In the waning hours of the 2015 session of the Oklahoma Legislature, Senate Bill 839 – which authorizes borrowing $25,000,000.00 for a “pop culture museum” in Tulsa, was passed by the House after previous no votes.
Some conservative legislators questioned the wisdom of borrowing millions for the “Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture (OKPOP)” when the state had to deal with a $611,000,000.00 budget shortfall and had to cut funding for veterans, higher education and other state services.
Tulsa already has the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, the Arkansas River Historical Society Museum at the Tulsa Port of Catoosa, the Oklahoma Aquarium (Jenks), Gilcrease, Philbrook Museum of Art, the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, plus the Sherwin Miller Museum of Jewish Art.
Some of these museum have financial problems. In January, the Jazz Hall of Fame had more than $14,000 in overdue insurance payments. In 2012, the Jazz Hall had to raise $75,000 or face eviction. It has been late in paying downtown assessment fees.
In 2008, The University of Tulsa began management of Gilcrease Museum in a public/private partnership with the City of Tulsa that was intended in part to help the museum financially and end a drain of city funds.
Those Tulsa area lawmakers voting against the $25,000,000.00 bond issue were Rep. David Brumbaugh, R-Broken Arrow; Rep. David Derby, R-Owasso; Rep. George Faught, R-Muskogee; Rep. Mark McCullough, R-Sapulpa; Rep. Mike Ritze, R-Broken Arrow; Rep. Chuck Strohm, R-Tulsa; Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow; and Sen. Gary Stanislawski, R-Tulsa.
“I am extremely grateful to my colleagues in both houses of the Legislature for their support of this unique and promising project,” Bingman said. “The diligent and thorough work of the Oklahoma Historical Society in putting together a credible business plan for the project assures us this effort will be a success. I would also like to applaud generous private donors for their tremendous support of this project. OKPOP will be a successful tourist attraction, a center for the celebration of Oklahoma’s culture and a source of pride for decades to come.”
In the 2014 session, lawmakers approved borrowing $120,000,000.00 to fix the crumbling Capitol building.
Republican leadership also pushed through a second $25,000,000.00 borrowing package this session to finish construction of the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum in Oklahoma City. The state has already spent $63,000,000.00 for this “money pit” and there are doubts that will be enough to finish the museum and finally get it open.
Governor Mary Fallin signed a bill that would fund completion of that museum in Oklahoma City. HB 2237 allows the state to issue $25 million in bonds to aid in the completion of the museum, which will combine with $31 million in privately raised money and $9 million pledged by the city of Oklahoma City. Creation of the center was authorized in 1994 and construction began in 2006 but stalled as funds ran out. Despite the project being incomplete, the state was forced to pay almost $7 million a year to maintain the property and fund debt service.
“For years, the Cultural Center has been a potential asset that has gone ignored,” said Fallin. “The completed center promises to be an important tourism attraction, an economic boost for the state and for Oklahoma City, and an educational tool to remind Oklahomans and non-Oklahomans alike of the important contributions that Native Americans have made to our history and culture.” HB 2237 was authored by House Speaker Jeff Hickman and Bingman.