MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

November 10, 2012

Plan maps direction for Hatbox

Study presents city with ways to market, expand activities

Consultants mapped out a plan for the “strategic development” of the former Hatbox Airfield, which officials believe could be used as a catalyst for economic growth.

The draft plan is based upon a market analysis conducted during the past seven months. It maps ways the city could strengthen existing sports and recreational activities, expand its sports venues, and introduce other opportunities for family oriented entertainment.

Howard Kohn, president of The Chesapeake Group, said activities at Love-Hatbox Sports Complex and the water park generate more revenue than it costs to operate and maintain those facilities.

The plan assembled by Kohn and his colleagues at White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group aims to sustain those economics. To do that, Kohn provided city councilors an overview of a six-year plan to develop the 400-acre tract.

“You have a large conglomerate of activities, but it is not working together as a unit,” Kohn said this week during a Public Works Committee meeting. “You have great strengths right now ... take the assets we have, do what we do best, make them better, build on that and then expand.”

The Baltimore-based consultant said the city’s top priority should be putting in place a better system for management and marketing. It also should include “wayfinding signs” so visitors can find the facility — when Kohn’s team came to town, they couldn’t find the water park or the sports complex.

Kohn said once management is in place, the city should focus on expanding sports programs, league play and tournaments, and adding concessions. He also recommended the development of sports camps, academies and camps for existing athletic programs.

In subsequent years, Kohn and his colleague, Randy White, recommended expanding the sporting venues, adding a seasonal outdoor market and limited agri-educational programs to test the markets. During the third year, targeted development would include indoor entertainment activities, the construction of outdoor water features, and expanded agricultural opportunities.

By the sixth year, Kohn and White envision a small lake, an expanded agri-educational venue, extreme sports venues, and a year-round market for locally produced products.

“There is an enormous interest in sustainable practices — a lot more than traditional livestock activities,” White said about the potential of an expanding agri-education and agri-entertainment venue and year-round market. “You need to find a unique way to position yourself with unique appeal to draw those people here from Tulsa and other places.”

Mayor Bob Coburn said he was impressed with Kohn and White’s presentation, but it could take a couple weeks to dig into the meat of the report and see what is there.

“I like what I have seen on the surface — I thought it included a lot of variety for the area and emphasized the need to bring our fields and our leagues up to another level where we could draw more tournament play,” Coburn said. “It addresses the existing facilities but also directs us to other opportunities like fishing and agricultural related activities.”

The $75,000 study, which began in March, was conducted in two phases. The first included an analysis of market conditions and trends used to identify development opportunities. The second phase involved the development of a strategy designed to achieve success within a regional market.

Coburn said he, along with Deputy Mayor David Jones, would like to give residents a chance to review the plan and comment.

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

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