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After legislature votes on funding, center could raise billions in economic impact
Or Legislature could make dream of completed museum a reality

By Heide Brandes

Two decades after it was proposed and seven years after the start of construction, the $170 million American Indian Cultural Center and Museum (AICCM) may soon have new hope as the Oklahoma Legislature is set to vote on funding the center in February.

The grand vision museum in Oklahoma City is an ambitious attempt to honor and educate visitors about the state’s 39 federally recognized tribes. But the center, facing numerous road bumps and failures on the part of federal partners, is only half finished and short the $40 million needed for completion.

In February, however, the Oklahoma Legislature is set to consider funding for the center, which is expected to generate more than $3.8 billion in economic impact dollars. For the supporters and champions of the Indian Cultural Center, the vote has been a long time coming.

“Four years ago, Gov. Mary Fallin came out to hear an update about the center and told us we would have to raise private funds,” said Blake Wade, CEO of AICCM. “She said we would have to raise $40 million, which would be matched by the legislature for a total of $80 million to completely finish the project. We raised that. We have not received the match yet.”

Oklahoma lawmakers this year will consider a final funding plan to complete the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum. If successful, the state would allocate $40 million in state funds to match existing $40 million in private donations.
The state funds would be distributed over three years, and the proposed opening of the museum, located at the intersection of Interstates 35 and 40, would be 2017.

Although a vote was planned for the end of the 2013 legislative session, which supporter Sen. Kyle Loveless said was set to pass, the measure was halted by the deadly May tornadoes.

“The economic impact of this center will be huge,” said Shoshana Wasserman, director of communications and cultural tourism. “The cultural impact will be felt for generations, as thousands of visitors, students and travelers will be able to enjoy a Smithsonian-quality museum and cultural center that honors the American Indian tribes and history of our state.”

The American Indian Cultural Center and Museum project has benefited from three previous state bond issues totaling $63 million, as well as $14.5 million in federal funding and $4.9 million and 250 acres of land from Oklahoma City. The AICCM will include the collective histories of 39 Native American tribes from all over North America that were relocated here as a result of federal policies.

According to a economic impact study by Applied Economics, the AICCM is expected to generate $3.8 billion over 20 years. Additional, the 20-year state tax revenue projections are $150 million and local tax revenues are $177 million.

The cultural center has had its share of road bumps, delays and retractors however.
“We’ve had some stiff resistance, due mostly to urban legends,” said Sen. Loveless. “People think the tribes need to put in, but we’ve had 100 percent participation from all 39 tribes. The tribes have been involved from the conception to now.”

After Wade raised the $40 million in private funds, opposition accused the center of abuse of funds. However, a state audit of the past 10 years showed that not a single penny was misused. Another complaint is that only Oklahoma City will benefit from the museum, which Wasserman says is untrue.

“This center will benefit every county in Oklahoma,” she said. “It will serve as a gateway to other destinations throughout our state. People who visit here are looking for a niche experience, and that’s cowboys and Indians.”

In addition, because the center is 50 percent complete, the state faces a fiscal nightmare if it’s not completed.

“It would be fiscally irresponsible to not finish it,” said Wasserman. “We are asking for a $40 million match to complete it. If it fails, then it will take approximately $30 million to take down what’s already built. Why not spend those funds to create a lasting experience for Oklahoma that honors our Native American culture?”

Along with fundraisers and supporters Lee Allen Smith and Barry Switzer, the AICCM is asking for the public to call their senators and representatives to support the completion of the world-class, Smithsonian-level museum.

“This center will be along the caliber of the Smithsonian,” said Loveless, adding that the AICCM already as a memorandum of understanding with the Smithsonian for long-term loans of exhibit items. “Every hurdle has been met. Every question has been answered. It’s time to finish this.”

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