City Council members said Tuesday they wanted more information before deciding whether to designate an additional $2 million to the FISTA Development Trust Authority for renovations at Central Plaza.
The five members at Tuesday’s meeting voted unanimously to table action on the request for two weeks, moving consideration of the item to the Jan. 25 meeting. Ward 6 Councilman Sean Fortenbaugh, who made the motion to table, was among those who said while he supports the project, he’s uneasy about where the city will get the funding to fulfill the request.
“We keep dipping into our funds,” he said, of the proposal to draw the $2 million from the 2019 Capital Improvements Program that already has designated $2.268 million to a project to covert the former Sears store on the west end of Central Plaza to use as the FISTA, a complex being developed for military defense contractors.
Fortenbaugh said he wants to understand the project better before making that decision. It was a comment echoed by new Ward 2 Councilman Kelly Harris, who asked questions about what he said was a project of interest to Lawtonians.
The FISTA Development Trust Authority, designated by the council a year ago to run the FISTA, voted late last week to seek the additional funding. Members cited renovation costs that are higher than anticipated, after a late December bid opening by project manager Smith & Pickel Construction on 26 project areas.
FISTA officials said the project areas that drew bids — 10 areas will be re-advertised after failing to draw any bids —indicate a project cost of $6.899 million. FISTA Development Trust Authority Chairman Clarence Fortney said that figure is adjusted after removing three projects anticipated at $1 million, to include asphalt parking lot work. Those projects are just being delayed, he said.
Because the FISTA board must have the entire cost of the project in hand before letting bids, members are asking for the additional CIP funding from the City of Lawton even as they continue searching for additional funding sources, to include federal transportation funds being coordinated by Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole and funding designated for the FISTA in the National Defense Appropriations Act by U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe.
Cole and Inhofe provided letters of support for the project. Inhofe said the FISTA already has shown the ability to bring in industrial partners, and will help safeguard current missions at Fort Sill and those in the future. Cole said he was re-affirming his support because the FISTA is providing a critical opportunity to create and retain a workforce in Lawton/Fort Sill.
The funding could help supplement CIP funding designated by the City of Lawton, but it also could help the trust authority in its quest to secure funding to complete the entire FISTA renovation project in both Sears and Dillard’s department stores. The existing CIP funding is restricted to conversion of Sears, designated FISTA 1, with funding for conversion of Dillard’s (FISTA 2) to come at a later date. The development authority has already spent $868,000 on a completed project that did interior demolition on both former retail spaces, to include removal of asbestos tiles.
Fortney, in response to questions about the project from Harris, said the trust authority did have some concerns about delaying the funding decision. The original bids were opened Dec. 28 and the FISTA board has 45 days to secure bids on the 10 areas they are rebidding and award the contracts. He said the board must have the funding in hand before it can award bids, a recommendation trust authority members expect to make in early February.
“If we don’t, the original bids are null and void,” Fortney said, adding the trust authority and its project manager would have to start the process over again.