On March 4, Mayor Mick Cornett is asking the citizens of Oklahoma City to approve a one-cent sales tax to expand the Ford Center, a new indoor arena built as part of the MAPs project I wrote about here.
I am very proud to have been a supporter of and active campaigner for the very successful MAPs project, however, I can not be more agnostic about this current proposal. To begin with, the good citizens of Oklahoma urged our leaders to build facilities able to house professional franchises, only to be mildly rebuked. Oklahoma City, we were told, did not have the population to sustain a professional team.
I suppose our guest-hosting of the New Orleans Hornets have proved otherwise. Clay Bennett, a local businessman and spouse to the Gaylord Media and Entertainment Empire (publishers of The Oklahoman) headed up an organization that purchased the Seattle SuperSonics on July 18, 2006 for $350 million.
Seattle, it seems, is unwilling to upgrade its facilities. The previous ownership group claims over $60 million in losses for the previous five years, and Mr. Bennett is working feverishly to bust the contract that ties the SuperSonics to Seattle through 2010. A minor partner of Bennett's new ownership group, Aubrey McClendon of Chesapeake Energy, was quoted in an interview that the SuperSonics were not purchased to keep in Seattle, and that they hoped to bring the team out to Oklahoma City. The NBA fined McClendon a quarter of a million dollars for the comment.
In short, it is no secret the vote on March 4 is to create snazzy new digs for the Sonics. However, nowhere is this disclosed in any of the campaign materials. Very limited information is available about what our tax dollars will buy. Since I see no disclosures of super swanky and private skyboxes that will benefit no one other than the Gaylord swells, would it be safe to assume none will be built using public funds?
It would be fair to disclose The Oklahoman's editorial endorsement of using public funds to subsidize BassPro shop installing a store in Bricktown, while the Gaylord Entertainment was a large shareholder of Bass Pro private stock.
Truthfully, most professional team owners need private skysuites to make a profit, and the system is rigged for taxpayers to build them. Under our current system, corporate welfare is needed so they can entertain us.
I do not know how I'll vote on Tuesday. If I vote no, I am voting against getting a professional franchise in Oklahoma City and if I vote yes I am voting to give public funds to a hard right-wing family and publishers of the "Worst Newspaper In America."