The Edmond Sun

February 26, 2013

Council candidates debate I-35 projects

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

OKLA. CITY — Mayoral and Ward 4 City Council candidates were asked to identify the biggest concern or issue facing Edmond at Saturday’s 19th annual ENA Neighborhood Summit.

A candidate forum brought a full crowd to the Multipurpose Activity Center. Voters will choose either incumbent Mayor Charles Lamb or Richard Prawdzienski in the mayoral election April 2. Ward 4 City Councilman Nick Massey is on the ballot with candidate Shilpa Abbitt.

Economic growth is Edmond’s top challenge as the City of Edmond’s general fund depends on sales tax for revenue, Massey said. No growth or slow growth in Oklahoma is economic suicide, Massey said.

Edmond residents value items afforded by the general fund, Massey said, such as the Police Department, Fire Department, Public Works, recreation and art.

“We’re very blessed in Oklahoma and particularly Edmond that we can support the type of community that we’d like to have here,” Massey said. “But if we don’t grow our economic base — if we don’t bring in more jobs, more retail — we’re not going to have the revenues to be able to support this.”

Edmond is part of a megalopolis running from Kansas City to Houston, Massey said. A megalopolis is a term used by economists when referring to the three  leading economic regions in the U.S., he said.

“Things that we do here in the next 10 years are going to set the standard and base for what we do over the next 20 to 30 years,” Massey said.

Abbitt said she is pro-business, but disagrees with a method the city is using to bring a $25 million hotel and conference center to the northwest corner of Covell and Interstate 35. Abbitt does not understand why the city purchased land for leasing it for $1 a year so that the hotel will make a profit, she said.

“If I wanted to build a boutique bed and breakfast in downtown Edmond, Oklahoma — I mean is the city going to turn around and purchase my land and help me out with my cost because all the sudden I don’t have to pay property tax …” Abbitt said.

The Covell 35 Development Group plans to build a Hilton Garden Inn and a 20,000-square-foot conference center.

In October, the Edmond City Council approved the negotiated agreements 5-0 for developing the hotel and conference center. A unanimous agreement by the council also was reached concerning the development of Summit Sports Complex to be located on the northeast corner of the interchange.

The City Council previously had approved the $2.2 million purchase of 7.13 acres of undeveloped land at the hotel site.

A need for a hotel and conference center has been identified by the council to generate tourism, sales tax and improve quality of life for residents.

Safeguards are in place to protect the city’s land investment, attorney Leslie Batchelor said in October. It is a legal requirement that the public not give anything away to private investment. The hotel costs are solely the responsibility of the developer, according to the agreement.

In April the city released details of the memorandum of understanding in regard to the $2.2 million investment in which the city will charge $1 dollar a year in leasing the property. The business partners would have a 15-year buy-back option to purchase the land.

 “I have a concern about the I-35 corridor that at the end of the day we have this great plan,” Abbitt said. “But at the end of it, it’s just going to look like Norman or any other I-35 corridor, except the only difference I guess is you won’t be able to see it right from the front. We’ll have a few trees blocking the view.”

Lamb said the city must grow its retail base to keep services maintained for residents. Weather conditions each year cause damage to roads, he said.

“We can continue to grow the retail, which pays the bills and that’s our primary opportunity. But we have to balance that against community expectations,” Lamb said. “You can’t have the safe community we have and pay for that without raising the revenue inside.”

I-35 provides an opportunity for more retail choices for consumers, who might otherwise spend their money outside of Edmond, Lamb said.

Tax and spending is the biggest issue facing Edmond, Prawdzienski said. Voters passed capital improvement taxes in 1996 and 2000 to improve the city’s infrastructure, he said.

“We decided this works good. We get a free check. All we have to do is decide what the stakeholders want and we’ll give it to them,” Prawdzienski said. “Then we decide we’ll give them a permanent 3/4-cent tax.”

The people need a voice before the city decides to build new projects such as a softball complex or recreational center, he said.

“What I’d like to do is put a cap on all capital improvements,” Prawdzienski said.

A general election for mayor and City Council is set for April 2. Elected candidates take office on the first Monday in May, said Steve Murdock, city attorney. Mayors are elected for two years. Council members serve four-year terms. | 341-2121