Security costs loom for unfinished museum at Oklahoma City

By Julie Bisbee
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (AP) June 2010

The state could be footing the bill for security on an empty building if construction stops at the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.

Construction on the $177.5 million project is expected to stop in the fall when the state agency building the museum runs out of money. When this phase of construction is finished, the main gallery space will be enclosed and sitting idle.

A bill that would have allowed the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority to issue revenue bonds to continue construction at no expense to the state was not taken up during the legislative session that ended May 28.

Now officials with the cultural center will have to wait until the next legislative session begins in February to seek approval for a construction financing plan, said Gena Timberman, executive director of the cultural authority.

“It’s going to cost us more to do nothing,” Timberman said. “Obviously, we want to identify a solution during the next legislative session. Otherwise, we’re shutting down the site, and we’re paying money to have a closed site with weeds growing on it.”

When construction stops, the state could be forced pick up the tab for securing the building and construction. Security and site maintenance is currently the responsibility of the companies working on the project, Timberman said. Construction could stop in September, she said.

This past legislative session, top state elected officials wrestled with decreased state revenue collections and a $1.2 billion shortfall in the budget for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Last year, the authority’s budget was increased by $2 million, while other state agencies weathered budget cuts.

At the time, Gov. Brad Henry said the funds were meant to ensure the future of the cultural center project, which is located at the crossroads of Interstates 35 and 40 in Oklahoma City.

Officials expect the cultural center and museum to be an international attraction and draw millions of people to Oklahoma each year. Another bill that passed the Legislature this year allows the authority to begin talks with a private developer for onsite lodging, restaurants and shopping.

“The idea is to keep visitors here and actively spending money for several days,” Timberman said.

However, efforts to woo private developers and private investors may be on hold without the state-backed bond issue.

“When we’re talking to private developers, they want to know how committed the state is to finishing this project,” Timberman said. “It’s the same with private fundraising. If they don’t know if it will ever be complete they are less likely to invest.”