Arrowhead Mall won a federal contract worth $996,640 for the lease or rental of office space.
Information included in the General Services Administration's announcement was sparse, and efforts to contact mall management were unsuccessful. City officials were unaware of the award before they were contacted by the Phoenix.
The Muskogee Urban Renewal Authority rejected a proposal pitched in 2019 to convert space once occupied by the now-shuttered Dillard's to space for the VA Regional Office. Commissioners found the request failed to meet three key objectives required by the urban renewal plan as amended in 1984, which provided for the construction of Arrowhead Mall.
City officials expressed concerns about the owners of downtown businesses who relied on the 700 VARO employees for their livelihoods and the loss of those customers if those jobs moved. A limited liability company that owns a portion of Arrowhead Mall filed a lawsuit, alleging the decision "harms the marketability" of the property.
Assistant City Attorney Matthew Beese said MURA commissioners "made some concessions with regard to use" earlier this year. He said there have been ongoing discussions with lawyers representing Arrowhead Mall, but the lawsuit remains pending.
Those concessions were made after Ward IV Councilor Traci McGee presented her concerns about decline of economic activity at and around the downtown mall. She said the mall served its intended purpose in accordance with the 1984 Urban Renewal Plan, but there must be some flexibility allowing for mixed uses at the mall to prevent the area from slipping back into a blighted state.
MURA commissioners authorized "a proposed change of use for certain areas property subject to the 1984 Urban Renewal Plan," but details discussed during their executive session never were made public.
McGee said she did not "know the particulars" of the GSA contract with Arrowhead Mall. McGee said she knew "they had a prospect looking at coming in on the west side — looking at the Dillard's side — I don't know the particulars or what organization."
"We need the momentum — I think if we can get the momentum going we can make things happen in Muskogee, Oklahoma," McGee said. "Let's do business, Muskogee! That's my new slogan: Let's do business!"