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Arena vote slated for August

Mayor Miller lays out timeline addressing concerns about the pace of public process on OU Foundation proposal

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Arena and entertainment district master plan

This updated University North Park master plan was presented to council on June 5. This slide, provided by the OU Foundation via planning and design firm RTKL Associates, shows a breakdown of the proposed entertainment district. 

The OU Foundation's arena and entertainment district proposal isn’t going to a vote this month. 

According to a memo circulated to the city council by Mayor Lynne Miller Thursday, the timeline doesn’t call for a vote until August.

“This week I felt we had a good discussion regarding the UNP proposal at our study session,” the memo states. “We also heard information regarding why it is important that the city council make a timely decision regarding the proposed UNP entertainment district and development of the northern portion of UNP.

“One point made was that a timeline exists for when private investment dollars would potentially no longer be available for investment into our community that are now available due to the possibility of the project. I have understood that timeline extends to the end of the summer …

“As this is a very important issue for our community and for council, I feel it would be helpful to us as council members and to the community members that would like to be engaged in this discussion to have an appreciation for various meetings and opportunities to hear and provide input on this proposal.”

In the memo, which was obtained by The Transcript via city staff, Miller calls for council input on the timeline. The next steps in the timeline Miller laid are a study session on June 19 and a city council conference on June 26, featuring a presentation by recently contracted consultant HVS on the independent economic analysis of the plan.

On top of Miller’s concerns, city consultant Emily Pomeroy, of the Center for Economic Development Law, said seeing the deal done before new council members Joe Carter (Ward 2) and Alex Scott (Ward 8) take office on July 3 would be completely impossible.

She said there are very specific statutory elements that have to be met, including meetings of the statutory committee, two public hearings and an appropriate publication of notice of those hearings.

“It’s just an impossibility by virtue of following the law,” she said. “These are all steps that will be taken and must be followed.”

Pomeroy said Miller also expressed interest in allowing the new representatives to have a voice on the issue because of its magnitude and campaign prominence. Carter and Scott both expressed opposition to the deal during the campaign.

“This process of consideration culminates in the council making a decision on the proposal this upcoming August: a time period that is acceptable to those considering investing significant sums into our community based on this project,” Miller’s memo states.

“This timeline also allows all council members, including the two newly elected council members, an opportunity to learn about the proposal, communicate with constituents, hear the recommendations of the planning commission, citizens TIF oversight committee, and statutory review committee, and weigh the positives and negatives of the proposal prior to making a decision on this very important matter for our community.”

City Attorney Jeff Bryant said a June vote was discussed early on, but because of the publication deadlines required in legal statutes it became an impossibility.

“Council was not ready to move that quickly is the real bottom line,” Bryant said.

The news that the plan won’t be going to a hurried vote directly addresses concerns that many community members and council members expressed at prior public meetings.

OU Foundation spokesperson Chip Carter, vice president of Jones PR, said the foundation was hoping for a June vote but wasn’t surprised by the mayor’s decision.

Carter said the foundation is looking forward to the months ahead as an opportunity to engage the community and showcase the plan and why it is the right one for Norman.

“We are fully ready and eager to proceed with this schedule and we’re happy that the mayor and council have set a definitive schedule,” Carter said. “The foundation has been dying to be right where we are for some time … However, we know that every time we have a meeting on this we feel like we come out with more supporters than when we went in with … The more we can talk to people, the more we can answer their concerns, address their fears, clarify what’s really a fact and what’s not, we continue to win.”

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Mack Burke is an investigative reporter and award-winning feature writer and columnist for The Norman Transcript. An OU alumnus, he has lived in Norman since 2003.