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Mayors Behind MAPS: Past mayors reflect on the program that transformed downtown Oklahoma City

OKLAHOMA CITY - A program that has continued to transform Oklahoma City may soon be up for another vote.

It all started with the campaign 'Believe in our Future" in the early 1990s. That future is now the past, and these are the men reflecting on how it turned out.

"We were trying to attract jobs. Trying to bring industry in and nobody wanted to come and we figured it out that it was really a quality of life issue," Mayor Ron Norick said.

Then-Oklahoma City Mayor Ron Norick was a driving force behind MAPS 1.

The simple idea was to pay for items before they were built. The one-cent sales tax generated the money for MAPS projects before crews broke ground. It was an idea that hadn't been tried here.

"We didn't know exactly what kind of tax we were going to get. We projected it to be conservative. We had some ballpark ideas on how much everything would cost, and it was important that we got all of the projects done," Norick said.

Projects like a new downtown library, arena, Oklahoma River improvements, and a new ballpark were all part of the original plan. However, less than two years into planning MAPS, tragedy struck when a bomb went off at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995.

"For really about the next year, MAPS was really put on the, I won't say put on the shelf, but put on the shelf because we just had so many other things that needed to be done," Norick said.

As Oklahoma City recovered, MAPS moved forward. The ballpark opened first in 1998, just two days after Norick left office.

"And Kirk and I both threw out the first pitch and I think at that point people, they say, 'aha I think I got it. I think I see what they're trying to do,” Norick said.

Mayor Kirk Humphreys wanted to continue MAPS. He focused on public schools. Officials who toured the aging schools used words like "prisons" to describe them.

"And I said well they want to fix the school system, but they don’t have any money, and they'll never get it done. The city manager said ‘well, we could do a MAPS for Schools’ and being a visionary, I said 'really? How would that work?'" Humphreys said.

"Maps For Kids" passed with a 61 percent majority in 2001. The $700 million project repaired or rebuilt 70 schools as well as hundreds of other projects focused on technology, transportation, and construction.

"Now they're good and we hope the school district is able to with their new initiative inside the classroom, to fix those schools," Mayor Humphreys said.

When Mick Cornett took office in 2004, the city looked different.

"By the time we got to MAPS 3, we weren't so desperate anymore. Things were looking better. The Thunder were here and people felt pretty good. I felt like we had to push a message of how do we go from good to great?" Mayor Mick Cornett said.

But not without opposition from those who didn't want another MAPS.

In 2010, the $777 million program passed.

Projects focused on sidewalks, the streetcar, and state fairgrounds improvements are all complete. Scissortail Park and the convention center are in the works.

Keeping a new generation in Oklahoma City is a driving motivation.

"You know one of the things we wanted to always do is create a city where highly educated young people would want to move here from places like Texas and California, and we'd be able to keep the young people that grew up here. Well, that's all happening," Cornett said.

It's been more than 25 years since the first MAPS passed. The canal transformed Bricktown and the upcoming Scissortail Park and convention center altered the west side of downtown. All three programs represent almost $2 billion in sales tax revenue paid for by the voter.

Now you get to decide if MAPS 4 will also become part of our city's legacy.

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