When I first heard rumors that a new arena was in the works, I started telling folks this was the fight OKC needed to have. Each iteration of MAPS has been a tug of war between public projects dedicated to the common good and private interest requests designed to boost revenues for the business elite and OKC Chamber. Finally though, a single private interest project would be pitched to challenge the whole narrative of MAPS.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think the powers that be would go for a deal this bad. I had assumed they’d pull private funds, bond money, a TIF (a scheme to get property taxes) and do a little on sales tax. Instead, Mayor Holt chose the most regressive tax he could and committed to securing 95%+ of the construction costs on the backs of taxpayers. There was immediate and surprising outcry, even from corners that normally wouldn’t say it, like national sports writers.
Since then, it has only gotten worse with Holt constantly making threats of going backward, losing the Thunder and other dark fantasies playing on OKC’s inferiority complex, all while the Thunder owners, who collectively are worth $25B and in the top three wealthiest ownership groups in the NBA, fail to do a single interview or say anything.
Even people in the know did not know what the proposal would be until September 2023. At the city council meeting on September 26, 2023, it was determined there would be a vote on December 12, 2023. Buyyourownarena.com launched that day and we began a whirlwind attempt to fight the richest, most influential and powerful people and institutions in Oklahoma.
There is nothing legitimate or fair about this deal. Even compared to any flavor, market size or composition of NBA arena deals, this one is objectively the worst. It is socialism for billionaires. 95% of the cost is being placed on taxpayers using the most regressive tax we have (sales tax).
It is taxing lower income people the hardest and rewarding the 8 families who own the Thunder the most. In an age of the highest wealth and income inequality in 100 years, this is a slap in the face to Oklahoma City residents. Each person in OKC will be on the hook for nearly $1,200 per person and after paying that bill, you will be charged (a lot) to eat, drink or attend any event at this palace.
Holt insisting this is the only possible deal is completely dishonest. Holt is a career politician who has seen the game played from the halls of Congress, to the Oklahoma State Senate and now OK City hall. The idea that this man cannot figure out a better deal than the worst in the entire country is either a sign of incredible incompetence or one of complete corruption.
There is plenty of evidence to further the corruption narrative. The Thunder owners are all major Oklahoma power players. They have fingers in countless activities around the state and most run vast business empires. To suggest though that any have even the slightest need for our hard earned tax dollars is false. Behind Steve Ballmer of the LA Clippers (who is buying his own arena), they are either the second or third wealthiest ownership group.
At least four of the Thunder owners are billionaires outright (Kaiser, Records, Cameron, Dobson) and others could be close (Bennett and Howard). Bob Howard is interesting because just a few years ago, in partnership with Fred Hall, they tried to screw the city out of $100M for the land to place the OKC Convention Center. It ended up not going there. Curiously, Fred Hall was David Holt’s boss until May 2023. Now, Holt is fighting like hell to place a $1B arena right next to their dilapidated properties.
Lastly, to attempt to get some transparency, we submitted this open records request more than a month ago and failed to get a timely response. One can only imagine, given the players, what messages might have flown back and forth as they hammered out how to screw taxpayers. We won’t know before the election.
For all these reasons, it is disgusting to ask single parents, families struggling to make ends meet, and working people to spend 1% of every purchase in OKC for six years to build an arena that these guys could build with less than 4% of their net worth. Even going 50/50 on it would free up $450M that could be spent addressing street improvements, homelessness, our parks or making things like our youth centers and senior centers free for citizens to use.
Polling has ALWAYS shown these types of projects to be deeply unpopular but tying this arena to the threat of taking away our single, popular professional sports franchise has a way of messing with peoples’ brains. It is this fear and inferiority argument Holt is spending all of his time and political capital to sell. Sure, the ads say #1OKC and try to manufacture civic pride but in every interview, in every pitch the Keep OKC Big League threat is right there.
We shouldn't take the deal of people who threaten us.
But if that’s how we’re going to do this, the billionaire owners of the Thunder should understand that door swings both ways and unlike NYC born and raised Howard Shultz, of Seattle based Starbucks, which derives its business internationally, the Thunder owners are all based here.
George Kaiser controls Bank of OKLAHOMA. It is the source of most of his wealth. Jeffery Records owns OKC-based MidFirst Bank, the largest private bank in the United States. Bill Cameron owns OKC-based American Fidelity. Clay Bennett, lives in Nichols Hills and is in the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. It’s not real Oklahoma Hall of Fame material to threaten your fans and customers.
On December 12th, OKC voters have an opportunity to remind the people at the top where the real power and source of their wealth is, with the people. Vote no and let’s get a better deal.