By The Oklahoman Editorial Board
The Oklahoman

PLANS for a new convention center in Oklahoma City weren't universally well received at the outset, and some nay-sayers remain today even as the project moves forward. Their argument then and now: It's unnecessary.

Yet it's becoming evident that city officials were right to include the convention center in the slate of items on the MAPS 3 ballot in 2009.

Last month, Oklahoma City won a last-minute bid to host the 2018 conference of the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education. The conference next June is expected to bring 25,000 people who will fill every downtown hotel.

The convention was to be held in Memphis, but that city couldn't accommodate the group. St. Louis, site of this year's gathering, was considered for 2018 but didn't have the dates available. A nudge from the Rev. J.A. Reed Jr., pastor at Fairview Missionary Baptist Church and a member of the organization's executive board, put Oklahoma City in the mix.

Mike Carrier, head of the Oklahoma City Convention and Visitors Bureau, worked with hoteliers and the city to iron out the details.

Visitors will see work underway on the convention center, which is set for completion in 2020. The building will open with a 200,000-square-foot exhibit hall, which is more than twice that available in the Cox Convention Center. “We will definitely make sure they know about the new convention center,” Carrier said.

The building, along with work on other MAPS 3 projects such as the streetcar system and the downtown park, will let the group know Oklahoma City is open for their business in future years, too.

Visitors next year to the Paddlesport Retailer trade show have already gotten that message.

As The Oklahoman's Steve Lackmeyer reported last week, construction of the convention center, along with the existing Boathouse District, get the credit for luring this trade show for a five-year stay beginning in 2018.

The trade show has been held in Madison, Wisconsin, but ran out of room there. “Oklahoma City gives us room to expand with a new 200,000-square-foot convention center,” show manager Marcus Shoffner said.

Complement that with what Shoffner called “the country's premier paddlesports venue,” meaning the Oklahoma River, and you've got the perfect combination.

Improvements to the river were part of the first MAPS initiative, approved by voters in 1993. Those led to construction of boathouses along the river, which fostered a rowing boom in the city, which led to MAPS 3-funded improvements including an Olympic whitewater center and stadium lighting.

The river is now the official training site for U.S. Olympic paddlesport athletes, and the Boathouse District has become a must-see location for visitors.

We're reminded of the famous line from the movie “Field of Dreams”: If you build it, they will come. This has happened with the Oklahoma River, and it will happen with the new convention center, too.