FISTA mall

Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski, left, and Clarence Fortney, chairman of the FISTA Development Trust Authority, discuss design details Friday as they stand on the east end of the old Sears space at Central Mall. Decisions by the trust authority are allowing design plans to proceed for the space, which will be converted to a technology park for defense contractors.

The trust authority coordinating and managing Lawton’s technology park for defense contractors will temporarily use a City of Lawton bank account for its expenditures, as efforts ramp up for the complex.

City officials say they are working two separate paths as they conduct due diligence on a lease agreement they approved earlier this summer for the 105,000-square-foot Sears space on the west end of the mall and for the entire mall under a $14.6 million purchase agreement approved by the City Council in October. While the City of Lawton is handing the expenses associated with buying the mall, lease of the Sears space is being coordinated by the FISTA Development Trust Authority and there was a snag: there is a cost.

The trust authority has access to $240,000 after the council agreed to advance those funds from the $4.187 million budget assigned to the FISTA trust authority to renovate the Sears space and operate for the first year. Those funds, in turn, come from the $18.895 million Sales Tax Revenue Note the council approved for the FISTA project out of the 2019 Capital Improvements Program. While the funds have been allocated, the authority had no way to spend them because it has no bank account.

Resolving that dilemma, along with approving a contract with FISTA Director James Taylor and an architectural agreement with Frankfurt-Short-Bruza & Associates, were among the steps trust authority members took last week in a process officials want to fast track because of the amount of contractor interest.

The first decision: the trust authority will operate a bank account under the City of Lawton’s account at IBC Bank until the authority receives the federal identification number it needs to open its own bank account. Officials said the process to secure the federal identification number takes four to six weeks, when efforts to launch the FISTA process must begin immediately. Operating an account under the City of Lawton was the compromise.

When the trust authority is ready to create its own account, it will solicit proposals to ensure every financial institution in Lawton participates in the selection process for all the financial services the trust authority will need, from bank account and credit cards, to identifying the officials that will sign documents. Trust officials said the process must be transparent.

“A lot of folks in town are scrutinizing everything we are doing,” said trust authority member Barry Ezerski.

Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski said the trust authority, an entity of the City of Lawton, can use the city’s ID number because the city also is the authority’s sole beneficiary (meaning all of its assets would go to the City of Lawton). Local banker and trust authority member Mark Brace said a temporary account allows the entity to begin work needed now as city and trust officials move forward with plans to renovate the old Sears space.

Authority hires director

Last week’s actions also finalized a decision the trust authority made in October: an employment agreement with Taylor. Taylor has been acting as the FISTA director for months, dating to when the Lawton Economic Development Corporation was coordinating the FISTA project.

That employment agreement specifies Taylor is the director of the FISTA Development Trust Authority, responsible for operations and management activities associated with the FISTA under the trust indenture set by the council.

The contract sets a $63,500 salary for the remaining months of the fiscal year (Nov. 1 through June 30, 2021) and an annual salary of $95,000 for the term that begins July 1, 2021. The contract also allows Taylor to receive up to $23,750 in incentives based on revenues generated from new leases by contractors engaging in activities within the scope of the FISTA trust indenture. Those incentives will be a percentage of the annual gross rental of each new lease.

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