OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) — Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt announced on Tuesday a finalized plan for a new NBA arena that comes with a minimum price tag of $900 million.

According to Mayor Holt, discussions of a new arena have been ongoing for the last 14 months.

“The arena is sort of the centerpiece of our city’s quality of life and its identity. And now in recent years, it’s the puzzle piece that unlocked our ability to become a big league city,” said Mayor Holt.

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s long-term agreement expired earlier this year, so Mayor Holt said it was a race against time to figure out how to keep the team in the metro.

The team has called OKC their home since 2008.

Mayor Holt told KFOR the team has signed a three-year extension in an effort to keep the conversation going on a new arena.

“It is now creeping towards the older end of the NBA spectrum. It’s the smallest arena by square footage in the league. It’s the second cheapest arena in terms of capital investment. It’s just not capable of securing a long term lease with any NBA team, much less the one we have,” explained Mayor Holt.

Mayor Holt said a plan has been finalized to construct a new downtown arena that will keep the Thunder in Oklahoma City through 2050.

The new area is not expected to increase taxes.

There will be a six year extension on an existing MAPS 4 tax.

The project cost for the new arena will be a minimum of $900 million. The project will be funded primarily through three funding sources:

  • A temporary one-cent sales tax lasting 72 months that will begin after the expiration of the current MAPS 4 one-cent sales tax.  The current sales tax rate in Oklahoma City will remain the same and there will be no tax increase.
  • At least $70 million from MAPS 4 that was previously earmarked for OKC’s downtown arena.
  • A $50 million contribution by the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder toward the publicly owned arena. All three of Oklahoma City’s previous downtown arenas have been paid for entirely by taxpayers. The $50 million contribution committed by the owners of the Oklahoma City Thunder to the new arena is a first in City history.  

The intent is to have the new arena open for the 2029-2030 NBA season, if not sooner.

“Everybody wants to move as quickly as possible. 2029 opening is actually fairly aggressive,” stated Mayor Holt. “Nine, 10, 11 years is kind of the norm. We’re talking about five or six. That’s an aggressive schedule and we’ll see how it works out. I would be almost too speculative to tell you how long construction will take to start, but I mean, I think people have gotten used to the reality,” Mayor Holt told KFOR on Tuesday.

OKC Ward 6 Council member, JoBeth Hamon said she felt blindsided by Tuesday’s press release and press conference.

She said she wasn’t aware of a final arena plan until an hour before Mayor Holt publicly released the information.

Hamon added she has been consistently asking the OKC City Manager for updates on the arena, but has received little to no response.

“The blindsided feeling is that a lot of the details that were presented to us today and I guess sort of released in that press release are the things that I’ve been asking updates about so that we could have input throughout that negotiating process. That’s kind of where I feel blindsided is, oh, wow, I probably should have been, you know, either asking more specific questions or sort of raising the issue publicly previously to try to maybe make some push for the public because I think my concern is that the public will be very blindsided,” stated Hamon.

Hamon provided KFOR with a ‘FY23 City Cost for PayCom Center Operations’ to show a glimpse of how much residents could be paying for a new arena down the road.

Utilities and operations are directly paid by the City, according to Hamon’s handout. It appears to have cost the City nearly $10M during FY23.

Although Mayor Holt is promising taxes remain the same, Hamon said the City’s monetary input will tremendously hurt their budget.

“We do budget every year and that affects other departments budgets. We’re talking about like funding parks or funding transit,” she said. “What are all the other needs that our city has that are not getting invested in? Storm water drainage is just one example but that we’re now deferring even further for this idea that we’re not raising taxes The real day to day benefit for people is not going to the average day to day resident of Oklahoma City. It’s going to private entities that are owned by very, very wealthy people.”

Mayor Holt claims the owners of the OKC Thunder will not profit in any way though.

One economic impact study pegs the direct annual economic impact of the Thunder at $600M and 3,000 jobs, according to Mayor Holt.

Hamon said there are still a multitude of unanswered questions and she feels like the City hasn’t done its due diligence in making sure this is the best move for residents.

Mayor David Holt and City Manager Craig Freeman will formally bring the elements of the plan to the City Council on September 26 to officially refer it to Oklahoma City residents for their consideration.

A simple majority of the Council is required to call for the December 12 election, and a simple majority of voters is required for passage.

Hamon said she will continue to follow up with the Mayor and City Manager before then.

“I think the public can make their voice heard by writing to the Mayor or writing their council member and expressing their opinion. If nothing else, ask for a delay as to go through a better process. If the sense is that this is unpopular enough that it might fail in December, then I think that would give the pressure to leadership,” said Hamon.

“For fifteen years the Thunder has been honored to help lead the transformation of Oklahoma City and enhance the tremendous pride our citizens have in their community. We now have an opportunity to build on that progress, advance our status as a true big-league City, continue to grow our economy and secure the long-term future of the Thunder. We look forward to continuing our partnership with Mayor Holt, members of the City Council, and the forward-thinking business and civic leaders in our community. Together we can develop an arena to serve as a crowning achievement in the ongoing renaissance of Oklahoma City.”

Oklahoma City Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett