MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

March 18, 2014

City explores contractors to manage complex

Councilors OK plan to seek qualifications of potential contractors to run Love-Hatbox

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— City administrators plan to send out requests seeking qualifications of private contractors interested in managing, marketing and promoting Love-Hatbox Sports Complex as a regional venue.

City councilors tentatively approved the proposal Tuesday during a Public Works Committee meeting. But two councilors expressed concern about any plan that might displace city workers.

“I am very in favor of some of the things we have talked about at Hatbox and think we need something like this,” Ward I Councilor Lee Ann Langston said. But “I would caution everybody that I really would not like to see an elimination of current jobs.”

Ward IV Councilor Marlon Coleman expressed similar concerns about the impact a decision to hire a private management team would have on city workers. He concluded elected officials likely would be able to assess that situation while reviewing submissions by any entity interested in the opportunity.

Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson said full-time employees perform maintenance of the athletic venues at the complex. The city hires part-time workers to operate concessions. Wilkerson, however, conceded he is unaware how hiring a management company might change present operations.

“I don’t think that is the intent,” Wilkerson said. “The real intent is to bring more activity to the complex, the league enhancement, and tournaments and weekend events.”

Ward IV Councilor Wayne Johnson commended Wilkerson for efforts being made to move forward with recommendations presented by an outside consulting group. Hiring a full-time manager for Love-Hatbox was a recommendation consultants with White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group said should be an initial consideration to spur development.

“I think this is really thinking outside the box of what we could do differently, and really, this is something we’ve got to” do, Johnson said, noting it will not cost taxpayers anything to see what respondents might have to offer. “It’s not that it is eliminating jobs, it is how we can get somebody in who can concentrate fully on Hatbox and how we can bring everything together.”

Councilors, who likely will grant final approval when they meet Monday, commissioned the $75,000 study in response to plans to relocate the fairground and activities regularly booked there. Since they approved the consultant’s final report in January 2013, a task force made up of parks board members have been honing plans to move forward.

Wilkerson said the request for qualifications will be solicited nationwide.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.