By James Beaty
McAlester city councilors heard a proposal from the Choctaw Nation’s leadership Tuesday night to purchase the city’s South Side Business Development Center — part of a plan for the tribe to begin a major multi-million dollar project.
After hearing the proposal, city councilors voted unanimously to direct Mayor Stave Harrison to form a committee of city councilors to begin negotiations with Choctaw officials regarding the proposal.
Choctaw Assistant Chief Gary Batton and Tribal Councilor Bob Pate, whose district includes McAlester, made a presentation concerning their plans to city councilors during the city council’s regular Tuesday night meeting at City Hall.
“We are wanting to do some development,” Batton said. “Councilman Pate has long wanted to do something in McAlester.”
Batton then told the council about five areas of construction the Choctaw Nation would like to complete on the property. He told city councilors the tribe would like to build a new community center, a wellness center, a food distribution center, independent elderly housing and a head start facility on the property.
The Choctaw Nation already has the money available for a food distribution center, a wellness center and head start, Batton said.
Asked about the size of the investment in the facilities, Batton said the estimated cost of the food distribution center and the head start was more than $3 million, adding another $1 million for the proposed wellness center.
“It’s in the budget, ready to move forward,” Batton said.
Funding for the independent elderly housing and the community center would come later, he said.
“Independent elderly housing would be at the back of the property,” Batton said.
Ward 4 Councilor Robert Karr interjected that the Choctaw Nation is probably one of the top employers in the McAlester area.
“We do have over 400 employees in McAlester,” Batton said. Fifty-two percent are non-Choctaw, he added.
Asked how many people would use the proposed facilities, Pate said at least 9,000 would be coming to the food distribution site alone.
If all of the Choctaw Nation employees in McAlester utilized the wellness center, the number would be 400, he noted.
Batton added that the head start would probably have 40 to 30 students and that the independent elderly housing area would probably consist of from 10 to 20 houses.
“We are very community-oriented,” Pate said. “We’re here to help.”
Several city councilors appeared ready to support the project during the meeting. Others, while not saying they opposed the idea, had a few questions.
Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason asked if the tribe had any plans to put the property in a trust. Batton said he didn’t see any benefit in that.
“We would not put a casino out there among our elderly at all,” he said.
The proposal showed a use for approximately half the property, with a request to purchase it all.
Pate spoke of the many Choctaw programs already in existence.
“We have over 100 programs,” he said. “Many of them could help not only our kids, but others.”
When some councilors mentioned a walking trail included in the plans, Batton said “Hopefully, that will turn into the kind of place where everybody would like to walk. It’s safe.”
Ward 2 Councilor John Titsworth asked if it would be open to the general public, and was told it would.
Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin, referring to the plans for the site, said it looked like an asset to the community.
Ward 6 Councilor Weldon Smith had a suggestion.
“We need to do some due diligence,” he said. He suggested City Manager Pete Stasiak look into what the city might possibly do with the land “and why it’s a good deal.”
Mayor Steve Harrison said that the city hasn’t done a lot to develop the site.
“Here we sit five years later. It has a road barely into it.” Harrison said he didn’t see the city developing the land commercially because it has no highway frontage.
Ward 3 Councilor Travis Read also noted that the city hasn’t developed the property.
McAlester resident Vicki Brown, who asked to address the council, said the city had purchased the land with an eye toward industrial development, and cautioned the council to be careful and judicious before making a decision to sell the site.
MPower Economic Development Executive Director Shari Cooper told the council she had been unable to market the property as an industrial site.
“It doesn’t have water or sewer lines” and the city doesn’t have the money to have them installed, she said.
Cooper said from her perspective, the Choctaw Nation’s proposal made a lot of sense.
In the end, the council voted unanimously in favor of directing Harrison to form a committee to pursue the matter.
Batton asked Harrison if the Choctaw Nation should contact the city as the process moves forward.
“We will be happy to notify you when we have a committee,” Harrison said.
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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