What is so significant about the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum?
KL: It is a beacon that reflects our state’s proud and rich history with the Native American people. When it is finished, it will be a joint effort among many tribal governments, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma County and state resources coming together to recognize the past and showcase the future.
What is the holdup in finishing the project?
KL: The fundamental problem is a lack of money. Federal officials who promised funding retired, and are no longer in office.
Originally, we had an agreement for the state to provide one-third of the funding; the federal government would provide one-third; and private/tribal donations would pay the final third.
While the state and the tribes have done their share, the federal government has not done enough. But even if the federal government had given the money as promised, construction costs have gone up so much, I’m not sure it would have been enough.
Why did they start building if they didn’t have the funding in place?
KL: So many things have changed since this project began that we never could have predicted. We had the attacks of 9/11, a spike in construction prices, and the economic crash of 2008. All those things contributed to the funding shortfall.
The tribes seem to be financially solid, so why don’t they pay for it?
KL: There is a widespread misconception that this museum was initiated by the tribes. It was not. This project falls under a state agency. It is a state museum, which we all own and should all want to succeed.
When the project is complete, what economic impact will it have on Oklahoma City?
KL: It will be huge – like nothing else we have currently in the city. Studies show, over the next 20 years, the museum would bring $3.8 billion through additional tourism and the economic development along the Oklahoma River.
Much like Bass Pro Shops in Bricktown, the AICCM would be the anchor the river needs for development.
What’s the biggest obstacle to finishing it?
KL: The biggest problem is getting elected officials to see the bigger picture. Twenty-five years ago, Bricktown was nothing but a string of abandoned warehouses. We had no dome on the Capitol. We had nothing from MAPS.
So it’s a problem of perception. We need the public and, therefore, lawmakers to buy into its success.
Best-case scenario, how soon could it be finished?
KL: I am the eternal optimist, so if we are able to get my new reform package with more transparency and accountability, we could open the doors as early as December 2014.
This will require a majority of lawmakers agreeing to spend a lot of money. How will you convince them?
KL: It is a lot of money, but it’s a wise investment with a great return. In my business, we sometimes have major expansions or capital expenses that, in the long run, are well worth the cost.
Yes, it is expensive, but we are talking billions in return. I think if I can show them the numbers, they’ll have to sign on.