Members of the Lawton Urban Renewal Authority have agreed to amend the definition of the Commercial Central District, eliminating one more issue as city leaders prepare to transform a portion of Central Mall into a technology park for defense contractors.
LURA’s actions on Monday changed definitions within the Downtown I Urban Renewal Plan, one of the areas that the authority governs under its ties to the city’s earliest urban renewal efforts in downtown Lawton and nearby residential areas.
In this instance, the change centers one of the zoning districts contained within the Downtown I Urban Renewal Plan, said Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski. The Commercial Central District zoning area stretches from West Gore Boulevard to Southwest F Avenue, Southwest 7th to Railroad streets. Central Mall is within that boundary, said Rogalski, adding that is important because the City of Lawton is developing plans to transform the former Sears department store on the west end of the mall into the FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator (FISTA) in coming months.
That facility will house defense contractors who work with Fort Sill and the U.S. Army Cross-Functional Teams housed there, and city officials have begun the process to do “due diligence” on the site to ensure it will meet the needs of the FISTA.
Central Business District already includes a variety of uses keyed toward activities ranging from convention centers and department stores, to hotels and sit-down restaurants, to professional offices. Rogalski said the uses aren’t exactly in line with what developers need for the FISTA, which is why city planners recommended the additional uses that LURA members accepted.
Those extended uses include institutional, limited industrial, medical services and research services, uses that Rogalski said would easily accommodate the FISTA while also addressing concerns about other potential tenants for mall space as that retail facility begins to transition to other uses.
“This is what other malls do,” he said, of retail space that is being transformed to activities such as educational facilities.
He said the FISTA easily fits under the institutional definition, but the research definition also may have application. Rogalski also explained that limited industrial is just that: uses that might fit under the industrial umbrella, but also ones that must be kept within the confines of the mall structure, to include containing any noise or odors that may result.
“This kind of use is in the Mixed Use (zoning) already,” Rogalski said, of a nearby zoning category designed to blend business and residential uses.
“This will help the FISTA and other potential tenants,” Rogalski said, of new uses that the mall’s owner may bring into the complex to fill other empty stores.
The FISTA Development Trust Authority continued its work last week to move the project forward and city officials said they expect the project to progress quickly. Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk (the council’s representative on the trust authority) said at least one defense contractor wants to be in the new facility by January, if not before. Officials say they have at least 10 letters of interest from contractors.