MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

January 10, 2013

You can comment on Hatbox study

City officials are preparing to move forward with the finalization of a draft report that recommends ideas for the development of the Love-Hatbox Sports Complex and former airfield.

Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson said he would accept public comments about the study during the next two weeks. Those comments will be forwarded to consultants who conducted a feasibility study for consideration in their final report.

The study and subsequent reports, conducted and compiled by the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group and The Chesapeake Group, were presented in November to city councilors. The draft report drew mixed reactions, but Wilkerson told city councilors on Tuesday it is time to “take this to the final step” and decide “what we like” and “what we don’t like.”

Councilors, during the Public Works Committee meeting Tuesday, criticized recommendations in the draft report that would delay several years the addition of livestock shows. Some shared concerns expressed by residents who say they were left out of the planning process, and others wondered aloud whether the city got its money’s worth.

The strategic plan is based upon a market analysis conducted during a span of about seven months. The process included online surveys and visits with various stakeholders.

Information gleaned was used to assemble a summary of opportunities and a six-year implementation plan. Consultants presented a plan that focused on ways to implement their recommendations.

The implementation plan suggests city officials build upon existing programs that are self-sustaining and then expand those opportunities with additional attractions and targeted development. Consultants played down the addition of a multipurpose building and livestock events in favor of a seasonal market and limited agri-educational programs focused on “non-animal farm products.”

City councilors, who revisited the study Tuesday, said they liked a lot of what they saw in the draft report. But several questioned the wisdom of ruling out a multipurpose building and livestock events.

Almost every councilor questioned the feasibility of adding lacrosse to the list of existing sporting events and the construction of a pond for fee-fishing. But some defended even those ideas that were floated then fell like lead balloons.

“When you hire an outside firm, that’s what you want are ideas,” said Ward IV Councilor Wayne Johnson. “But this is a draft — it is important to get our twist on it.”

Ward III Councilor Randy Howard, who was part of the committee that selected the consulting groups, said the report, once it is finalized, will be worth the study’s $75,000 price tag.

“We went in with an empty bowl,” Howard said about the study, which was prompted by a desire to relocate activities at the city’s aging fairgrounds to the Love-Hatbox complex. “I think we got some good ideas. Will we do all of them, no — some we’ll chuck and some we’ll embrace.”

Ward I Councilor Lee Ann Langston said regardless of what ideas the city decides to pursue, “We should do it slowly and do it right.”

Anyone who wishes to comment on the plan, may view the final reports online. Comments should be forwarded by email to information@muskogeeparks.org.

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

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