December 12, 2012, Washington, DC–The American Architectural Foundation (AAF) and The United States Conference of Mayors (USCM)  announced today that Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett  has been selected as the third recipient of the Joseph P. Riley Jr. Award for Leadership in Urban Design . Mayor Cornett will be honored at the 24th annual Accent on Architecture Gala , presented by AAF, on March 22, 2013, in Washington, D.C.
Mayor Cornett is being recognized for his leadership in guiding the MAPS 3 initiative from concept to implementation. This ten-year, $777 million construction program is funded through a temporary one-cent sales tax and consists of eight projects chosen in conjunction with an extensive public outreach program:
- A new downtown convention center to replace a nearly 50-year-old facility.
- A 70-acre downtown public park.
- A rail-based streetcar system to service downtown and the vicinity with connections to other rail-based systems and/or a multi-modal transit hub.
- Oklahoma River improvements to enhance its existing profile as a global center for training and competition in rowing.
- Senior health and wellness centers that support active lifestyles for seniors.
- Construction of miles of walking, cycling, and running trails.
- Construction of miles of new sidewalks to promote citywide walkability.
The Metropolitan Area Projects (MAPS) model was first established under Mayor Ron Norick in 1993, when voters approved a temporary sales tax to fund $350 million in downtown revitalization projects. Maps for Kids followed in 2001 during Mayor Kirk Humphreys’ administration, coupling $514 million in temporary sales tax revenue with a $180 million Oklahoma City Public Schools bond issue. These funds allowed the district to build new or renovate 70 urban schools and were secured thanks to an unprecedented coalition of the City, the public schools, and the business community.
Since taking office in 2004, Mayor Cornett has brought leadership to the completion of these existing MAPS initiatives and has helped position Oklahoma City to continue its rapid revitalization through MAPS 3. In addition, in 2008 he spearheaded a short-term MAPS initiative to improve the downtown arena and build an off-site practice facility in order to secure the Oklahoma City Thunder, the city’s first top-level professional sports franchise. The impact of having an NBA team, both as an economic catalyst and source of pride for the city’s residents, has been substantial.
From 1993 to today, the MAPS initiatives have resulted in more than $5 billion in private and public investment in Oklahoma City. This investment has energized the downtown corridor, attracting new businesses and residents rapidly. From 2000 to 2008 alone, downtown residency increased by more than 1,500 residents, spurred by $238 million in private investments in housing and mixed-use facilities.
Meanwhile, unemployment has dropped to 4.6 percent, and new cultural and entertainment amenities have helped Oklahoma City achieve widespread recognition as a “destination city.” “The really remarkable thing about the Oklahoma City story,” said Ron Bogle, president and chief executive officer of AAF, “is that this transformative work was executed seamlessly over the terms of three mayors, was conceived on the simple notion of citizens coming together to invest in their future, and advanced architecture as the principal strategy for change.”
“The beauty of the Oklahoma City story is that Mayor Cornett, and Mayors Norick and Humphreys before him, have raised taxes to make Oklahoma City into a vibrant metro city when very few cities could muster the political support to do it,” said Tom Cochran, chief executive officer and executive director of The United States Conference of Mayors. “It’s about mayoral vision, leadership, and communication with the people of his city. In this regard, Mick Cornett is one of the best of the best mayors in the U.S. and the world.”
The Riley Award is presented annually by AAF in association with The United States Conference of Mayors. It is named after Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, S.C., who was first elected in 1975 and is now serving his tenth consecutive term in office. Under his leadership, Charleston has been widely acclaimed for its commitment to affordable housing and the revitalization of its waterfront and historic downtown business districts. Mayor Riley was a founding father of the Mayors’ Institute on City Design , a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the American Architectural Foundation and The United States Conference of Mayors. Established in 1986, the Mayors’ Institute has provided leadership training in urban design to more than 850 mayors across America—including Mayors Cornett, Norick, and Humphreys.
The Accent on Architecture Gala  will be held on March 22, 2013, in Washington, D.C. The annual gala, presented by AAF and now in its 24th year, is the nation’s premier celebration of leadership in architecture and design.
Kristy Yager 
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.