MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 6, 2013

Councilors to consider fate of Hatbox

Final draft of strategic plan for sports complex, airfield on agenda

— City councilors will take up this week what has been presented as the final draft of a strategic plan to develop Love-Hatbox Sports Complex and former airfield.

Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson presented the final report Tuesday for approval, but councilors balked. Ward  IV Councilor Wayne Johnson led the resistance.

“What we paid for this firm, we should have gotten detailed input from the users included in this report,” Johnson said. There should have been a “survey of participants, data on the true users, not just those in leadership positions.”

The $75,000 study conducted by White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group and The Chesapeake Group has been the subject of intense scrutiny since the first draft was released in November. Its critics described much of the content as out of touch with Muskogee and its needs.

City councilors commissioned the study in response to plans to relocate the fairground and activities regularly booked there. Some of the ideas that made it into the report included an expansion of various sports programs, a seasonal outdoor market and limited agri-educational programs.

Consultants said city officials should consider adding lacrosse to the sports lineup and a pond where people could fish for a fee. Those ideas, along with a recommendation to nix livestock shows, have been focal points for criticism.

Wilkerson defended the consultants’ efforts to get feedback from stakeholders, reminding city councilors of surveys conducted during the early stages of the study. Ward II Councilor Dan Hall, who is involved with youth sports activities at the present facilities said when those leagues were consulted, organizers met with the parents and others who use the sports complex.

Howard Kohn, president of The Chesapeake Group, said before the surveys were posted online about 11 months ago the information gleaned would be used to ascertain the interests of those who live within a regional market and visit Muskogee. The data also was used to determine the depth of respondents’ disposable income and how those people spend entertainment dollars.

Johnson, however, objected to the fact that specific requests made when the first draft was made available for review were not included in the final draft. Most of the additional information requested, Johnson said, never made it into the final draft.

Despite the objections raised Tuesday during a meeting of the Public Works Committee, which moved the issue forward without recommendation until more information is provided, Wilkerson said steps have been taken toward some recommended changes.

Wilkerson said plans to expand existing uses have been implemented, with an extreme sporting event planned in May. To accommodate those who plan to attend the American Motorcyclist Association’s extreme dirt racing for all-terrain vehicles, Wilkerson said 22 recreational vehicle hookups are being installed at the sports complex.

Other recommendations already implemented include improved signage and partnering with private companies that provide entertainment opportunities. Wilkerson said the city’s deal with Show It Off, a company that leases one of the hangars for its inflatable attractions business, already is paying off.

Councilors, if they decide Monday to move the plan forward, likely will consider assembling a committee to consider ways to implement the plan. Mayor Bob Coburn said the committee, which could include the parks board and a couple city councilors, would be charged with finding funding opportunities.

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

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