OKC Proposes $3.6 Million Transfer For Riversport Improvements Ahead Of 2028 Olympics

Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and the Oklahoma City Council have proposed a $3.6 million transfer from the MAPS 3 budget to improve Riversport ahead of the 2028 Olympics.

Wednesday, July 10th 2024, 6:34 pm

By: News 9, Matt McCabe, Bella Roddy


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Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and the Oklahoma City Council have proposed a $3.6 million transfer from the MAPS 3 budget to improve Riversport ahead of the 2028 Olympics.

According to a memorandum, The funds will cover a feasibility study, a master plan, and the replacement of the Unistrut system in preparation of LA28.

The improvements will be managed by the Public Works Department.

The full memorandum can be read below:

Related Olympics Coverage:

  1. Oklahoma City Confirmed For Multiple Olympic Events
  2. 2028 Olympic Events To Be Held In The Heart Of Oklahoma
  3. OKC Leaders Give Olympic Update, Respond To Criticism
  4. 2028 Olympic Games To Be Played In Oklahoma
  5. Oklahoma City Olympic Trials Schedule Released
  6. Riversport OKC Prepares For 2024 Olympic Team Trials In April
  7. Riversport To Host 2 Olympic Trial Events, Many Experiences For Public

2028 OLYMPICS IN OKC: WHAT TO KNOW

Oklahoma City was confirmed as a location for the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics (LA28), both for softball and the canoe slalom and kayak events, confirmed by News 9’s Washington D.C. Bureau Chief Alex Cameron on June 21.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) shared his remarks on the decision with News 9 saying, “As funny as it sounds, I’ve been clear with [LA28’s leadership]. I’ve already got your logo: OK-LA.” And, “For Oklahoma to be one of those states and for Oklahoma City to be one of those communities that has the Olympics, it would be very significant for our state and for the world.”

This comes after years-long consideration of Oklahoma City’s Riversport Rapids Whitewater Center as the venue for LA28’s kayak and canoe events.

“We have an Olympic training facility here, where whitewater rafting is done all the time for training, that should be a spot,” Lankford stated.

With softball making its Olympic return, could this decision be related to Oklahoma's four-time national champion team's success?

“We should also recognize that Oklahoma City is the capital of the world for softball. If we’re going to have softball played for the Olympics, we’re the spot that that it should be,” Lankford explained.

Lankford shared that this decision went through multiple stages and decisions. After years of pushing for the Sooner State, Lankford says this decision is a “big stinkin’ deal for Oklahoma.” 

In a press release from LA28.org, organizers wrote:
While Southern California has more professional and collegiate sports venues than any area in the United States, there is no Canoe Slalom venue that exists locally (or anywhere in the Western US), and the largest Softball venue in Southern California seats fewer than 2,000 people, which does not meet the expected spectator demand for Softball at the Olympic Games. Instead of undertaking additional construction projects to build temporary venues for these sports, LA28 will assign Canoe Slalom and Softball competitions to the world-class venues in Oklahoma City. These assignments are also in alignment with the IOC’s Olympic Agenda 2020+5 recommendation which emphasizes sustainability by encouraging the use of existing venues beyond the region of the Host City. Both the Canoe Slalom and Softball venues in Oklahoma City are built to international competition standards, ensuring a high-quality experience for athletes and fans, while allowing LA28 to realize cost savings and revenue gains to support its balanced budget. LA28 also recognizes that the Oklahoma City community has consistently supported top events for both sports and is confident that they will for these Olympic competitions as well.

Here’s what else we know about the decision so far.

HISTORY:

RIVERSPORT OKC'S HISTORY HOSTING HIGH-PROFILE EVENTS

In August of 2022, Riversport OKC hosted the International Canoe Federation’s Sprint Super Cup. The competition brought more than 40 athletes from around the world to Oklahoma City. 

It also gained attention and praise from International Canoe Federation president, Thomas Konietzko. 

In an email the month after the 2022 Super Cup to Mayor David Holt and then-Riversport Foundation chair Mike Ming, Olympic gold medalist Joe Jacobi shared an excerpt of a recent internal update from Konietzko. 

“During the Super Cup in Oklahoma I was able to talk to the Mayor of Oklahoma [City], David Holt, about the necessary investments in the existing Riversport park with the whitewater course in order to be ready to host even higher-class competitions in addition to the upcoming slalom world championship [in] ’26,” the statement said. “He assured me that he sees no problem in providing the numbers for necessary investments and implementation costs.” 

Mayor David Holt provided no comment to News 9 about this conversation or any other part of these newly released records. 

THE ROAD TO LA28 

In another exchange after the Super Cup, Ming shared his overall thanks in email messages with Konietzko and Rok Sribar, who is an official with the American Canoe Association. 

In his response, Sribar reported that many athletes and officials were highly impressed during the Super Cup and credited the visionary leadership of the Riversport Foundation and the city. 

“I’m thrilled about the opportunities that the road to LA 28 and the games present for your city, and I look forward to working with you to make the most of these opportunities,” Sribar said in his response to Ming, Mayor Holt, and Riversport OKC executive director Mike Knopp. “I hope that together [we] will overcome the headwinds from those in the US paddlesports leadership stuck in the past and unable to visualize the possibilities that the games and investments in youth and diversity present for OKC and nationally.” 

Riversport OKC is already set to host the 2026 Canoe Slalom World Championships, which are expected to bring 400 athletes from 60 countries according to a prior news release from Riversport. In that release, Knopp is quoted as saying, “Our goal is to be a model for the development of youth participation in competitive disciplines such as whitewater slalom, extreme slalom, and flatwater sprint heading into the Olympics Games in Los Angeles in 2028.” 

Another email from July of 2022 suggests Konietzko wanted to host Mayor Holt at the 2022 Canoe Slalom World Championships in Augsburg, Germany but Holt’s schedule could not accommodate a visit. Konietzko explained how Augsburg’s slalom venue is “one of the best examples of how a whitewater venue can change an entire city.” 

Near the end of 2022, Holt emailed Katie Bynum to request a meeting involving “some sensitive information” that will impact the Olympic Qualifier Series. Bynum’s email signature said she is the Chief Strategy and Growth officer for the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. In his email, Holt said their “mutual friend John Harper” shared her contact information. A LinkedIn profile belonging to a person named John Harper lists his current role as the Chief Operating Officer for LA 2028. 

Bynum responded shortly after the new year agreeing to the phone call, but it is not evident what the two discussed. 

Many pages of communications from Mayor Holt related to the discussion of the Olympics and Riversport OKC were partially or fully redacted. 

The redactions cite a portion of Oklahoma's open records law which states if disclosure would give an unfair advantage to competitors or bidders, a public body may keep confidential records relating to the prospective location of a private business or industry prior to public disclosure of such prospect except for records otherwise open to inspection such as applications for permits or licenses. 

ONGOING MAINTENANCE AT RIVERSPORT

Shortly after the new year, a project manager for Oklahoma City’s building management division raised an issue with Riversport OKC management. 

In the email sent on January 18, 2023, the city employee said the foundation which oversees Riversport OKC was “grossly overdue” in supplying monthly updates on its maintenance of city-owned facilities under its care. The employee stated it last heard from a representative of the foundation on April 1 of 2021 when the foundation admitted how far behind it was in providing the required monthly maintenance reports. 

On April 17, the director of OKC parks emailed other city employees in an email titled “whitewater facility equipment condition.” The director, Melinda McMillan-Miller, stated she asked the same employee who emailed Riversport management in January to perform an unannounced site inspection of the whitewater facility. 

According to the director, repairs for the pumps were expected to cost $200,110 in total. But, she said the staff member who performed the site inspection reported that Riversport staff were told not to perform repairs by members of the foundation board. 

An email to the workplace of the current chair of the board was not returned by the time of publication. However, Riversport OKC sent News 9 the following statement:

We have always maintained the pumps as prescribed by the manufacturer. The board never instructed the Foundation to not perform maintenance. We work hand-in-hand with the City in maintaining the facility. We can only assume there was a misunderstanding in what was said.

But a spokesperson for the city said since the inspection, city staff are now working with the foundation and are following a maintenance schedule for the whitewater facility equipment. 

“The city has improved understanding of how the whitewater facility equipment was being maintained since the April 17 email was written,” spokesperson Kristy Yager said. “At the time we were learning about the capital repair and maintenance needs of the campus. We have complete confidence in Riversport and the foundation.” 

EMAILS SHOW COMMUNICATION BETWEEN CITY, OLYMPIC REPRESENTATIVES

Confidence appeared high in the only unredacted email chain that established direct communication between city leaders and LA 2028 representatives. 

The chain began on February 1 2023, originating from Vic Nol. A LinkedIn profile belonging to a person named Vic Nol lists his current role as director of venue cities relations for LA 2028. 

No information was in the body of the email other than an invitation to a Zoom meeting sent by Nol to staff members for the city and Riversport. The subject of the email was “LA28 / Project Thorpe Check-in.” 

Jim Thorpe was a Native American Olympic gold medalist from Oklahoma. Mayor Holt provided no comment on whether the name “Project Thorpe” was a nod to Jim Thorpe. 

In a later email in the same chain, a city employee said the meeting for May 24 would be canceled “again” because “they are still working through the guarantee letters.” 

News 9 contacted a spokesperson for the LA28 Olympic and Paralympic Games about the records detailing the ongoing conversations between city and LA28 officials. That spokesperson replied that LA28 is “exploring options to optimize our venue plan. There are no updates at this time.” 

The International Canoe Federation did not respond to a request from News 9 by the time of publication. A spokesperson for the American Canoe Association said it had no comment on the story.

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