MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

April 9, 2013

Panel to review ideas for Hatbox complex

Goal is to adapt consultants’ development suggestions

— City councilors authorized the creation of a task force Monday to proceed with plans for development of Love-Hatbox Sports Complex and former airfield.

Members of the Parks and Recreation Board will form the task force. The panel will review consultants’ recommendations and develop options for using them.

Those options, once they are approved by the Parks and Recreation Board, will be presented to city councilors. The task force’s findings and parks board recommendations will be presented to city councilors in about 90 days.

The directive came after councilors approved the final report compiled by White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group and The Chesapeake Group. The two consulting groups were paid $75,000 for a comprehensive study and strategic development program.

City councilors commissioned the study in response to plans to relocate the fairground and activities regularly booked at the complex. 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.

Councilors balked a week ago during the Public Works Committee meeting, expressing concern that consultants failed to include in their final draft specific information requested by the City Council. Ward IV Councilor Wayne Johnson, who objected to those omissions a week ago, said he was impressed with the original draft but expected more from the final version.

“There is a group of people in Muskogee that feels their voices were never heard,” Johnson said, noting the absence of the requested information in the final report. “They should have taken our input” and included that in the revisions, he said.

 Johnson said that after he reviewed the city’s request for proposals, he recognized a need to be more specific about what councilors expect to receive from studies. Despite his initial objections, Johnson said he wanted to ensure progress in the strategic development program.

Mayor Bob Coburn concurred, suggesting that the Parks and Recreation Board be expanded to include seats representing stakeholders who would benefit from future development of the sports complex.

Coburn said in order to develop a tournament-level sports complex, there will “be a spending element almost right away.” An expanded Parks and Recreation Board would be able to address those funding needs, he said.

City Attorney Roy Tucker offered the alternative, arguing that the formation of a task force might be more expedient. City councilors approved the latter with some recommendations.

“I think the opportunities exist,” Coburn said about the potential of Love-Hatbox as a regional draw for sports, recreation and entertainment. “When we look back 10 years from now, we’re going to be asking ourselves why we didn’t do this sooner.”

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

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