, Muskogee, OK

February 23, 2014

Hatbox plan presents funding challenge

Officials look to proceed slowly, build in phases

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— City officials faced with funding concerns to develop Love-Hatbox Sports Complex say they hope to start small and build from there.

A master plan presented two weeks ago would cost up to $50 million to complete. Acknowledging funding limitations and the importance of moving forward with some components identified in the master plan, officials are looking to start improvements with existing funding and build on successes.

The immediate goal is to improve field conditions for the various sporting venues so Muskogee could compete against other cities to lure tournament-level events. The master plan also includes provisions to expand the aquatics park, add family entertainment options and outdoor festival amenities, and build a multipurpose event center and livestock barns.

Ward III Councilor Randy Howard said many of the proposals for what he described as Phase I projects could be completed with available funding. Another first-phase component would be the installment of a management team to market the sporting venues.

“We want to see things happen immediately,” Howard said, noting improvements to Love-Hatbox sporting venues would have the capacity to attract visitors in the near term. “When people see things start to happen, they seem to buy in to it a lot faster.”

Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson outlined a laundry list of proposed projects Tuesday during a Public Works Committee meeting. He said discussions have been initiated with a third party interested in managing and marketing sporting venues at Love-Hatbox.

Wilkerson said he also is looking at a management option that has been used in Edmond and Stillwater. That option would involve the creation of a nonprofit entity to manage and market the venues.

City Manager Howard Brown Jr. said he will work with Wilkerson to assemble an action plan that could be used for the immediate implementation of the smaller projects.

Most of the components for development of the complex were included in the findings of a $75,000 study conducted by White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group and The Chesapeake Group. City councilors authorized the study to examine the feasibility of relocating Muskogee Fairgrounds and activities regularly booked there.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or