The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

June 17, 2010

Passage of downtown plan will test city's mettle

By Cindy Allen, Managing Editor


The city of Enid appears to have a pretty good plan to accomplish its downtown renovation project, but its also apparent they have a big selling job to do.

The city and its consultants have come up with a plan to ask for an extension of the bond that is currently paying for the bridge projects. That extension would bring in $20 million over 10 years. It would actually bring the current mil levy down from 7 to 5, which is appealing.

The city has managed to accrue another $13 million to $20 million they would put toward basically buying up property and other infrastructure to make their vision happen. The city is calling that extra money a “match” to the $20 million bond they want the taxpayers to approve.

While the plan is definitely appealing and would make downtown much nicer, plus save Mark Price Arena, the city has some credibility issues it will have to address with the voters.

Many voters still have a bad taste in their mouth over the city’s decision to change its financing structure after the bridge bond issue passed to shorten up the time frame. While that move has basically allowed them to bring this bigger bond issue forward, it was still a change many people disagreed with. It wasn’t really about the money as much as it was about the issue of trust.

First, the city manager has made it known that Mark Price Arena is an albatross to the city. It is an albatross because it had to be closed due to non-ADA compliance. It’s also an albatross because the local school district really doesn’t want to use it because of the configuration of the arena and the floor is too small.

The city manager has also said this will be the only time the voters will be asked to make a decision about Mark Price Arena. Some people think that approach is heavy handed, but it is honest.

Its an honest assessment of MPA because the building is out of date. Bringing it up to ADA compliance only will not change the fact that it will sit there and not be used. This plan offers an alternative use for the building -- more as a fieldhouse practice facility and also a venue for other sports events, like volleyball and wrestling. It could house a dance studio or a martial arts studio. And, the building could be opened to the public again for various small events, etc.

As for the overall downtown vision, there is still desire for a hotel. At least this proposal does not ask the taxpayers to get in on that deal. The idea is that by building the conference center and making the renovations to MPA and the green open space behind MPA, it will lead to a natural conference center set up a private hotel developer would want to take advantage of. Plus, its right across the street from David Allen Memorial Ballpark, which already is bringing in tourism dollars (and overnight visitors) to the town.

In other words, build it and they will come.

I know many are skeptical of this concept. Downtown hotels have failed in the past in Enid. However, there is a resurgence in interest in our nation for downtown hotels. People are keenly interested in staying in nice downtown trendy areas. Enid has some very basic bones of a unique arts and cultural district, and these improvements might just push that development forward.

Then, there’s the issue of Chisholm Trail Expo Center, which many people believe is under-utilized. That facility out there is more natural for big expos and agriculture events because you can bring in a dirt floor. But, Enid has not been able to see a great number of those events to keep the building busy and in use more often. Many wonder why build another conference center when the other one is not used as much as they think it should be. Its a question city officials need to be prepared to answer.

The city has actually positioned itself fairly well financially; however, they’ve been ineffective in communicating that story. Because of some personality issues and the long-established lack of trust in Enid for any government entity, there is no slam-dunk on any bond project, even if it is well-conceived.

I know everyone was in awe of the school district’s low-key sales job they did on their $100 million bond issue, and it worked. I know the city would probably like to do the same.

But, there are more bridges to build (pun intended) between the residents and the city government, and it will take a very good and positive effort from city officials to build those bridges. The success of this bond issue hinges on that effort.