Oklahoma City, Tulsa tout quality of life to lure Amazon HQ2

OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma City and Tulsa are showcasing their cultural, recreational and quality-of-life attractions as they compete for Amazon's second headquarters in North America, a massive $5 billion project that will eventually include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.

The online retail giant will clearly need tech-savvy talent and will likely look for state and local subsidies. But officials in Oklahoma are hoping to stand out by pushing other amenities to appeal to CEO Jeff Bezos.

"We've created a great city to live in," said Cynthia Reid, vice president of marketing and communications for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. "We think this is a place where a company can grow."

Oklahoma City officials said the state's largest city has been transformed over the past 20 years by the success of the Metropolitan Area Projects, a comprehensive capital improvement program, approved by voters in 1993 and backed a one-cent sale tax, to reinforce the city's position as a hub for sports, recreation, learning, cultural and convention facilities.

"MAPS changed everything," said Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett, a Republican candidate for governor next year. "All three of the MAPS initiatives are adding to Oklahoma City's quality of life and what we would offer."

The initiative has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fund such projects as: renovation of the Civic Center Music Hall, home of the Oklahoma City Philharmonic and other professional arts organizations; riverfront development along the Oklahoma river and the Boathouse District, headquarters of USA Canoe/Kayak and a training center for USRowing; and construction of the Chesapeake Energy Arena, home of the NBA's Oklahoma City Thunder.

Projects under development include a new downtown convention center, public park, a streetcar and transit system and expansion of a trails system that already stretches more than 80 miles and can take hikers and bikers to almost every point in the city.

"The best is still yet to come, Cornett said. "What the city did and what the private sector has put together, I think it's exceeded everyone's expectations."

Tulsa has also benefited from a sales-tax financed capital improvement program known as Vision Tulsa that Mayor G.T. Bynum said promises to "transform the face of the city."

"We have the bones in place for substantial growth," Bynum said.

An example of that growth is what Bynum described as "the greatest public park gift in American history," a $400 million development called A Gathering Place made possible by the George Kaiser Family foundation and a group of private investors.

The park, scheduled to open next year, will be located along the eastern shore of the Arkansas River and will include a low-water dam and three-mile-long lake.

Already boasting more than 80 miles of hiking and biking trails, USA BMX has decided to relocate national headquarters and Olympic training facility for the off-road cycling sport to Tulsa, a venue that's expected to attract more than 100,000 visitors in the first five years of operation, including the Olympic trials in 2020.

"Cycling culture has really taken route here organically in the last decade," Bynum said.

And a group that acquired the once secret, 6,000-piece archive of music icon Bob Dylan plans to make the material, including thousands of hours of studio sessions, film reels and caches of unpublished lyrics, available to researchers and the public alike when the Bob Dylan Center opens in the city's downtown Brady Arts District in about two years.

The center will be in a building that already houses a museum devoted to Oklahoma-born Woody Guthrie, one of Dylan's major influences.

"Something special is happening here," Bynum said. "What we offer today is tremendous quality of life."

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