City entities took actions last week designed to turn a portion of Central Mall into a technology park for defense contractors.
Friday, the City Council approved an agreement to issue an $18.895 million Sales Tax Revenue Note to finance the purchase and renovation of mall space for the FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator (FISTA), pledging sales tax revenue from its 2019 Capital Improvements Program to cover that debt; a funding agreement with its FIRES Development Trust Authority that allocates $4.178 million for authority’s operating budget, to including fund for staff and renovation of mall space for FISTA tenants; and a purchase agreement with Central Mall Realty Holding LLC to buy the entire mall for $14.6 million, if it passes the due diligence process the City of Lawton will initiate.
In an early-morning meeting, the FISTA Development Trust Authority approved the same documents (minus the mall sales contract) and, because it now officially had funding, hired the firm of Hatch Croke & Associates for professional accounting and bookkeeping services, while formally hired James Taylor to be the FISTA trust authority director (a role Taylor has been filling informally for weeks, as he continued activities with potential FISTA tenants).
The Lawton Urban Renewal Authority and the City Planning Commission also have approved amendments to permitted uses in the Commercial Central District zoning district contained in the Downtown I Urban Renewal Plan, which would cover the activities of FISTA tenants. Central Mall is within that Commercial Central District and the original uses for that zoning classification were keyed to traditional mall activities, although uses have been expanded in recent years to include new uses as retailers moved out of the complex.
New uses include institutional (which can be entities of an educational or religious nature); limited industrial (engaged in manufacture, assembly, research or processing, with all activities entirely within the structure and producing no noise, odor or other objectionable activities); medical services, to include related retail sales; and research science (administrative offices plus research facilities of technical or scientific nature). Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski said the amended uses, added to those already allowed in the mall, would make the property more attractive to tenants outside the scope of traditional businesses.
The uses will cover the defense contractors that are expected to become FISTA tenants, if city leaders continue with plans to transition empty retail spaces in the building to use by firms that work with Fort Sill and the two U.S. Army Cross-Functional Teams housed there.
Council members have said they want work to begin as soon as possible because the FISTA has contractors interested in the project and some who already are willing to become tenants.
While the process will first involve “due diligence,” meaning the city will inspect the building to identify problems and ensure the space is suitable to its needs, it also is expected to include a “build out” of the old Sears building, the first of the space to be converted to new use. The $4.187 million budget submitted by the trust authority for its first year specifies $3.625 million is targeted toward those renovations and architectural fees, with another $256,797 identified for the $28,533 monthly lease payments from October through June 2021.
Operating expenses for those nine months are projected at $130,000 for a two-person office, with another $87,103 identified for administrative costs.