Voters in Oklahoma City will decide on a ballot measure that would levy a 1% sales tax to fund a new arena for the city’s NBA basketball team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The 1% sales tax would be levied for a period of six years beginning on April 1, 2028, and would replace the existing MAPS 4 1% sales tax, therefore the current sales tax rate of 8.625% will remain unchanged if the measure is approved.
The measure would create the Arena Facility Sales Tax Fund to fund the new OKC Arena, expected to cost a minimum of $900 million. The Oklahoma City Thunder ownership agreed to pay $50 million towards the arena with an agreement that the Oklahoma City Thunder will play at the new arena for at least 25 years.
The Oklahoma City Thunder was founded in 2008 and had an agreement with the city to play at the Paycom Arena through 2023. The team and the city extended the lease through 2026 and had been engaged in talks about a new long-term agreement for a new arena that would keep the team in the city beyond 2050. The Thunder would continue to play at the Paycom Arena until the new arena is ready in 2029.
The Paycom arena is the smallest arena in the NBA by square footage and had the second-smallest capital investment of all NBA arenas.
Mayor David Holt said, “Perhaps the most important aspect of the deal is the length — this is twice the commitment we received in 2008 and will keep the Thunder here beyond 2050. For a generation, we will retain the economic impact and quality-of-life benefits we have enjoyed as a big-league city.”
Oklahoma City Councilman Mark Stonecipher said, “I think it is important to remember since the Thunder came to Oklahoma City, we have jumped from the 37th largest city to now the 20th largest city. Today we are the sixth fastest growing city in the United States and unemployment is at a record low. … Now is not the time to hit the brakes. … there are at least 18 major cities that would love to have an NBA team, including Las Vegas. Let’s not forget what happened to OKC with the National Finals Rodeo and Las Vegas. So, let’s get on board and support the new arena so we keep our OKC economy growing!”
Buy Your Own Arena, sponsored by Oklahoma Progress Now, is leading the campaign in opposition to the measure. Buy Your Own Arena said, “[It] is a single project with no real public benefit. The building is privately managed, hosts private events, and most of the revenue (advertising, naming rights, food and beverage profits), goes to private entities and owners. Nearly all the cost of construction is on the public. … Additionally, the Thunder owners have never said they will sell or move the team. All eight families have deep personal ties to Oklahoma, many businesses based here, and they have generations of family living here. It is very unlikely they will sell or move the coolest thing they own because voters will not give up their hard-earned tax dollars. With a collective net worth of more than $25B the Thunder owners are the third wealthiest ownership group in the NBA. They have the ability to build many arenas and barely affect their net worth.”
J.C. Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University said, “The owners should be embarrassed that they only put out $50 million like that’s a meaningful contribution. The public’s going to pay for it, but the private part will keep all the money. That’s not a partnership. That’s exploitation.”
The city council voted 7-2 on Sep. 26, 2023, to place the measure on the ballot.
Polls will be open in Oklahoma City from 7 a.m. to 7 pm. on Dec. 12.
Produced in association with Ballotpedia
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