The board overseeing the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum has been given more time to see if it can develop a plan to fix its funding problems. In July of last year, construction on the partially completed structure was halted when lawmakers failed to approve a $40 million bond proposal that would have been matched by a similar amount in private donations.
This session, the state Legislature decided not to push a proposal that would have transferred authority of the project somewhere else in state government after House Speaker T.W. Shannon appointed Clay Bennett, president of the Oklahoma City Thunder ownership group, to the board.
Another high profile Oklahoman’s name, former University of Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer, is reported to also be under consideration for a seat on the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority.
While the museum’s troubles may have reduced from a boil to a simmer at the state Capitol, one new Senator is conducting his own personal research into the facility.
“As a conservative Republican, not knowing the details, when I became the Senator-elect last spring, because it’s one of the biggest projects in the state but also its in my district, I kind of started trying to get myself all involved in it,” Sen. Kyle Loveless said.
“I was kind of, I would say, a skeptic. In the sense of I didn't know if we'd spent enough money, if it would make economic sense... there was a cost overrun.”
The museum site sits near the junction of I-40 and I-35 in Oklahoma City, and that is in Loveless’ new district.
“It’s one of those things where when you've looked at the business plan, when you look at the total economic development that's going to generate from that, potentially up to 4 billion dollars worth of economic development and the continuation of the revitalization of Oklahoma City, it’s something that will effect Oklahoma,” Loveless said. “It will make something that as a state we are proud of and it will bring tourists from all over the country and all over the world to see this facility.”
Loveless said he now sees the museum’s potential, especially with its working agreement with the Smithsonian Institution. He points out that for the cost of a child’s Happy Meal per taxpayer, the state would have a world-class cultural museum that celebrates Oklahoma.
“I'm not a spokesperson but I truly believe it’s... definitely worth the price,” Loveless said.
The Senator said the project has the support of all 39 federally recognized tribes in Oklahoma despite claims to the contrary.