Oklahoma House speaker unveils $25M plan to complete Native American museum

By Sean Murphy, The Associated Press

OKLAHOMA CITY –  Republican legislative leaders on Monday unveiled plans for two separate $25 million bond issues — one to complete a Native American museum near downtown Oklahoma City and another for a new popular culture museum in Tulsa.

House Speaker Jeff Hickman said the bond proposal to complete the long unfinished American Indian Cultural Center and Museum along the banks of the Oklahoma River would require no new state appropriations. He said the $1.9 million the state currently is spending on the state agency overseeing the project and to maintain the site would be dedicated instead toward bond payments.

The Native American Cultural and Educational Authority would become a non-appropriated state agency after June 30, 2016, and would have to be funded through other sources, like private donations, said Hickman, R-Fairview.

“We obviously, given the budget situation, don’t have cash as an option to complete this, but I think we’ve got a plan that accomplishes it even in light of our current situation,” Hickman said.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman introduced a bill Monday for a separate bond issue to build the Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, or OKPOP, in Tulsa.

It is unclear if either measure will have enough support in the Republican-controlled Legislature, where the idea of a bond issue could be a tough sell in a year where the state is facing a $611 million shortfall.

Under Hickman’s proposal, the 143 acres surrounding the museum would be transferred to Oklahoma City, and revenue from leasing the property to private development would be used to fund museum operations.

The 15-year bond also would be paid off using money from an estimated $40 million in funds from mostly private donors, including contributions from each of the state’s 39 federally recognized Indian tribes.

Under Bingman’s proposal, funds that are being used to retire bond debt for the Oklahoma History Center in the Capitol complex in Oklahoma City will be redirected to pay for the Tulsa museum. Those bonds will be retired in 2018.

“The Oklahoma Historical Society has a record of achievement in building self-sustaining facilities like the Oklahoma History Center and the Route 66 Museum in Clinton,” Bingman, R-Sapulpa, said in a statement. “They have spent years developing a credible business plan for OKPOP, which will be a celebration of Oklahoma culture and a source of pride for our state.”