of thing, benefits packages, go off the state rolls in perpetuity and the people become an employee of the public trust.”
Loveless feels this move addresses the critics concerns over long term costs and the need for more money.
“Sen. Jolley has been the point person on the funding mechanism as he is appropriations chair,” Loveless said.
“This is money that the state has had for 10 years that they've been trying to get somebody to claim. They've taken out ads, they've done commercials, they've done everything the state knows how to do to get this money back to individuals,” Loveless said.
After 10 years the money becomes available to the legislature to use for onetime costs, onetime expenditures.
“That's what this bill does, use that money to match the $40 million so that it does not go on this year's budget because it is not taxpayer funds or revenues generated through the normal appropriations process,” Loveless said.
Shoshanna Wasserman, director of communications and cultural tourism for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum, said they were “thrilled” with this possible solution.
“Our whole goal is to get down the road and get the museum and cultural center completed, get the exhibitions finished so we can open this wonderful facility that so many people had a vision for so many years ago,” Wasserman said.
“I just want to say that I commend our board of directors because they created a vision for a world class institution many, many years ago and they have always held to that original vision,” Wasserman said.
The vision of a world class facility is still the goal.
“To me this project is something that financially and economically will be a quantum leap, a new Bricktown,” Loveless said. “This project will just explode along the south side of the river with the economic development; I have no doubt in my mind.”
Loveless said that for Republicans it can be “hard to quantify and put on an Excel spreadsheet the value of a piece of art, a cultural experience.”
“That's what this cultural center is going to do, tell the story of 39 tribes, not just one, not just a certain region of the state but all of them. It’s going to be a jewel on the river, a Smithsonian–style museum so I'm looking forward to the day that we open the doors,” Loveless said.
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