Lawton City Council Approves Another 2 Million Dollars for the FISTA Project
The Lawton City Council just voted and approved giving the FISTA (FIRES Innovation Science and Technology Accelerator) project an additional 2 million dollars. So what will this money be used for?
It's to fund continued construction and improvements to the old Sears building at Central Plaza, formally the Central Mall where FISTA is now located. So where did the city get the 2 million dollars from?
In short, they used the CIP (Capital Improvement Plan) funds. The citizens of Lawton voted to approve the CIP back in February of 2020. You can click here to see the details of the CIP and various projects.
Before any of the projects that were outlined in the CIP were addressed the city purchased the Central Mall for 14.6 Million. Sure industrial and economic development were listed as part of the CIP but most citizens assumed the money would go to infrastructure and improvements like roads, sewer, water, parks, etc.
Now all those things are a part of the plan but have yet to be seriously addressed. Most thought we'd fix what needs to be fixed, then work on industrial and economic development. Not rush out and drop 14.6 million on a run-down mall in a flood zone. Then turnaround and drop millions more remodeling a near-empty mall in the hopes of attracting defense contractors and other businesses to relocate to Lawton, Fort Sill.
In my opinion, we're getting the cart before the horse and I'm certainly not alone in thinking that. When the news broke about the mall and how much we paid for it people immediately took issue and were understandably angered by the whole thing. We're spending a ton of money with only the hope of a return.
Whenever the subject of the Central Mall AKA Central Plaza comes up the large majority of people think it's a total and absolute waste of time and money. As soon as the news broke that FISTA was getting another 2 Million people raged online and the only positive comments came from those directly involved with the project itself. There needs to be greater transparency and discussions when it comes to the CIP and FISTA.
I'd be willing to bet that the citizens of Lawton if given the opportunity to vote on it, would NEVER have approved purchasing of the Central Mall. Much less dropping millions more on remodeling what is quickly becoming an empty building. Poll after poll shows people largely reject the city's plan and over spending.
I'm no expert on the inter-workings of local government and economic development but I can't help but think this is beyond risky, if not recklessly irresponsible. But it's easy to take risks when it's not your money though.
I really do hope this all works out and it's entirely possible that I don't see the whole or big picture when it comes to the mall and FISTA. I can't help but think this will be a total and absolute disaster. However, if I'm wrong I'll happily admit it. I do want the best for Lawton, Fort Sill, and for us to grow and expand. I'm just not convinced the risk of millions of dollars is worth it. Guess we'll all find out soon enough. *Fingers crossed*