The three-firm entity that will manage the retail, food and common areas of Central mall has a new name, members of the FISTA Development Trust Authority said recently as efforts ramp up to convert the commercial complex to public and private use.

The trust authority is the entity charged by the City of Lawton to operate the mall, both its FISTA (FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator) and the retail/food/common areas that will continue operating there. The City Council and trust authority, in separate actions, approved a 25-year lease last week, giving the trust authority and its executive director the authority to operate and manage the mall. The lease formally went into effect Jan. 5, but the nine-member trust authority has been handling details for the FISTA for months.

That includes hiring a management firm to oversee the retail, food and common areas. That firm is Intouch Management Services LLC, a name change reflected on the agreement the trust authority approved in December with Insight Commercial Real Estate Brokerage, Lawton, Fleske Commercial Group, Norman, and Touchstone Management, Oklahoma City. Members of the FISTA trust authority will meet with Intouch this week, said Clarence Fortney, trust authority chairman.

As with the lease agreement between the City of Lawton and the trust authority, that management agreement formally went into effect Jan. 5. Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk, the council’s representative on the trust authority, said while the initial agreement specified Dec. 15, work has been under way in anticipation of the sales closing.

Burk said Intouch is tasked with all management-related activities for the portions of the mall that aren’t associated with the FISTA. And, the broad range of experience that the management firm brings to the table already is in action. For example, Burk said Intouch is helping the trust authority collect back rents and is reworking leases for six retail entities that don’t have current ones.

Fortney said Intouch will have a manager on site who will work with other mall employees to keep the retail side of the business operational. Intouch management also will attend monthly trust authority meetings, beginning in February, to present financial data, Burk said. Among its duties will be collecting monthly rents from tenants, then remitting the balance to the trust authority after its fee has been subtracted, keeping tabs on finances for the retail side.

Burk said trust authority members remain committed to their goal of keeping as many mall employees and tenants as possible.

“We wanted to keep Lawtonians employed,” Burk said, adding there also is a commitment to keep existing tenants in place, serving the community at large and FISTA tenants. “That has not changed.”

Burk said the advantage of the Norman and Oklahoma City components of the partnership is that they have experience in managing big-box retailers, and in cooperative ventures with private and public components.

“They’ve done this,” he said, adding officials will be meeting to discuss ideas for strengthening the economic health of Central Mall.

Officials have said that, combined, the three firms manage about 1.5 million square feet of commercial space, and Fortney said that experience will benefit the City of Lawton.

“They were ready to go,” Fortney said, of a management entity that “hit the ground ready to run.”

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