A local firm was selected to renovate former bank space inside Central Mall to house military defense contractors.

Members of the FISTA Development Trust Authority voted Thursday to hire DMK Holdings, Lawton, to renovate the interior space of the former IBC Bank located on the northwest end of Central Mall. Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk, the City Council’s representative to the trust authority, said the firm will be paid $33,700 for its work, with the owner indicating he could begin that work Jan. 22.

The decision is the next step in a process to convert empty space within the mall to use as space for defense contractors who work with Fort Sill and the two U.S. Army Cross-Functional Teams housed there. The City of Lawton has owned the mall since completing the purchase process Jan. 5, and the same day the City Council approved an agreement with the FISTA Development Trust Authority to operate the former commercial space, keeping existing retailers intact even as the board and its executive director James Taylor works to bring defense contractors into the FISTA (FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator).

Thursday’s decision on the old bank space reflects the reality of the purchase: while empty space will be renovated for use by those defense contractors — starting with the former Sears department store on the mall’s west side — that space isn’t yet suitable for their use. Burk said the estimated 3,200 square feet in the old bank will become temporary housing for the first contractor that will move into the Sears space when it is completed.

That space isn’t expected to be completely renovated until the end of August, but renovations on the bank area are slated for completion in 30 to 45 days, Burk said.

“It’s important we get started,” he said, adding that not only did DMK Holding submit the low bid on the necessary renovation work, it also could begin work immediately.

That work will be focused on bringing the space back to use, he said, explaining it will entail things such as cleaning and refinishing the wood floors, repairing falling wallpaper and ceiling tiles, and other work necessary for a space that has been vacant for a time.

“There’s not a whole lot,” Burk said of necessary work, adding the project is being crafted to make the space useable by multiple tenants, meaning it could be temporary holding space for tenants who want to move into the FISTA, but whose permanent space is not yet ready.

That’s why the cost of the project also increased. The trust authority initially had designated $25,000 for renovations, but voted Thursday to bump that funding up to $33,700 to cover DMK Holding’s projected cost.

As that firm prepares to renovate the temporary holding space, work also is continuing with architectural firm Frankfurt, Short, Bruza & Associates (FSB) to craft the design plans that will show exactly how the Sears space will be transformed into multi-functional space for both FISTA tenants and for STEM classroom space for local students, through what is expected to be a $3.5 million project.

The firm tasked with creating conceptual then design plans for both Sears and the entire mall space, under decision made by FISTA trust authority earlier this month.

Taylor said he and the trust authority are working with FSB to craft the Requests for Proposals that will be sent out to prospective contractors who could renovate that space, turning empty storefronts into the secured areas needed by defense contractors.

At the same time, Intouch Management Services is continuing to work with the retail and food tenants that will continue to operate in Central Mall. Burk, council members and trust authority members have been clear in their plans to keep those tenants, hiring Intouch to manage and operate retail and open portions of the mall while the FISTA trust authority and Taylor handle the areas associated with the FISTA.

Burk said there have been a few bumps — he noted a broken sewer line that closed down some businesses earlier this month while it was repaired — but said they are part of doing business in an aging facility and will be addressed as they occur. Intouch also is being tasked with analyzing activities to upgrade the mall and bring in new business, while part of the FISTA’s analysis will include a resolution to flooding problems in the parking lots on the east end of the mall.

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