OKLAHOMA CITY - There is plenty to cheer about these days. Perhaps no city has turned destitute into vibrant more dramatically than Oklahoma City. 20 years ago, the economy was struggling and young people were moving away.
Today the city is revitalized and on the radar.
“Everything you see here is all about jobs. It’s all about economic vitality,” Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett said.
Oklahoma City’s renaissance is the result of a vision by elected officials and taxpayers being willing to invest in themselves. A penny-on-a dollar sales tax increase has generated $2-billion to revitalize downtown, improve schools and even add a trolley system. The city’s success was largely built on a gamble to construct an $89-million bare bones arena to try and attract a pro team.
Is Virginia Beach willing to take the same gamble?
”I think it’s something we should take a look at,” said Mayor Will Sessoms said.
However, some Virginia Beach residents say the city should focus on other priorities right now like dealing with traffic.
There’s another gamble for Virginia Beach in building a bare bones arena. Without a major league tenant, would it be viable?
Mayor Cornett says early on, the arena will have concerts the area has never seen before.
“It will be new to your market and people will go and pay huge prices to see the latest talent. But after a while that will wear off and you will need a long-term solution,” he stresses.
Yet another gamble in a scaled-down arena: would the NBA ever come to Virginia Beach?
Last year, leaders from 30 cities visited Oklahoma City, many with big league dreams. Virginia Beach was not among them.
“If the NFL can make it without Los Angeles, the NBA can make it without Oklahoma City or Virginia Beach," said state Senator David Holt, who wrote a book on how Oklahoma City became a big league city.
Oklahoma City officials say the NBA has been successful there, in part, because people tend to have expendable income. There’s a waiting list for season tickets with a pair just off courtside going for $27,000 a year.
While the sales tax is 8.4 percent compared to 5 percent in Virginia Beach, gas in Oklahoma City was less than $3.00 a gallon.
Home prices are among the most affordable in the country. A new home in a gated community with every extra from crown molding to granite counter tops to stainless steel appliances is realtor-priced at a half-million dollars in Virginia Beach. In Oklahoma City, it’s less than $300,000.
“The costs are less to build than they are in other places,” realtor George Massey said. "The city is just doing so well. There’s a confidence here.”
Oklahoma City officials say their gamble to build an arena has changed everything. It’s more than the NBA and a stronger corporate presence. It’s more than a tenfold investment by the private sector.
They say the biggest success story is what you can’t see. It’s a quality of place once beyond anyone’s wildest dream and a place where young people want to live and work.
“You know city owner amenities are not always supposed to pay for themselves. Streets don’t pay for themselves, but they create an atmosphere where good things can happen,” said Sen. Holt.
“I cannot imagine a community ever looking back and saying ‘I wish we hadn’t built that state-of-the-art sports arena. I certainly think we would be better off if we hadn’t done that,’” Cornett added.