By William Crum

Bids to build Oklahoma City's new MAPS 3 convention center came in substantially below budget Wednesday, clearing the way for the complex to open by summer 2020.

Flintco LLC submitted the apparent low bid of $173.3 million, well under the $194 million budget. JE Dunn Construction and Archer Western Construction also bid, both under budget.

Bids are preliminary but if analysis confirms the low bid meets specifications, construction could start late this spring, with a 24-month timeline to completion.

"This is very good news for the largest project in the city's history," said City Manager Jim Couch.

The heart of the convention center will be a 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall.

Combined with MAPS 3's Bennett Event Center at State Fair Park, it will give Oklahoma City 400,000 square feet of new exhibit space.

Primary features of the convention center design include:

• High-tech meeting rooms on three levels, totaling 45,000 square feet.

• A 30,000-square-foot ballroom with balcony overlooking the MAPS 3 park.

• Versatility to accommodate multiple events or shows at the same time.

Favorable bids make it likely the project will include energy-efficient exterior window shades, a surface parking lot, a pedestrian plaza on SW 4, and a skybridge to the 600-room Omni hotel.

The convention center will be part of a $500 million-plus complex including a new convention headquarters hotel, being developed by Omni Hotels & Resorts, and an 865-space parking garage.

"We could not be more excited," said Mike Carrier, Oklahoma City Convention & Visitors Bureau president.

He said the bureau is looking forward to having a timeline set so sales staff "can work more closely with clients who have penciled Oklahoma City into their schedules."

News that the city council has greenlighted construction "will be very well-received in the meetings world and help to open more doors for us," Carrier said.

Public investment in the convention center complex includes $40 million for the parking garage and $85.4 million for the hotel. Financing includes bonds and a land transfer.

Budgeted at around $288 million, the convention center itself is financed by the voter-approved, 1-cent MAPS 3 sales tax and will open debt-free.

MAPS 3 Program Manager David Todd said he had "no doubt at all" in Flintco's ability to complete the convention center.

The Tulsa-based company's projects have included Chesapeake Energy Arena and the recent renovation and expansion of the University of Oklahoma's Gaylord Memorial Stadium.

Plans call for MAPS 3 advisory panels to review bids in May. The city council tentatively will give the go-ahead June 5 to begin construction.