Monday, August 15, 2011

If The Next Mayor Wants To Create Jobs, He Will Replicate Oklahoma City


Tonight, our two candidates for mayor of Evansville met with our local groups Tri-State Jobs With Justice and the NAACP. You can read about it here....

Since the beginning of this mayoral race, both candidates have made it clear that jobs are their number one priority. In their eyes, nothing is more important than creating jobs. It is no secret that Evansville has a brain drain and most good jobs are finding their way to another city. In my opinion, this is the byproduct of one thing: Evansville's failure to build.

Last year, Courier & Press writer John Lucas wrote about a "pall" over Evansville...

I agree 110% that there is indeed a pall over Evansville. I also believe this pall has existed for well over 50 years. Why and how has it lasted for so long?

If you get a chance, go downtown and make sure you visit each city block. As you visit each city block, count the number of buildings that have been built in your lifetime and then count the amount of buildings that are older than you and count the number of empty parking lots. You will find that not much, if anything, has happened in Evansville in quite a while.

Although there is a pall now, it didn't use to be like this. Back in the day, Evansville thrived with a vibrant downtown, a booming Franklin Street, and a view that everything made in Evansville should be known around the nation. Simply put, Evansville built things and these things prospered.

So how do I know that building large capital improvement projects is the solution to Evansville's jobs problem? Two words: Oklahoma City.

For those who have not been to this blog before, it is important to understand the main program going on in Oklahoma City right now that I am fan numero uno of. This program is called MAPS...

Like I said in the link above, MAPS is very simple because it works like this...

1. The citizens come up with their own ideas and plans. They then can go around town lobbying for other citizens to support their ideas.

2. The citizens then go to their local government's website and submit the ideas.

3. The ideas with the most votes get implemented (OKC took as many ideas as they could afford).

4. The final ideas are lumped into a program (MAPS).

5. The program is put on the ballot where voters vote to temporarily increase the local sales tax by 1% for 7 years. After 7 years, the tax expires and can only be extended with another referendum.

6. If approved, the 7 year 1% sales tax goes into effect and a committee to oversee the projects is assembled.

7. After 7 years, if there is enough revenue collected, the projects can begin breaking ground. If there is not enough revenue, a temporary 2 year 1% sales tax increase can be voted on, some projects can be scaled down, or some projects can be eliminated completely.

8. Repeat cycle

Why do I believe that MAPS is the key to creating jobs in Evansville? Because MAPS proved in Oklahoma City that large capital improvement projects, when done correctly, will always cause your town to grow and will always keep unemployment levels down. MAPS has worked perfectly in Oklahoma City. In 2008, Forbes magazine named Oklahoma City the most "recession proof city in America".

During the 1980s, Oklahoma City had one of the worst job and housing markets due to the bankruptcy of Penn Square Bank in 1982 and then the post-1985 crash in oil prices. After MAPS, the city has had a falling unemployment rate, one of the strongest housing markets in the country, and solid growth in energy, agriculture and manufacturing. Take a look at all of the great things going on in Oklahoma City...

Wouldn't that be nice to live in a city where your town is growing because large capital improvement projects are underway everywhere you go? Wouldn't it be nice if the citizens of Evansville got to pick these projects? And wouldn't it be nice if unemployment was at an all-time low because Evansville residents were busy building Evansville back to the level it should be?

That's what MAPS does, and I'm calling on both mayoral candidates to give this program more than just a serious look. I want both of these candidates to call and/or go to Oklahoma City, talk to the citizens and city leaders, and investigate the facts about MAPS. Both candidates will see that Oklahoma City isn't called "boom town" for no reason. Both candidates will also see a city with a positive attitude, not a dark pall over the entire city.

With that being said, some residents are STILL buying into the belief that MAPS cannot happen here because, " That's Oklahoma City. They have over a million people there. We don't have enough people to pull off MAPS." These people couldn't be any further from the truth and I will tell you why.

If you look closely, we are already replicating MAPS here, we just aren't doing it correctly. Let's break it down...

Oklahoma City: Passed MAPS I (a 7 year 1% sales tax) in 1993. MAPS I involved...

-renovations to the Civic Center Music Hall, The Myriad (Now Cox Convention Center) and Oklahoma State Fairgrounds;
-construction of the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark
-construction of the Ford Center, an indoor multipurpose sports arena.
-construction of the "Bricktown Canal"
-construction of a riverfront and recreational dams for the North Canadian River
-the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library, a four-story main library to replace a facility that had been built in 1951
-a new Library/Learning Center
-development of the Oklahoma Spirit Trolleys, a trolley-replica bus network

Evansville: Passed a 1% Food & Beverage Tax in 1985. This tax involved...

- Constructing the current Evansville Airport
- Renovating Mesker Park Zoo in 2003
- Constructing the new arena
- Many other capital improvement projects

Oklahoma City: Passed MAPS II or MAPS For Kids on November 13, 2001. This plan included...

-70 new and renovated schools
-$52 million for technology projects
-$9 million for bus fleet replacement

Evansville: Passed a referendum on November 4, 2008 to issue $149 million bond for the EVSC. This included...

- A new North High School
- A new middle school to go with the new North High School
-Various other EVSC capital improvement projects

Oklahoma City: Passed MAPS III on December 8, 2009. This included...

-$280 million new 200,000 sq ft (19,000 m2) Convention Center
-$130 million 70-acre (280,000 m2) downtown park similar to Houston's Discovery Green to be located south of current I-40
-$130 million for mass transit including a downtown 5-6 mile modern streetcar system
-$50 million for health and wellness aquatic centers to be located throughout the city
-$60 million for improvements at the Oklahoma State Fair
-$60 million for improvements to the Oklahoma River
-$40 million to extend trails throughout the city
-$10 million to build sidewalks around the city

Evansville: ?

That is where we currently stand. Oklahoma City has begun to take their third step to improve their city. What is our next step?

It is important to remember that Mayor Russ Lloyd Jr. gave us one hell of a master plan in 2001. This master plan included a ballpark, a redug Wabash & Erie Canal, a marina, a new civic center connecting Main Street, two downtown "Central Parks", a rejuvenated Main Street, and a cleaned up Pigeon Creek. Keep in mind, these ideas were put on the master plan because they were ideas from our local citizens just like MAPS.

Of all the ideas on the master plan, only the opening of Main Street and the new arena were ever built (and the arena is in a different location). It is vitally important that Evansville's next mayor gets back to our 2001 master plan. I believe that we need to make sure that the core ideas such as the ballpark, canal, marina, and parks are kept while updating it with these ideas...

- A slack water port in the Howell Rail Yards
- Light rail or street cars in downtown Evansville
- High speed rail in downtown Evansville

If our two mayoral candidates are genuinely concerned about creating jobs, they must give MAPS a shot. Oklahoma City has proven that MAPS can and will be a success, and our city is already following MAPS in baby steps.

We need a brand new downtown Evansville... We need to replicate OKC's MAPS... WE NEED JOBS!

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