MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

August 21, 2013

Love-Hatbox task force presents plans

Group recommends hiring two firms for preliminary design work

By D.E. Smoot
Phoenix Staff Writer

— Developing Love-Hatbox Sports Complex as a regional draw for a variety of activities and entertainment moved a little closer to reality Tuesday.

The recommendations of a task force made up of Parks and Recreation Board members and various stakeholders were shared with city councilors. Those recommendations include the hiring of two firms that will provide preliminary designs for the project at a combined cost of $19,625. Because each contract is worth less than $10,000, council approval is not required.

Populous, an international architectural firm with offices in Norman, will provide concept-level site planning and a preliminary design for a proposed fairgrounds and events center. The firm specializes in the design of sporting venues and convention centers, with its Norman office having some expertise in equestrian and livestock facilities.

Planning Design Group of Tulsa will produce conceptual and preliminary designs along with cost estimates for outdoor venues. Those designs could include site and infrastructure development, sporting venue improvements, outdoor entertainment venues and the possible expansion of River Country Water Park.

City councilors authorized the creation of  the task force in April with the goal of finding ways to implement the recommendations produced by a comprehensive study of Love-Hatbox Sports Complex development. The $75,000 study, completed by White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group and The Chesapeake Group, examined the feasibility of relocating Muskogee Fairgrounds and the activities regularly booked there.

Ward II Councilor Dan Hall, a parks board member who led a task force subcommittee that examined ways to improve the facility’s sporting venues, said one goal is to make Love-Hatbox a tournament-level sports venue. Part of that, Hall said, can be accomplished with minor low-cost solutions, but there will be a need for a larger investment later.

“We’ve got input from all of the leagues about what they need to make Hatbox a place where people want to come and play,” Hall said. “Now we are ready for the professionals to show us how we can bring all of these things together so we can have the premier facilities that will attract people from out of town and keep them here a couple of days.”

Hall said he is excited about the prospects for Love-Hatbox once development is complete. He said a few interim fixes made recently at the ball fields ignited some excitement and enthusiasm among a lot of people anxious to see improvements at the sports complex.

Ward III Councilor Randy Howard, who also serves as a parks board member, led a task force subcommittee that reviewed the possibilities for a new fairgrounds and event center at Love-Hatbox. Howard said the architectural firm that will present a preliminary design “has done a lot of things with agri-centers and what can be done to accommodate those types of activities.

“Basically, we have got the building blocks in place and this will help us move forward with the plans we have for Hatbox,” Howard said. “There is so much we have to look at, but we really want Muskogee to have a great facility and that’s what we are going to get.”

Parks and Recreation Director Mark Wilkerson said funding for the preliminary design phase is available this year from the city’s capital outlay budget. He said the preliminary work outlined Tuesday during the Public Works Committee meeting “is important to get us to the next step.”

Mayor Bob Coburn said similar complexes in Rogers and Grady counties book those facilities 240 to 270 days a year. That is the kind of activity city officials would like to see here.

“We want a facility that has this kind of flexibility to get this kind of use,” Coburn said. “Plus, the management to oversee it.”

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