Russell Artifacts Donated for Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in Tulsa; Leaders Stress Need for $42.5M Bond Issue

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A historic collection of musician Leon Russell artifacts provided the foundation Tuesday for Tulsa and Oklahoma Historical Society leaders to make a $42.5 million legislative plea toward building Tulsa's first state-supported museum.

Russell himself joined Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, historical society Executive Director Bob Blackburn, state Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman and others Tuesday afternoon backing construction of the four-story Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture in downtown Tulsa.

While donations and fundraising efforts have given the society enough cash to start the project, Blackburn said the real effort hinges on winning a $42.5 million bond issue this year. That amount equals the projected construction cost of the 75,000-square-foot museum and 650-space parking garage on a Brady Arts District city block donated by BOK Financial, parent of Bank of Oklahoma.

"If we don't get it this year, it probably will not happen," Blackburn said after the press conference at the Arts and Humanities Council of Tulsa's new Hardesty Arts Center.

Blackburn said the BOK land donation, $3 million pledged by the city of Tulsa, and other gifts to OKPOP depend on winning state bond approval this session.

"My board of directors has invested probably half a million dollars in this already," Blackburn said. "The (George) Kaiser (Family) Foundation has invested a couple hundred thousand dollars in this. BOK is holding off on developing that land. The city of Tulsa could easily use $3 million elsewhere. This is probably the last year we have an opportunity to do this, while bond rates are historically low. This is it."

The bond issue represents just the start of the funding needs, Blackburn said.

"On top of that we're estimating probably another $5 million to $7 million for the exhibits," he said.

Using a bond issue would allow the historical society to go forward without tapping state general revenue funds. Blackburn said the OKPOP museum would employ a business model used successfully on three other OHS museums.

"We will raise the money, use what we have in the pledges, to make the first payments to get started," he said. "By the time it's open, we'll start making the payments out of the historical society's base appropriations."

Blackburn said that sets OKPOP apart from other bond requests circulating before the Legislature, dispelling naysayer doubts that any such move could make it through the state Capitol this year. …