The Norman Transcript

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May 30, 2014

Unfinished cultural center stuck without state funds

OKLAHOMA CITY — The director of the stalled American Indian Cultural Center said he's optimistic the project will be finished, even without the $40 million it was counting on from the state Legislature.

J. Blake Wade, executive director of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, said the agency hasn’t found a way to cover an estimated $80 million needed to finish the center near the junction of Interstates 35 and 40.

Supporters of the center, which has already cost $91 million, were counting on a $40 million infusion from the state's unclaimed property fund. The Legislature adjourned without budgeting that money for the center.

Wade said he's been talking to the state’s tribes, Oklahoma City, the governor and donors about the next steps.

“We all agree that we’re going to go ahead and complete it,” he said. “Somehow, some way, we will find the way. People think we’re dead but we’re not. We’re alive, and we’re going to finish it.”

Wade said his group — a state agency — remains in a holding pattern as it awaits word from state officials on how to proceed. Even stagnant, the project costs taxpayers about $68,000 a month for security and related expenses, he said.

The unfinished center, envisioned as a crown jewel recognizing more than three dozen tribes, sits on 300 acres of land along the Oklahoma River. It began as a joint-venture between Oklahoma City and the state, with local officials deeding the land for construction.

But project funds ran dry in July 2012. Project officials estimate it will take another $80 million to complete. They hoped $40 million would come from the Legislature. The rest, they say, has been secured in pledges from private donors and Oklahoma City.

Wade noted concerns that some of those pledges will vanish now that the state has failed to provide its portion of the funds. He said donors have told him they'll keep their promise if a realistic plan can be developed.

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