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2008 State of the City
Office of the Mayor

Every January, the Mayor speaks to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of CommerceExternal Link will open in new window on the State of the City. The State of the City message looks back on recent accomplishments, updates the Chamber on current developments and looks ahead to the future.

Mayor Cornett delivered the ninth State of the City message on January 31, 2008.

As prepared for delivery

Welcome to the State of the City for 2008. I’ll start by asking you a question to set the tone for this speech. The state of the city in January of 2008 - How does it feel? Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?

Because really, people judge cities on how they feel. Does it feel safe? Does it feel clean? Does it feel like the people are friendly? Do they seem educated? Are they tolerant? Is there an energy, a vitality, that any visitor can sense? You bet there is. Ask someone from out of town, and they’ll tell you that the people of this city feel confident, secure and optimistic.

In fact, let me read this letter that was recently sent to me by a David Williams of Oklahoma City. He interacts with visitors to this city everyday.

Dear Sir:
I work as a cashier at the Schlotzsky’s Restaurant at Will Rogers World Airport.  On Sunday, I had a large crowd of police officers who had been to our city for the Special Olympics Conference.  Each and every officer told me the same thing--how well received and well treated they were, how phenomenal the receptions, facilities and the hosts who helped sponsor the conference.  Each and every officer told me how great our city is, how friendly and helpful our citizens are, and what great venues we have.

In October, members of the Australian and New Zealand rowing teams told me the same thing. We must be doing something right for me to hear so much praise from so many people from around the world and our nation. I thank them for their comments and invite them back to our city.
 
I am proud to be an Oklahoma City citizen.
 
Let’s all of us keep up this reputation.  We are a world-class city and it shows.  From our magnificent airport, Bricktown, our convention facilities and museums.
Just thought you’d like to know what is being said about Oklahoma City.

David Williams

We are proud of what we have accomplished, yet excited that the best is yet to come.

Oklahoma City’s own Grammy Award-winning Flaming Lips once asked, in their hit song of the same name: “Do you realize that you have the most beautiful face?” Well, with apologies to Wayne Coyne, I ask you today, do you realize that we live in the most beautiful place?

Do you realize that we live in a metropolitan area that has gained over 65,000 jobs since this time in 2004? That’s net growth, and that’s worth repeating - 65,000 new jobs in just four years. That has prepared us for whatever may lie ahead. Though the coming months may see the national economy slow down, and you may see some of those repercussions affect national companies that do business in Oklahoma, we believe we are well-positioned to stay ahead of national indicators. I would personally like to thank this Chamber as well as the State Commerce Department for helping with our job creation.

And do you realize that the U.S. Census estimates that since 2000, Oklahoma City is the 12th fastest-growing large city in the United States?

Do you realize that we passed our City bond issue with nearly 80 percent support for every single initiative? This has ensured that the needs for resurfacing our City streets will be met for the next several years. 540 million dollars of that bond issue will be put directly towards streets, bridges and traffic.

Do you realize that the quality of our air is really good? In fact, despite an expectation that we would fall out of compliance with Federal regulations for ozone this past year, we stayed in compliance. That is good. That helps us create jobs.

Do you realize that unemployment in Oklahoma City is really low? It is well under the national average, and our economy and our housing markets have stayed strong in recent months, despite downturns nationwide. And your housing dollar still goes farther here than almost anywhere else.

Do you realize that in 2007, we were judged to have the best tasting water in the nation? It’s true.

Do you realize that tourism is up - way up? When we weren’t looking, we suddenly became a pretty cool place to visit. Hotel revenues are up 16 percent this year alone, and last year we saw over 6.6 million visitors, spending over 1.2 billion dollars. This year, we have an NCAA Women’s Basketball Regional, and next year we have the Big-12 Men’s and Women’s Championships. And this year and next, we remain the home of the College Softball World Series and the Big 12 Baseball Championship.

Do you realize that people are moving downtown? By the thousands. And that helps us be more efficient. Population density is necessary for us to improve in areas like public transportation and public education.

Do you realize that the world continues to discover our River? You know what, we should have put water in that river a long time ago. The Centennial Regatta was a huge success, named the event of the year worldwide by Rowing News Magazine, and now a Boathouse Row is becoming a reality. Plus, this spring, you’ll be able to board a boat, the Devon Discovery, and travel from the I-40/Meridian area, all the way to downtown.

Do you realize that we are the Horse Show Capital of the World? You may remember three years ago when our voters went to the polls and committed to investing in the horse show facilities at the Fairgrounds. Once again, our investment is paying off.

Do you realize that there are so many other wonderful things going on that I could take your whole afternoon - but that would negatively impact our economy and I want to get you guys back to work.

But just to name a few more things that are going on - the National Memorial, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism - we have so many great museums, it will make your head spin. There is a hit national television show, “Saving Grace,” that is set in Oklahoma City.

Our airport continues to add nonstop flights – we’ve added 10 in the last 15 months. The arts community is growing, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park is now downtown. Oklahoma high school basketball state championships are coming to the Ford Center this year. Bricktown continues to grow. We continue to raise our standards for beautification. The Underground opened in 2007. The Skirvin opened in 2007. MidTown and the Medical Business District are booming. The American Indian Cultural Center is starting to take shape on the south side of the River. The Heartland Flyer is drawing record ridership. The number of Land Run sculptures on the Canal continues to increase.

And we have issues too. But we are working on them. Our homelessness task force is helping to produce a new 10-year action plan. The U.S. Attorney’s office is helping us on the issue of gang violence. Our attention to animal welfare has never been stronger.

But you know what? Like I said, we as a community have never been more proud of what is going on here, and I bet you do realize all of that. If you haven’t figured it out yet - times are good. But all of that represents just a few of the many opportunities that now lie before us. Despite all that we have accomplished, we still stand on the edge of even greater achievements.

A lot of what I will discuss today may seem like big dreams. But these dreams, opportunities really, are no larger and no more difficult than many this city has faced before.

And today, I want to speak to four opportunities in particular - the opportunity to continue improving our public education through MAPS for Kids; the opportunity to lead healthier lives; the opportunity to continue creating a city where people want to live through implementation of the Core to Shore projects; and finally, the opportunity to create jobs and grow our economy by improving the Ford Center and securing a permanent NBA team.

Our focus these last 15 years has been to create a city where people want to live; to create a city where quality of life matters. And to create that city, we have prioritized education and job creation. And both categories were success stories this past year.
And you know I wouldn’t make that up but you don’t have to take ‘my’ word for it.

In the area of employment, I told you about our incredible job growth, but I didn’t mention that Forbes magazine again named Oklahoma City as one of the top cities in the United States to get a job. It’s the second year in a row we’ve made that list. Second year in a row that we beat out New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco. And just last week, three of our local employers, American Fidelity, Chesapeake and Devon were named by Forbes as among the top 100 places to work. Together, we are creating a city where people want to live.

And in the area of education, MAPS for Kids, our statement, our 700 million dollar statement that education is important, is drawing national attention for its creativity and commitment to the future of our city. For the third year in a row, we have been named one of America’s best communities for young people, and the program won a national award this past year from the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

We are creating a city where people realize that you must invest in your community.
There may be no better example of our community’s commitment to investing in itself than our ever-increasing support for public education.

I am sure you are very much aware of the recent issue between the Oklahoma City Public School Board and the superintendent. As we witnessed, that issue had the potential to split this city apart. And I suppose in some cities that would have occurred. But my sense is, after this issue was fully discussed and ultimately resolved, this community emerged, more intent than ever, to unite toward the greater goal of creating a better inner-city school district. In retrospect, that that issue could create any positive energy is remarkable. But it illustrates what a lot of us already knew; and that is that we have some great patrons, and pastors, and other community leaders throughout this city, and together, we will continue to improve our schools, and better the lives of our children.

In a sense, this past year, our inner-city school district passed a milestone in proving it had restored a level of citizen confidence that had been missing for a generation. In October, voters approved a bond issue of almost $250 million dollars; money that will be used for new classrooms, new gymnasiums, new buses, and new technology. This also represents of new way of thinking for the voters of the district. They are realizing that quality education requires continued funding. Schools are not something you fund once in a while.

And it’s not just the Oklahoma City District that we need to be concerned about. There are 24 different school districts serving kids that live in Oklahoma City. And in many of them, 2007 was an incredible year, when their voters showed that they support education in our community.

In February, voters in south Oklahoma City helped pass a bond issue for the Moore school district. In March, voters in Putnam City, Western Heights and Harrah school districts passed bond issues for education. In April, the voters in Mustang and Piedmont schools passed bond issues. In May, the Mid-Del district successfully passed a school bond issue. Last month, Edmond and Norman did the same.
And 2008 is off to a good start, because just two weeks ago voters in Union City passed theirs, too.

We know that to create a city where people want to live, you must create jobs, and we know that job creators demand an educated work force. As much as any year since we passed the MAPS for Kids initiative in 2001, 2007 was a year we validated our commitment to public education. And as I said, 2008 may be the year that our unified effort towards the goal of a world-class education for our children grows even stronger.
Meanwhile, we are in a transition from a sprawling community in which life revolves around the automobile to a community with more density that is more pedestrian friendly. In that October school bond issue, voters approved the construction of new gymnasiums in all 47 of our inner city elementary schools. Also, in that December City bond issue, voters approved the construction of 350 miles of new sidewalks. That is taking action towards healthier lives. We are creating neighborhoods where you can live and not have to own a car. It will take time, but the future of Oklahoma City does not have to so dependent on the automobile. We have choices, and we will be working to improve public transportation in this city in the coming years through implementation of the Fixed Guideway Study.

We have, in recent years, without question, raised the standards in this city. But though we have raised the standards, we have not set them.

And while we have raised the standards in this city, from a capital projects perspective and beautification, in many ways we have not raised the standards for ourselves. And I am speaking now of our health.

As you may have heard, I am asking our community to confront our largest health issue and to take a stand on obesity. Let this be the year that we stop pretending obesity will go away on its own. You need only look at the statistics dealing with
childhood obesity to realize that it is not going to go away on its own and will in fact become a bigger problem if we don’t do something about it.

The success of our website “thiscityisgoingonadiet.com” illustrates that this city is ready to address the problem.

As you know, both the local and national media have been very supportive, impressed that a city wants to proactively change its culture and alter what it is willing to accept, and what it expects from itself.

With an obesity rate exceeding 25 percent, we have failed as a community to set a high enough standard for ourselves. It is not just us. This is a nationwide problem. But it is a problem that I believe this community can address.

So, as you know, we have begun a significant program to address the problem. This effort is drawing lots of interest. And we’re just a month into it. But, the most interesting thing to me about the progress of this weight loss initiative is the growing sense that it is going to succeed. You can feel it. I like the fact that we are adding up the pounds that we lose and can monitor our success. However, don’t get too caught up in the march toward a million pounds. We will get there. But in this initiative, it is not the distance we travel, it is the direction we turn.

We are at the beginning stages of a cultural shift: from a community that, when it comes to health, expects little, and accepts obesity as a way of life; to a community that expects more. We have not built this city by expecting little. And we do not have to accept less… not in our capital projects, not in our commitment to education, and certainly not in our health.

So far, almost 14 thousand people have signed up, and over 20 thousand pounds have been lost. There are repercussions to this. I can no longer eat a donut in Sunday School. Too many people ready to give me a hard time. And a lot of you come up to me and tell me you are losing weight but you have not gone to the website to register. Like you can just tell me verbally and I will keep track of your weight loss in my head. You need to sign up. I am not going to give anyone a pardon.

Meanwhile, from the thousands that are taking part, I am getting consistent positive feedback. Lives are being changed. If you would like to lose weight, this website can help you in many ways and this community stands poised to support you. We are doing this together. The web address is: this city is going on a diet dot com. It is designed for us but open to anyone who hears about it. It will help you determine your goal weight, and if you are at your goal weight, it will help you maintain it.

As a community, we are doing much to create a city that is more pedestrian friendly and encourages exercise. We are looking at improved transit; we are building 350 miles of new sidewalks; we are building 47 new gymnasiums in our inner-city grade schools. But we are not going to seriously address obesity until we acknowledge that it’s about what we eat and how much we eat. Each of us must take personal responsibility for our health. It’s up to us. We can be like many other cities and keep getting fatter and fatter. Or, we can place a new priority on our health. And, in the process, create a higher expectation for ourselves.

We’ve had some great behind-the-scenes help on this initiative. I want to thank Tom Michaud of Foundation Health and his staff for volunteering their resources and time to manage this program. I know some of the folks who have worked on this are here. Would you all stand so we can thank you?

It’s volunteerism like this that makes a city go. And I have to tell you, the response has been so overwhelming, people sending in ideas and presenting opportunities to us, we really could use more help. So if your company would be willing to donate some staff time to this initiative, please feel free to talk to those folks or my office, and we would be happy to facilitate.

You know, across the United States, we all live in cities that we didn’t build. And the people that built this city, those hearty men and women that back in 1889 sacrificed everything for a piece of land near where a railroad track met a river, in what was called Indian Territory; those people. They built a city with future generations in mind. Because of them, and those that followed, this is a city that is built to last. And we have the same responsibility as them. And through the Core to Shore planning process this past year, we embraced that responsibility.

As you drive across I-40 you have probably noticed the work that is being accomplished to relocate the interstate several blocks to the south. O-Dot is moving full speed ahead on a time frame that will complete the relocation by the year 2012. Once the interstate is relocated, the I-40 bridge that passes through downtown will be removed and that corridor will be replaced by a boulevard that will dramatically reshape downtown. Few cities get the opportunity to build a new portion of their downtown from scratch, and we intend to make the most of it.

We have some images that you are about to see. And these have never been shown to anyone. This represents the changes that we forsee for the land that is south of downtown between I-40 and the river. What is called the Core to Shore planning process - from the Core of Downtown to the Shore of the Oklahoma River. This is roughly a 600-acre area that stretches over the mile between downtown and the river that has undergone a significant, inclusive, community-wide planning process.

Before we look at the images, here is an aerial of the Core to Shore area to orient you. You can see where I-40 is currently and where it will be.

You have to remember, many aspects of this plan are envisioned to occur as many as 25 to 30 years from now, and much of it – the retail, the office towers, the neighborhoods, the residential towers – would be driven by the private sector.

What you are about to see is really a sneak preview. The final presentation of this won’t be released until May. What you will see is futuristic, and the architectural choices are not intended to represent anything but an effort to inspire our collective imagination. Any names or architectural choices you see are simply placeholders. Now let me caution you, I’m about to show you pictures of your city in the future, and you’re not going to recognize it, so brace yourself. Even if you are the most dedicated downtown observer, you’re going to have a hard time orienting yourself, so I’ll try to help. Remember, this isn’t Oklahoma City tomorrow, this is 20 years from tomorrow. So, let’s watch, shall we?
Here, you see the convention center hotel on the southeast corner of the Boulevard and Robinson.

Here, you see the retail component on the north side of the Boulevard between Hudson and Robinson, with potential office towers.

Another look at some of the developments north of the Boulevard.

And then looking east down SW 2nd Street.

Now here we get an aerial looking down into the towers on the north side of the Boulevard, and panning south across the Boulevard into the park, with the convention center on the right.

Here, we’re looking northeast at the convention center and downtown from the events center, envisioned as just east of Union Station.

Now, we’re headed south through the park while looking east at the convention center.

Here, we’re on the Boulevard in Bricktown, just south of the Harkins theater, headed west.

Now we’re still headed west, but we’ve flipped the camera around.

Now we’re taking a train ride along the convention center, headed south, and then we’re looking west across the park.

Now we’re looking south across the park at the events center. That body of water is not there currently.

Here, we have an aerial looking down at the new I-40 and heading south through the southern half of the park and the residential areas to the west, down to the river.

Now we’re taking a very fast boat ride on the Devon Discovery, headed west down the river and looking north toward downtown.
Now we’re looking at the River residential towers.

And from the air.

Now we’re looking north from a pedestrian bridge crossing the river.

And now we elevate, and there is the projected image of your Oklahoma City of the future.

The primary public components of this would be the boulevard, the park and the convention center. And I will sum it up by repeating my familiar theme: we are building a city. We are creating a city where people want to live.

Now, remember I-40 as we know it, is going away, moving a few blocks to the south. And the I-40 corridor will be replaced by a boulevard. That should really change the perspective of our sports arena.

With the improvements coming through Core to Shore, and with the Boulevard taking the place of I-40, the front door of the Ford Center will change from the north side of the building on Reno, to the south side of the building along the Boulevard.

Which moves us into a new, much larger conversation involving improvements to the Ford Center and setting the stage for an NBA franchise.

Back in 1993, when the citizens of this community passed MAPS, they began strolling down a long path toward becoming a big league city.

First, we built an arena, and that investment eventually allowed us to secure a one-year lease with the Hornets in 2005. Our support for the team surpassed all expectations, even mine, and you were responsible. You showed them that with some investments in our facilities, we could be a big league city. That season went so well that we secured another one-year lease. So, after two seasons of hosting the Hornets franchise in our city, the NBA is now ready to consider us for a permanent franchise. So, no longer are we talking about a one-year lease. We’re talking about a permanent franchise of our very own.

As you know, the Sonics have applied to relocate to Oklahoma City and the NBA’s relocation committee will review the application in April. This time we are not talking about a one-year lease, and we are now in a process we did not have to go through when the Hornets came here temporarily.

For us to receive the best possible consideration from the relocation committee for a permanent franchise, we must convince them of our commitment to improve our sports arena. We simply cannot expect them to make a long-term commitment to us, unless we are ready to make a long-term commitment to our facilities.

Now we could have chosen to just build a brand new arena. But the Ford Center is only six years old and its location is so good, with ample parking, that I feel strongly the best answer is to add some space to it, as well as a little spice, and give it the look and feel of a brand new arena.

So, we brought together the architects and engineers that originally designed the building and had them work with NBA arena experts to see what could be accomplished.

And the vision of what the Ford Center can be is very impressive. It will have the look and feel of a brand new building. Every user at every event will enjoy the new amenities, which are at every level, and impact almost every square foot of the building. And it will be a spectacular anchor on the new Boulevard that will be built along the I-40 corridor.

These improvements are necessary not only to secure a long-term lease with an NBA team but they are necessary if we are to stay competitive in our own region in competing for events. If you consider just the Big 12 region where we compete with other cities for conference championships and NCAA Regionals, and even concerts, we are in danger of having an arena that is surpassed by eight other cities. That’s right. The Ford Center, as it stands today, is not competitively better than arenas in San Antonio, Dallas, Houston, Denver, Kansas City, St. Louis, Omaha or the new arena that will open this year in Tulsa. We hosted the Big 12 Basketball Championships last year and we will host them again next year but when it’s time to award future championships, we will be at a competitive disadvantage. These improvements that we plan to make, along with our other amenities, tilt the advantage back to us.

Quick show of hands, how many of you attended an NBA game at the Ford Center over the last two seasons? How many had a good time? It was really cool, wasn’t it? But becoming a big league city means more than just something for us to do 41 nights a year. It’s a significant economic development tool. Here in Oklahoma City, during the two years the Hornets were here, we enjoyed over 130 million dollars in economic impact. And the job creation, the economic vitality that takes place in the 30 NBA cities speaks for itself. Being a big league city in 2008 means sharing an international stage with the greatest cities in the world. That can happen here. And we are ready.

The Ford Center improvements and the potential of having an NBA team of our own, continue the momentum that has been building in our city ever since the ballpark opened ten years ago. A decade of momentum hangs in the balance on March 4. Passage of this initiative is not a given. It has opponents just like MAPS and MAPS for Kids. In 1993, not everyone saw the wisdom of building a canal and ballpark in Bricktown. Not everyone believed we could put water in the river and that it would stay there. Not only do we have water in our river, this spring we are hosting U.S. Olympic Trials. I am going to pause for a moment because that is such an incredible ascension, from having a river that didn’t have any water to hosting an Olympic team, that I am not sure I believe it myself.

But it is true. Ten years ago, not everyone believed we should build a sports arena in hopes of attracting a major league franchise. It’s a good thing we did. We built these things, and in the process, created a city that has exceeded all of our expectations. Let’s keep it going. You will hear from people who want to hold us back. Don’t let them. Let’s keep Oklahoma City moving forward by voting yes on March 4.

As you have heard today, we have a lot going on. And at this time, at this point in our city’s history, I want to personally thank the members of our City Council that you have elected. When it has been time to pick your city council representatives, you have done an excellent job.

Let me ask each of them to stand as I call their name.

Ward 1, Gary Marrs
Ward 2. Sam Bowman
Ward 3, Larry McAtee
Ward 4, Pete White
Ward 5, Brian Walters
Ward 6, Ann Simank
Ward 7 Skip Kelly
And Ward 8 Pat Ryan.

Simply an outstanding group. Let’s show our appreciation.
I also want to thank our City employees, and ask them to stand.

And if you serve on a City commission, trust or authority, I want you to stand, because your service to this City is critical to all we are accomplishing.

I also want to specially thank Lee Allen Smith and Blake Wade for the Centennial events we have all enjoyed so much. Knowing them, I imagine they have already started to plan the Bicentennial. I can’t wait.

I want to thank the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce for all they do, including putting on this event. Larry Nichols and Roy Williams, thank you. And your staff is terrific. And a special thanks to our signature sponsor today: Dorchester Capital.

Thanks to all of you who donate money to worthwhile causes and those who volunteer their time. Our churches, our youth groups, our schools, our senior centers, our arts organizations, our museums, our non-profit agencies, the services we offer soldiers at the airport. So many of you do so much. Please know that I appreciate your effort.

And finally, I want to thank my family. Would you please stand?

Thank you for coming today.