DALLAS - Oklahoma County voters will decide in May on $55 million of general obligation bonds so the county can purchase an abandoned General Motors assembly plant and lease it to the U.S. Air Force for a maintenance facility.
Commissioners in the county, which includes Oklahoma City, set the election at a meeting yesterday. The $84.6 million bond package will also include $10.5 million for renovations to the county courthouse, $7.3 million to replace a county extension building on the Oklahoma City campus of Oklahoma State University, $6 million for flood relief, and $5.8 million to build a governmental records retention center.
If voters approve, the county would purchase the assembly facility from GM with proceeds from the 15-year bonds, and lease it to Tinker Air Force Base. The plant is adjacent to the base.
Air Force officials said the plant would be the new home of the 76th Maintenance Wing. Maintenance work on military airplanes now being carried out at 69 buildings on the sprawling base would be consolidated at the renovated facility.
Tinker is the largest single-site employer in the state, with more than 26,000 military personnel and civilian employees and an annual statewide economic impact of approximately $3.4 billion. Tinker covers more than 5,000 acres and includes 760 buildings.
The county's GO debt carries an underlying rating of Aa2 from Moody's Investors Service, the only agency that rates Oklahoma County property tax bonds.
The GM plant began operations in 1979 and closed in 2006. GM spent millions of dollars to repair the plant when it was damaged by a tornado in 2003, but halted operations when demand fell for the sports utility vehicles it produced.
GM has removed manufacturing equipment from the 3.8 million-square-foot facility that sits on 430 acres. In 2007 the company paid a county property tax bill of $859,000 on the property valued by the county assessor at $65 million.
County Commission chairman Ray Vaughn said GM has agreed to sell the property to Oklahoma County.
"The price will be $54 million plus closing costs," he said. "The state is interested in participating, so we are asking for authority to issue up to $55 million of bonds for the project."
Vaughn said the renovated maintenance facility would protect existing jobs and allow the base to be more efficient.
"We're giving the Air Force the opportunity to achieve greater flexibility in their mission by providing them with an incredible upgrade of their facilities," he said. "They are tickled to death."
At Vaughn's news conference on Tuesday announcing the plan to seek a vote on the GOs, Brig. Gen. Judy Fedder said the Air Force would spend up to $100 million to modify the facility and transfer operations to it. Fedder is commander of the 76th Maintenance Wing.
Col. Mark Correll, commander of the 72d Air Base Wing at Tinker, said moving maintenance operations into the renovated automobile plant would improve airfield safety because many of the existing maintenance facilities are located in the runway clear zones. Some of the facilities still in use were built during World War II, he said.
"In addition to improving aircraft sustainment, the proposal would also reduce taxpayer costs for facilities maintenance by allowing us to mothball and eventually demolish 69 substandard facilities," he said.
The base is named for Maj. Gen. Clarence L. Tinker, an Oklahoma native and the first Native American to attain the rank of major general in the U.S. Army. Tinker was killed in a bombing raid against Japanese installations in 1942.