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City council vote gives go ahead to American Indian Cultural Center

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OKLAHOMA CITY - A unanimous vote by the Oklahoma City council Tuesday morning means plans for the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum can go forward.

Construction halted on the half-built facility at the I-35, I-40 junction back in 2012 when the funding ran out.

The state legislature tried several ways to get that money and, when all those efforts failed, they turned to the city.

They passed a bill last session that transferred much of the responsibility for the center to the city of Oklahoma City.

The city originally said they didn’t want that responsibility.

But, they agreed to it Tuesday because of another entity that stepped up to partner with the city.

“It appears it’s going to work out. But, it’s only going to work out because the Chickasaw are coming in with their business expertise and vast resources and willingness to take the risk on most of the project,” said Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett. “The Chickasaw have stepped up and said it’s their intent to build the building, finish the building as it’s intended to be completed, regardless of that cost going forward.”

The estimated cost to finish the center is $65 million.

Under Tuesday’s agreement, the state will give another $25 million in the form of bonds.

The city will give $9 million, and $31 million will come from private donations.

The Chickasaw Nation has pledged to give any money it takes above and beyond that.

“We want to get that building open and get the facility to turn some economic development dollars as it’s always been intended,” Cornett said.

Tuesday was the deadline for the city to make an agreement under the bill passed last session.

“We were playing for all the cards on the last day,” said Blake Wade, CEO of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority, the state agency that developed the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum.  “All of it got tied together, and now we’re ready to go to the next step.”

Wade said there are still hurdles ahead, including securing all those private donations.

“We’ve got to go out and raise our pledges, our donors, you know, we haven’t been back with them for another year. So, because of the oil economy and everything, we’ve got to make sure that they’re sticking with us,” Wade said.

The Chickasaw Nation has also agreed to develop the land around the cultural center and help pay operating costs for the first seven years.

Wade said, if all goes as planned, there could be construction on the center as early as this summer.

He would like to see it completed by 2020.