The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

December 1, 2010

New events center back on the city table

ENID — The city of Enid has asked for proposals to provide architectural services for construction of a new events center. The request went out from city offices Nov. 18, and proposals are due by Wednesday.

The request calls for three possible solutions, which may include Convention Hall, Cherokee Strip Conference Center, both of them or neither. The city has set a budget of $20 million, which is the amount of money the city said it originally had wanted to leverage with a $20 million bond issue voters narrowly defeated in August.

The city had asked voters to approve a $20 million bond issue that would have been combined with another $20 million from the city. The $40 million would have been used for a comprehensive downtown renovation project, called Gateway Enid. Included in the failed project were plans to renovate Convention Hall, expand the conference center and build an events center. City officials hoped a private enterprise then would build a hotel downtown next to the events center.

Convention Hall had been home to Enid High School basketball teams, but it was closed two years ago because it was not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements.

“We’re still using the $20 million in the bond issue. The proposal is to look at keeping Convention Hall,” said Becky Hodgden, city spokeswoman.

Three proposals generally are outlined in the city request:

• Build a new events center, renovate Convention Hall into a conference center, identify new uses for Cherokee Strip Conference Center, including retail space and restaurants, and provide a hotel pad.

• Build a new events center, identify new uses for Convention Hall, renovate Cherokee Strip Conference Center and provide a hotel pad.

• Build a new events center/conference center, demolish Convention Hall, demolish Cherokee Strip Conference Center and provide a hotel pad.

The request sent out by the city states the project will require architectural experience with specific expertise in new construction, renovation, architectural design, construction administration, energy conservation, structural, plumbing and mechanical security; streetscape around the site; ADA compliance; conference and convention facility design; and cost analysis from preliminary and final design.

City officials are referring to the project as the Enid Renaissance Program.

“The city of Enid is considering many options and avenues that would lead to a more profitable and inviting downtown, while maintaining the integrity and sprit of the current downtown,” Hodgden said.

No decision has been made as to future construction downtown. No plans will be finalized until requests for proposals are submitted and reviewed.

Officials hope Convention Hall can be used for more than just a basketball court and could be designed with multiple uses in mind, she said.

“Currently, it has limited market appeal,” Hodgden said.

She said there is no definite plan yet, but there is a desire to move forward with downtown revitalization. Officials believe there is a desire to move forward based on the strong vote in the bond issue, which failed by less than 1 percent.

The city did not announce publicly proposals were being sought. A copy of the proposal was provided to the Enid News & Eagle by a private citizen. After the News & Eagle requested an interview on the project, the city issued a press release.

“They didn’t think there was a need to announce it because they are still in the discussion phase,” Hodgden said. “It’s an exciting time for downtown and this is an exciting venture.”

The city has continued to purchase property in the downtown area from those owners who are willing to sell. The city wants to be prepared if necessary, she said.

“Demolition of Convention Hall is still part of the discussion, but there are no definite proposals. We want to maximize the market appeal and do what’s best for the community,” Hodgden said.

Currently, Convention Hall includes a basketball arena — named Mark Price Arena — with little appeal beyond that, she said. One of the ideas is to use the building for more than just a school gym, while keeping the integrity of the building. Even though the bond vote failed in August, city commissioners believe people still want downtown renovation, she said.

A local citizen group — Friends of Convention Hall — formed and members are hoping to preserve and renovate Convention Hall.

“We are a large regional hub, all of our hotels are full, why not develop downtown?” Hodgden said.

According to the request for proposals, the city plans to award a construction contract by April 19, 2011. That would be the last city commission meeting before old commissioner leaves office.

However, Ward 2 Commissioner Don Rose doubts that deadline can be met because of the size of the project.

Rose said the proposals for consideration were not done by the three commissioners — Rose, Drew Ritchie and Todd Ging — who headed up the Gateway Enid project. He said they asked for suggestions from the architect who designed the Gateway Enid project because he was familiar with the area. All of the commissioners had input into the idea, coming to city offices in groups of three.

“He was asked to take a fresh look and see what the options are,” Rose said. “He came back with several different conceptions and we settled on three. Now we’re asking for proposals. Is it doable? We will review those and consider our options.”

If city commissioners like one of the plans they will perform “due diligence,” Rose said.

Rose said the group is looking at different scenarios to determine what is attainable. He said commissioners discussed options ranging from tearing everything down and building all new, to how the present buildings can be incorporated.

“As always, because we are making a request doesn’t mean we will do anything, it just means we are doing due diligence,” Rose said.

Mayor John Criner said he has heard the proposals, but is waiting to see what the costs are.

“I think it (project) will be broken down into smaller pieces, but I don’t know for sure,” Criner said.

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