FISTA demolition

In this file photo demolition work has begun in the former Sears store in Central Mall to make room for defense contractors for Lawton’s innovation park. With demolition completed FISTA official are now moving into the construction phase.

Work is under way to illustrate the changes for downtown Lawton’s largest commercial retail space, including a new name and, potentially, an entirely new look.

Central Plaza — formerly, Central Mall — was unveiled last week as part of a rebranding campaign coordinated by the FISTA Development Trust Authority and InTouch Management Services, the entity the trust authority designated to run the retail and common areas of the mall while it retains control of the space being converted to house military defense contractors.

Jason Wells, with Intouch Management Services, told trust authority members this week the rebranding campaign is well under way, explaining the name change is evident inside the mall. Plans also are being made to change the marquee on the northern edge of the mall property at Southwest 3rd Street and C Avenue, which still says Central Mall.

Entities also are working on a new logo for the mall, Wells said, of efforts by Intouch and the marketing firms they are using to change the image of the mall to make it more attractive to retailers, restaurant operators and others who may want to place businesses there and residents who will come to spend money.

“Little by little, we’re working on that,” Wells said, of efforts to strengthen the health of the retail areas even as the FISTA Development Trust Authority is creating a defense contractor park in the former Sears and Dillard’s spaces.

That retail effort includes tentative plans outlined by Dallas-area commercial business developer Burk Collins, who has crafted conceptual designs that could completely change the mall’s look by turning the central commons area and a commons area near the old Sears into open air plazas. Wells has said today’s retailers don’t like enclosed malls; they prefer their own entrances and exits, with stores and restaurants clustered together in an open air plaza.

Wells said InTouch has been talking to retailers inside Central Plaza and comments have been positive. Nina Hardy, Intouch office/property manager, said the biggest question posed by retailers is whether they will have to close their stores while the renovation is done.

“No we won’t,” Hardy said, explaining contractors have said they will work around retailers to ensure construction will not disrupt store hours.

Wells said InTouch doesn’t know “what the end game is,” explaining discussions still are focused on conceptual designs and exactly what will be possible. He said Burk Collins is working on the proformas that will include the financial analysis that will outline what can be done and what it will cost.

“That’s in the works,” Wells said.

He pointed out other advantages to mall operations with the outdoor plaza concept, to include greatly reducing operational costs. Eliminating indoor commons areas eliminates the need to heat and cool those areas, he said. And, Central Plaza has other successful ventures in other cities from which to draw, in terms of creating outdoor plaza space for retailers.

“It’s a game changer for Southwest Oklahoma,” said Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk, the council’s representative on FISTA Development Trust Authority.

Wells said officials are looking at other opportunities to use retail space and bring in visitors. One plan on the horizon: an eSports event at the theater on the mall’s north side. That event is calculated to attract 300 gamers, plus friends and family who attend such events, said Deputy City Manager Richard Rogalski.

“It’s a big thing,” he said, of the popularity of eSports.

Wells said such events — and the lure to those who want to spend money — is a huge incentive in convincing mall retailers to extend their leases.

“I think it is important for us to keep moving forward,” he said, adding InTouch wants tenants seeking three- to five-year leases, something that will happen when activities increase.

Wells also said the revitalized mall won’t cannibalize shoppers from nearby businesses. Rather, the idea is working together to provide a bigger lure for those who want to spend money in downtown Lawton’s plaza district.

FISTA Development Trust Authority Chairman Clarence Fortney said proposals being discussed are just that, proposals. The trust authority is waiting for hard numbers on projected costs before making any decisions, and Fortney said he hopes the numbers are available by month’s end.

“It gives us a direction,” he said.

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