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Oklahoma City mayor calls for replacing basketball arena

A bigger basketball arena is being pushed by Oklahoma City’s mayor, who wants to put a plan that would include public and team funding before voters this year.

Mayor David Holt spent most of his state of the city address last week laying out his case for replacing the city-owned Paycom Center, contending “no tax increase will be necessary.” The 18,000-seat facility, which opened in June 2002 and cost $87.7 million, has been home to the National Basketball Association’s Oklahoma City Thunder since 2008.

“The public funding necessary to build the new arena will be supplemented by remaining MAPS 4 (Metropolitan Area Projects) dollars that are already earmarked for the downtown arena,” Holt said in his speech. “And for the first time in city history, these public funding commitments will be joined by a significant financial contribution from the ownership of the Oklahoma City Thunder.” 

“By NBA and national concert standards, our arena is too small, it has too little investment in it, and it is trending towards being too old,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said in his state of the city address.

Oklahoma City Mayor’s Office

MAPS financing began in 1993 with voter approval of a temporary one-cent sales tax. City voters passed the debt-free, pay-as-you-go funding method in subsequent years, most recently MAPS 4 in 2019 to raise a projected $978 million over eight years starting in 2020. Funding at that time was allocated to 16 projects, including $116 million for the arena. Holt’s plan would reportedly ask voters to extend MAPS 4’s temporary one-cent sales tax.

“The city is currently evaluating multiple approaches to funding a new arena,” according to M. Brent Bryant, Oklahoma City’s finance director, in an emailed response to questions about the potential use of bonds for an arena project.

While no bonds were sold to build the existing arena, a taxable 2018 general obligation bond issue raised about $8.86 million for improvements, Bryant said. 

Holt said having a major league sports team is important to the city, noting the Thunder’s direct economic impact has been pegged at more than $600 million and 3,000 jobs, while millions of additional dollars are generated from concerts and events at the arena.

“By NBA and national concert standards, our arena is too small, it has too little investment in it, and it is trending towards being too old,” he said.” And on top of that, we’re the NBA’s third smallest market and there are 18 U.S. markets larger than ours that don’t have an NBA team.”

He added the city and the team are close to a deal that will be announced by the end of summer and put before voters this year.

“In response to a successful vote and the commitment of a new arena by the people of Oklahoma City, we will secure a long-term lease with the Oklahoma City Thunder and the NBA, longer than the initial commitment we received in 2008,” he said. “Our status as a big league city will be secure for another generation.”

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