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OKC voters have big decision ahead

The Oklahoma City Thunder promote an upcoming election to fund a new arena. Photo by Michael Kinney

By Michael Kinney
Contributing Writer

Muhammed Ali vs Jerry Cooney. The 1985 Chicago Bears vs the New England Patriots. Backstreet Boys vs 98 Degrees.

These are some of the most lopsided battles in the history of competition. Everyone knew they were going to be ugly from the start and that is the way they ended.

A new battle is possibly on the verge of adding its name to the list of David vs Goliath matchups in which the giant actually wins is the upcoming vote on Dec. 12 when residents of Oklahoma City head to the polls to decide whether to vote yes on a temporary one-cent sales tax for the creation of a new $950 million arena for the Oklahoma City Thunder that will be primarily funded by taxpayers.

According to Paycom General Manager Chris Semrau, the vote revolves around one simple question. What type of city does Oklahoma City want to be known as?

“I think if you want to live in a community with an NBA team and if you expect the biggest artists in the best tours in the world, and if you want to experience the greatest sporting events in the country, the way for us to accomplish that for the next generation is to support a new modern event center,” said Paycom Center General Manager Semrau. “The Paycom Center has served a great purpose for the facility for over 20 years, but the competitive landscape to land major events is getting more challenging all the time with newer and more modernized venues across the country. We’re not just competing in Oklahoma for events. It is a large, regional and national effort, and that delta is growing between what Paycom Center is and the other newer elite venues in the region.”

A massive marketing campaign has enveloped the state and most people know it as the “Keep OKC Big League” vote.

The campaign, which has been spearheaded by the Keep OKC Big League committee, has featured television and social media advertisements, billboards, local ‘celebrities’ and a lawn sign seemingly placed in front of every house and business throughout the city and surrounding counties.

Conversely, those who want residents to vote no on Dec. 12 do not have the same infrastructure, excitement level or marketing campaign to rival those in favor of the new arena. And that is one of the reasons the Keep OKC Big League vote is a historical mismatch on paper.

Even though opponents of the funding plan for the arena know they are at a severe disadvantage, they still want voters to know that they are being misled. Most of their issues stem from the fact that the owners of the Thunder franchise are offering to pay only $50 million of the $950 million price tag.

“I feel like at 95% taxpayer-funded, that’s not something that I can get behind,” said Greg Clyde. “I think there’s an opportunity cost for the city. It’s just too high at that.”

Clyde is the owner of Clyde Pharmacy in Oklahoma City and also ran for state representative during the last election cycle. He sees the plan that has been laid out by Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt as more of a boondoggle than a fair deal for residents.

“It adds six years of tax onto the end of what we’ve already approved. Another six years onto the Maps 4 tax, and that’s something that we just haven’t done to that extent,” Clyde said. “We’ve done different projects, we’ve improved our roads and streets in Oklahoma City, extending that tax by two years. But we’ve never done it for six years unless it’s a MAPS project. A maps project includes several different projects throughout Oklahoma City. And so, this is a single project that costs more than any other Maps project combined.”

Yet, when Holt initially announced the plan for the arena in September, one of his main selling points was that it would not raise taxes.

“As this very public discussion played out over the last year, the people of Oklahoma City have overwhelmingly expressed to me two desires – 1) keep the Thunder for as long as possible, and 2) don’t raise taxes if it can be avoided. We have accomplished those two priorities with this plan, and it is truly a win-win for all of us,” Holt stated. “Perhaps the most important aspect of the deal is the length – this is twice the commitment we received in 2008 and will keep the Thunder here beyond 2050. My children will be my age when this agreement ends.  For a generation, we will retain the economic impact and quality-of-life benefits we have enjoyed as a big-league City. It is an investment that pays for itself many times over.”

Yet, according to Clyde, Holt and city leaders didn’t seem interested in getting the best deal possible for Oklahoma City. But was more focused on making sure the Thunder ownership group was happy with their current home.

“I’m a Thunder fan and I absolutely want to support the Thunder and want the Thunder to stay. I think there’s some room in the middle,” Clyde said. “A 50/50 proposition where taxpayers pay part of it and the ownership group pays the other half of it. I think that’s a better deal for the city in the long run. It’s a scare tactic that the Thunder will leave just like they did in Seattle. The circumstances of this vote are not anywhere near similar to the circumstances of the vote that they had in Seattle. The team was already on the way out the door. It was this ownership group that owned the Thunder when they voted to have a new stadium built in Seattle. And so they wanted that to fail so that they could move the team to Oklahoma City, which we’re glad.”

Despite this, Clyde, who will cast a no vote, says he thinks residents who come out to the polls will vote yes for the arena. The overwhelming majority of the Thunder fans who walked through the Paycom turn styles said

Fans enter the Paycom Center before an Oklahoma City Thunder game. Photo by Michael Kinney

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