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Groundbreaking for the new $288 million Oklahoma City Convention Center was celebrated on the construction site at SW 7th Street and Robinson Friday with the downtown skyline as the backdrop.

Connection

Mary Sosa at Convention Ctr groundbreaking
Mary Sosa said the new Convention Center would be “a connection” for the two halves of OKC. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Long-time south Oklahoma City civic leader Mary Sosa arrived well before most of the crowd.

We asked what she thought the new park and convention center would do for the south side.

“It’s a connection. The city for so long has been divided between the north and the south by the river,” said Sosa.

“Hopefully this is a time when we are no longer divided within this city. We have come together.”

Biggest impact

Before the ceremony, Free Press talked with former OKC mayor Mick Cornett who is running to gain the Republican nomination for governor.

Ceremony before the groundbreaking new Convention Center
MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Bd Chair Tom McDaniel led the ceremony before the groundbreaking. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

“This is huge for the progress of the city….” Cornett said. “Ultimately it will be the one that will have the biggest impact on our economy.”

He was mayor for 14 years during the time of the most intense discussions about what was needed for the future for downtown.

Cornett said the discussions about what future needs the city had started in 2007.

As mayor, he campaigned for the key vote in 2009 for MAPS 3, a penny sales tax Oklahoma Cityans voted on themselves to raise $777 million.

Proceeds from that tax have resulted in the construction of the convention center, Scissortail Park across the street, and the streetcar lines nearing completion.

Town hall

Mayor David Holt at the Convention Center groundbreaking
Mayor David Holt said the new Convention Center would be a type of “town hall.” BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Current Mayor David Holt kicked off the ceremony with comments that termed the new Convention Center as a type of “town hall.”

“It’s going to be our meeting place,” the Mayor said.

He praised Cornett and Dave Lopez, a civic and business leader in Oklahoma City for decades.

Holt pointed out that Lopez and Cornett had headed up the original committee of 50 people who worked on the “Core to Shore” idea that has resulted in the current construction.

Shocked

Oklahoma City Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer was on the early committees before she ran for the Council seat.

“When I travel to other cities people are shocked to find out that we could just drop a park and convention center right in the middle of downtown,” Salyer said.

She ran through a list of what would be in the area once finished which included the Omni Hotel just to the north of the Convention Center, parking, housing, amenities in the park, the streetcar and other additions.

Hospitality

The remainder of the speakers ticked through the significance of the hospitality industry being the fastest-growing one in the metro.

Meg Salyer at Convention Center groundbreaking
Councilwoman Meg Salyer said some leaders from other cities are “shocked that we can just drop a park in the middle of our city.” BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

Greater Oklahoma City Chamber President Roy Williams, a representative of SMG, the company that will operate the Convention Center, and Mike Carrier, president for the Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Williams joined about every speaker in congratulating the voters of Oklahoma City for voting in the MAPS 3 penny sales tax which will allow the facilities to be paid for on the first day of their operation.

Carrier said “it is a great day for Oklahoma City,” then explained the many new types of technology that would allow the Convention Center to meet the needs of many different types of groups.

The numbers

The price tag for construction of the facility itself is $168.2 million, $20 million below budget.

Adding in land acquisition and other expenses, the total project budget is $288 million.

The Convention Center is the biggest single project in Oklahoma City’s history.

It will include a 200,000 square foot exhibit hall that can be divided into four 50,000 square foot sections allowing four different events to be held simultaneously.

The ballroom will be 30,000 square feet with 10,000 square feet of pre-function space, plus a 4,000 square-foot balcony.

Visitors will be able to use digital wayfinding signs throughout and use a skywalk to the Omni Hotel that will be built next door to the north.

Confetti at ground breaking for Convention Center
Confetti shoots into the background as city officials and others break ground on the new Convention Center. BRETTDICKERSON/OKCFreePress

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