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June 8, 2014

Just a vision, for now: Native American cultural center still needs $80 million in funding

OKLAHOMA CITY — In addition to closed-toed shoes, someone who visits the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum these days must bring one other thing — an imagination.

A flowing grand staircase, café, gift shop, complex Smithsonian-sponsored exhibits, timelines, glass entryways, elevators and restrooms — all are still details on drawings. Enthusiastic supporters of the center promise these touches will be “magnificent” — eventually — once Oklahoma legislators find the final $80 million to complete the project.

A plan to finish off the center with a public-private match fizzled two weeks ago, when lawmakers closed their session for the year without putting up their $40 million share.

The unfinished Cultural Center and Museum ran out of money July 1, 2012. No work has been done since, though taxpayers still spend about $68,000 a month for heating and cooling, mechanical warranties and security personnel.

The center has cost about $91 million so far, with more than two-thirds of that coming from state coffers. All there is to show for that investment is the shell of a building with working machinery like the heating and cooling systems in the basement.

Outside the center, on a 300-acre site at the intersection of Interstates 40 and 35, are sweeping views of the Oklahoma City skyline and Oklahoma River. The inside is incomplete and useless without more work.

“If this result is allowed to stand, I believe it would be appropriate for the people of Oklahoma to question our competency,” said State Sen. David Holt in a statement released in May when news broke that the center would not be funded yet again.

“No one should beat their chests over a perceived victory. The state still has an $80 million problem on the Oklahoma River, in our capital city, at the most prominent location in my community,” Holt said. “… If this result stands, it will haunt my community for years, and it should haunt the legacy of those in this building who could have done something about it.”

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