OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The Oklahoma City council voted Tuesday to allow a special election December 12, 2023, where residents can decide on a proposed arena for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The council voted 7-2 to allow the election. Both JoBeth Hamon and Nikki Nice voted against the proposal. The current Paycom Center sits in Ward 7 which is Nice’s district, while the proposed arena would cross into Hamon’s Ward 6.

The planned building would cost a minimum of $900 million and would be paid for by a temporary penny tax that would not increase the current sales tax. It would begin when the one cent Maps4 tax ends in 2028. The new Thunder arena would open for the 2029 NBA season.

The council also voted on a letter of intent to keep the Thunder in town until 2050. Owners of the team would also pay $50 million towards the project, which would leave 95 percent of the cost up to taxpayers.

A group against the project lined the east steps of City Hall after the vote and said the proposal was a “bad deal.”

“We’re not against the thunder. We’re not against the new arena,” said Nabilah Rawdah, executive director of Oklahoma Progress Now. “We’re against a poorly negotiated deal. We’re getting the most poorly negotiated rated NBA arena contract in the last decade.”

The council also voted to add a “community benefits package” to the arena proposal. It was proposed by Ward 2 councilman James Cooper. The plan would be to make sure people working at the arena would earn a livable wage. It would also implement an apprentice program to help arena employees grow their craft.

“This is a long-term investment into our workers and into our people,” said Cooper.

The council heard public comments from 36 community leaders, business owners, and concerned citizens. Some spoke out in support of the new arena saying the team has helped grow business, brought visitors to the city, and given back immensely to area youth.

“Every single year the Thunder has come and shown up for our kids,” said Margaret Creighton, president of Positive Tomorrows, the city’s only homeless school.

Another community leader expressed how much his neighborhood have benefited from the Thunder and other city projects.

“I believe the OKC Thunder has added another layer to our quality of life,” said Salvador Ontiveros, a resident in south Oklahoma City.

Those against the deal were concerned with the price tag and the use of taxpayer dollars.

“Asking the community to foot the bill isn’t just unfair, it’s a slap in the face,” said one citizen.

“We’ve heard the mayor say there is no plan B,” said Edward Morris. “This is a huge problem.”

Councilman Mark Stonecipher from Ward 8 released this statement following the vote:

I think it is important to remember, since the Thunder came to Oklahoma City, we have jumped from the 37th largest city to now the 20th largest city. Today we are the sixth fastest growing city in the United States and unemployment is at a record low. In our most recent OKC Citizens Survey, 81% of our residents say Oklahoma City is a great place to live, 77% say it’s a great place to work, and 70% say it’s a great place to raise children.

Will Roger’s once said, “even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” Now is not the time to hit the brakes. Remember what happened when Seattle did not want to invest in a new arena? Also, there are at least 18 major cities that would love to have an NBA team, including Las Vegas. Let’s not forget what happened to OKC with the National Finals Rodeo and Las Vegas. So, let’s get on board and support the new arena so we keep our OKC economy growing!

Oklahoma City voters will go to the polls for the special election to decide on the new facility on December 12, 2023.