MAPS 4 would include $30 million for beautification projects, staff
MAPS 4 would include $25 million for beautification projects and $5 million for an operating fund to provide permanent staff dedicated to beautification and ongoing maintenance.
Visitors who fly into Oklahoma City and head downtown pass a chain-link fence that’s falling down in places, stretches of roadway with little in the way of landscaping and a pedestrian bridge that resembles a cattle chute.
It’s the city’s first impression for many visitors. Mayor David Holt and others would like to improve that impression.
MAPS 4 would include $25 million for beautification projects along major corridors and $5 million for an operating fund to provide permanent staff dedicated to beautification and ongoing maintenance.
The project is one of 16 city officials hope to fund with a one-cent sales tax voters will be asked to approve during a vote on December 10. The tax is expected to raise nearly $980 million over eight years.
“Showing that you care about the way your city looks means a lot to visitors and to our residents,” Holt said.
People who come to the city considering it as a place to do business or move make judgments as they travel around the city, he said.
The MAPS proposal outlines more than a dozen beautification projects, including city entrance gateways along the interstates and improvements to the approaches to Will Rogers World Airport.
“Of all the places in the city, that’s the thing I get the most feedback from residents (about) is their concerns about what it looks like when you exit our airport,” Holt said.
Other proposed projects include beautification of Interstate 240 from Interstate 44 to Interstate 35, Route 66, the Reno Avenue and Eastern Avenue corridor between Bricktown and the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum and updated low-maintenance landscaping along key arterial roads.
The proposal includes at least $1 million for trees.
“Showing that you care about the way your city looks means a lot to visitors and to our residents.”
It also includes up to $5 million for potential land acquisition and remediation of the northeast corner of NE 23 and Martin Luther King Avenue. The corner was home to Smart Saver grocery store, which closed in August.
“There’s no plan at this point,” Holt said. “It just really kind of provides the option for that to happen.”
He said the beautification proposal is an example of something that’s “only going to happen through MAPS if it’s going to happen.”
“When we do other bond and other initiatives, we usually get understandably focused on core things, and maybe here’s a place where we can move the needle in a way that people would really appreciate but we seem to struggle to find the resources to do otherwise,” Holt said during a city council presentation this summer.
Some of the aesthetic improvements could be minor, such as better lamps or a piece of art, Holt said.
“We’re not talking about fundamentally altering the construction of these corridors,” he said. “We’re talking about aesthetic improvements, but it makes a difference in your quality of life, and it makes a difference in your first impression that you leave with visitors.”
Holt said the bridges over the Oklahoma River could benefit from simple improvements.
“You go to other cities and you often see a little more care taken into the aesthetic value of bridges,” Holt said. “Bridges are statement pieces. We don’t have the money here to build the Brooklyn Bridge, but bridges are so often a statement about your emphasis on aesthetic quality.”
During the presentation at the special meeting this summer, Holt showed a photo of a pedestrian bridge in south Oklahoma City, one of several targeted for improvements through the MAPS proposal.
“I think there was a deal at the stockyards on a cattle chute and we bought it,” Holt said, soliciting laughs from the crowd. “And then we put it over the highway.”
He showed another photo of the gateway to the Clara Luper Corridor in northeast Oklahoma City – a barren, concrete bridge with water and rust stains.
“Unless somebody has spotted the Virgin Mary in those water stains, this is a less than inspirational way to enter a very important and critical part of our city,” Holt said.
Many of the details for the proposed projects will be determined later on if MAPS 4 passes. A citizens advisory board will determine how to prioritize everything and how much funding is appropriate, Holt said.
“Ultimately the MAPS vote is for a priority and then you really have to have a lot of community conversations led by the Citizens Advisory Board in the years ahead to flesh out what that really means,” he said.
Developing the list of proposed projects was a collaborative effort, Holt said. He said he tried to identify corridors in the city that had “obvious deficiencies” where if they had been built today, the city or the Oklahoma Department of Transportation probably would have taken more care with aesthetics.
The MAPS resolution notes that beautification projects would not necessarily be limited to what’s included on the list.
Lisa Synar, executive director of Oklahoma City Beautiful, said investment in beautification is an economic development tool.
“If people feel that somebody cares about the city enough to do median work and have public art and litter pickups, then they say, ‘Well, these citizens care about this community, and I want to be a part of it,'” she said.
Synar said beautification is contagious, and it’s something that touches every resident and visitor of the city.
From an economic development perspective, recruiting talent is important, said Cynthia Reid, the senior vice president of marketing and communications for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.
“We want to make sure that if they’re here for just a short period that they leave thinking this is a city that’s got it together, and it’s a city that I could live in, and these are the kinds of extra things that help someone to see that and believe it,” Reid said.
The kind of impression the city makes when people first visit is important, Reid said.
“As the new convention center comes online and we bring more and more people here to spend a day, two days, a week, to experience Oklahoma City, they become brand ambassadors for us when they leave and they have this fantastic experience here,” Reid said. “So the more we can do to show them the true value that we place in Oklahoma City, the better message they’re going to carry back.”
Karen Carney, an airport spokeswoman, said she doesn’t think the approaches to the airport leave a negative impression, but there’s no “wow factor.”
“We like the idea of beautifying not just our city, but our gateways to our community,” Carney said. “We talk about the airport all the time about being people’s first impression when they come to Oklahoma City, so the corridors in and out of our facility are also reflective of everything that we’re doing at the airport.”
During a special meeting in July to hear MAPS 4 presentations, Ward 7 City Councilwoman Nikki Nice said she’d like the city to consider creating a garden named in honor of Bessie Coleman, who was the first African American woman pilot and the first Native American woman pilot. The creation of the garden somewhere near the airport was included in the MAPS 4 proposal.
In addition to funding a number of beautification projects, the MAPS proposal would allocate $5 million to an operating fund to provide permanent city staff dedicated to beautification and to provide funding for ongoing maintenance.
Oklahoma City has about 4,800 city employees, but Holt said none of them have a job where they wake up every morning thinking about beautification.
MAPS 4 would allow the city to hire two or three employees and perpetually fund those jobs, Holt said.
The new positions would promote and facilitate beautification within public and private capital projects, pursue grants, coordinate public-private partnerships to clean public areas, pursue murals and other public art and troubleshoot issues like mowing and graffiti on public property, among other responsibilities.
Holt said he hopes the MAPS 4 beautification projects will help leave visitors with the impression that Oklahoma City values aesthetics and quality of life and that it’s a place people should want to live in, do business in or visit. Cities that take care with their beautification and their aesthetics implicitly send that message to visitors and residents, Holt said.
“That’s a message we want to send because ultimately it’s good for our local economy and our way of life,” he said.
What will you pay?
The Oklahoman’s MAPS 4 cost calculator can help you estimate how much of your sales tax would be allocated to MAPS 4 if the project is approved. Enter in an estimated monthly amount spent on items subject to sales tax — things like groceries, clothes, home supplies, decorations or other tangible products — to see how much MAPS 4 could cost you over the next 8 years.