The entity charged with running the City of Lawton-owned Central Mall has approved two letters of engagement with an architectural firm that will analyze and design plans for use of empty mall space.

The City of Lawton became the official owner of the almost 600,000-square-foot commercial complex on Tuesday, after signing the $14.6 million sales contract with former owner Kohan Retail Investment Group. The same day, the City Council approved a lease agreement with the FISTA Development Trust Authority, the entity the council created in 2020 to operate the mall, both the space that will be developed into the FISTA (FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator) for military contractors and the retail/food establishments already operating.

The nine-member FISTA Development Trust Authority already has been handling the details of operating the mall, so the Jan. 5 action on the lease was one in a series of actions to transition empty space in the complex for use by military contractors working with Fort Sill and the two U.S. Army Cross-Functional Teams housed there.

Among the decisions made last week were two letters of engagement with Frankfurt, Short, Bruza & Associates PC (FSB), the architectural firm hired by both the trust authority and the City of Lawton to analyze the property during “due diligence” to ensure the space was suitable for use as a FISTA. FSB also was the firm designated by the Lawton Economic Development Corporation (which handled FISTA decisions before the trust authority was created) to analyze the former Fairmont Creamery, the first site designated for the FISTA but later determined unsuitable.

FISTA Executive Director James Taylor said FSB already had assessed the Sears space (which had been under lease to the City of Lawton before Tuesday’s sales contract replaced it) and developed conceptual designs for that 105,000 square feet of space which has been vacant since Sears closed in 2017.

Taylor said the new process will incorporate the Sears space and conceptual designs into the mall at large, as FSB does its new analysis and conceptual floor plan designs. The FISTA is not to exceed 20 percent of the entire space available in the mall, under these designs. City officials and trust authority members have said repeatedly they intend for the current mall tenants to remain operational.

FSB would charge $17,600 for that first phase: inspections, evaluations and design of Central Mall facilities, essentially, all vacant space outside the Sears area. That would include the former Dillard’s department store, vacant since spring 2020 and cited several times as the second natural extension for the FISTA.

FSB also was retained, for a cost of $210,000, to complete designs for the entire mall, a phased process that specifies it will provide architectural and engineering designs for that process.

Trust authority members said there is 45 days involved in the work to complete enough analysis and designs to release Requests for Proposals for firms interested in the construction. Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk, the council’s representative to the trust authority, has said the existing time table sets a construction completion date of August, although city officials hope that work will be done more quickly.

The initial budget for the FISTA Development Trust Authority, being funded through the city’s 2019 Capital Improvements Program, sets a $3.5 million cost for the work necessary to build out the Sears complex for a tenant that already has said it is ready to move in. That process will include finishing out conference rooms and office space for the FISTA staff, Taylor and Teira Cole.

City officials have not announced the name of that first tenant. Taylor has said the name will be released as soon as the firm and the trust authority sign a lease.

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