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Chickasaw Nation, OKC officials agree to terms on American Indian Cultural Center and Museum project

Sarah Hussain / Red Dirt Report
OKC Councilmen discuss the proposal from the Chickashaw Nation.
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Land development, tribal money critical to deal; Politicos applaud Chickasaws for stepping in

OKLAHOMA CITY – Once on the chopping block, the American Indian Cultural Center and Museum may have been saved Tuesday when the Oklahoma City Council and the Chickasaw Nation agreed to work toward the facility’s completion.

Currently, the AICCM is an outer shell of a project dreamed up decades ago. Construction on the cultural center stopped three years ago when state funding dried up. Since then, Gov. Mary Fallin, legislative leaders and city representatives have haggled about who should complete the project.

Legislators agreed to provide $25 million last year and private contributions totaled $40 million, but it still wasn’t enough to continue construction. But in December, the Chickasaw Nation came riding in with a proposal that might save the day.

Chickasaw leaders have agreed to provide $2 million a year for seven years to cover the cultural center’s operating deficit, an amount that was estimated by an outside consultant. In addition, the Chickasaw Nation proposed to pay for the capital costs of completing the museum if the total exceeds $65 million.

Meanwhile, the city and the Chickasaws also agreed the tribe would have the opportunity to develop an estimated 200 acres around the cultural center for commercial purposes such restaurants, retail stores and hotels.

Ward 4 City Councilman Pete White applauded the Chickasaw leaders for coming forward with their proposal to save the museum.

“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the Chickasaws stepping forward because it wouldn’t have happened without them,” he said.

However, White said he would like Oklahoma’s other 38 tribes to offer some input on the cultural center.

“I think it’s essential for it to be the kind of museum we want it to be,” he said. “To see it (cultural center) still on the table is great for Oklahoma City.”

State Sen. Kyle Loveless (R-Oklahoma City) was relieved Oklahoma City officials and Chickasaw leaders were able to reach an agreement. Loveless’ Senate district includes the area where the cultural center is located.

“This whole project is a testament to telling the story about Oklahoma’s 39 tribes and it’s good to see the Chickasaws stepping up to the plate. Governor Anoatubby has done a tremendous job as chairman of the oversight board since day one. I’m also glad the city stepped up and went with the project. They could have easily turned their back on it or said this wasn’t for them,” Loveless said.

The 200 acres surrounding the cultural center will play a vital role for the cultural center and the continued development of amenities and businesses along the Oklahoma River.

“That land has been the piece everybody is forgetting,” Loveless said. “It’s over 200 acres of prime real estate. It would be a boon to Oklahoma City and would be an anchor to the river’s development. This whole deal is a win-win for everybody. It’s been sitting half done for three years and has become an eyesore for Oklahoma. But now, work can begin and while it’s being constructed development of the land around it can begin also.”

Blake Wade, executive director of the Native American Cultural and Educational Authority (NACEA), the agency responsible for the cultural center’s construction, said work should resume in April or May and take about two years. Work already has begun on the museum’s exhibits and plans for the inside of the building.

Shoshanna Wasserman, spokeswoman for the cultural center and the NACEA, said in May the museum will become a major tourist attraction for Europeans who want to experience the Old West coupled with stories of cowboys and Indians. Wasserman said Europeans typically spend 14 to 21 days while on vacation in the United States, spending thousands of dollars on hotels, dining and attractions.

Wade estimated 225,000 will visit the cultural center during its first year of operations.

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Tim Farley

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