Native American Project Struggles for Funding

By Nichols, Max | THE JOURNAL RECORD, February 18, 2002 | Go to article overview

Native American Project Struggles for Funding


Nichols, Max, THE JOURNAL RECORD


While we are anxious to see the opening of the new Arena, Downtown Library and Oklahoma City Museum of Art this year, long- range plans for still another major attraction are reaching a crucial stage.

That's the $120 million Native American Cultural Center, which is being designed for a 300-acre site on the North Canadian River near the junctions of Interstate 40 and Interstate 35. I have been writing about it since the early 1980s, and state Sen. Kelly Haney, a driving force in the project, once said he recalled talking about it back in the 1960s.

Now, the basic concept has been developed by Johnson Fain Partners of Los Angeles and Hornbeek Larsson Architects of Edmond. The "crucial" part, quite naturally, is funding.

The Native American Cultural and Educational Authority needs $13.5 million from the state of Oklahoma to qualify for $33 million in federal funds, said Executive Director Tommy Thompson. That's the crux of a complex situation, though it's just part of the overall funding.

The federal funds have been approved unanimously by the U.S. House of Representatives and stand a good chance of being approved by the Senate, but the $13.5 million in state money won't come easily. Gov. Frank Keating, the Legislature and state agencies are all struggling with major budget cuts this year because of the slumped economy.

While that struggle continues, it's important to understand how far the Cultural and Education Authority has come in developing this project, which could become a destination for tourists from all over the world. Certainly, it would add to the National Cowboy Museum and Heritage Center and the Oklahoma City National Memorial in making Oklahoma City a destination for people from all over the country.

Here's how the funding works:

Received so far are $6.5 million from the state and $5 million from Oklahoma City. That's a total of $11.5 million.

The project needs $13.5 million to reach the $25 million required to qualify for the $33 million expected in federal funds. Thompson said Sens. Jim Imhofe and Don Nickles are committed to leading Senate passage of the federal funds bill, which would supply $8.5 million a year over four years to keep the project moving.

Beyond that, however, the funding road to reach $120 million will not easy. Part of it has come in a donation of the 300-acre site valued at $10 million, including dirt from the project to develop the North Canadian into three lakes, but far more is needed.

Overall, the budget calls for $45 million from the state. That includes the first $6.5 million and the $13.5 million needed to qualify for federal funds. That means another $25 million will be needed in state funds over the course of the project.

In addition, the project calls for $19 million in private funds, with $100,000 received from the Phillips Petroleum, $5 million from the Corps of Engineers and $3 million in existing bond funds.

Anticipating that all that will happen, what will we get in the form of a cultural and educational center to attract visitors?

The basic concept, said architects Shaffer and Hornbeek, is to develop a center that will represent all Native Americans, including 59 tribes that are represented today.

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