Enid officials: Ensure Hall’s survival
By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle (http://enidnews.com)
ENID — Enidʼs Convention Hall, which houses Mark Price Arena, has been a thorn in the side of the city of Enid for several years.
To make matters worse, upgrades to the building — resulting from a lawsuit against the city — to make it complaint with the Ame-ricans with Disabilities Act upgrades have proven to be expensive.
Enid residents will have the opportunity Aug. 24 to pay for changes to the historic building. Thatʼs the day voters will decide a $20 million bond issue, which, if approved, will be matched with another $20 million form the city to create a $40 million downtown redevelopment project, the Gateway Enid initiative, officials said. More than $5.5 million will be used to renovate Convention Hall.
The Gateway Enid project would renovate Enidʼs downtown, but also make it visible and appealing to people driving by on Garriott.
The project also includes:
• A new civic center.
• A large public green area and plazas.
• Expansion of Cherokee Strip Conference Center.
Once the projects are complete, the finished result is expected to bring tournaments, performances, conferences and businesses of all types to Enidʼs downtown area.
Nearly two years ago, the city closed Convention Hall — built in 1920-21 as a memorial to veterans — because of the ADA issues. It was home to Enid High Schoolʼs basketball teams. Construction cost $500,000 at the time, said Don Rose, Ward 2 city commissioner.
Rose, a member of the consultation committee for the downtown project, said the cost of maintaining the building is between $200,000 and $250,000 a year. EHS basketball teams now play in the Mabee Center at Northern Oklahoma College Enid and would play their home games in the new events center if the bond issue passes.
“Even after the schools moved out … (the plan) was to have people there to continue to maintain it. There are things that go wrong even if itʼs closed, and basic utilities during the winter,” Rose said.
If the bond issue is approved, Convention Hall will be renovated to provide space for Enid Public Schools athletic teams as part of a larger Cherokee Strip event center complex. Enid is the only 6A system in the state with no home fieldhouse for sports teams, and Mark Price Arena would be renovated to meet some of those needs. The arena currently has about 1,575 fixed seats on two levels in a U-shaped configuration around a hardwood sports floor about 7,300 square feet. There is a stage at the south end of the arena with a large fly loft.
Total seating in the building, which includes temporary seating on the event floor, is about 2,435. For sports events, a maximum of 250 seats could be located on the event floor for a total capacity of 1,825, according to a study by Hunden Strategic Partners, which put together the redevelopment plan.
In the recent past, high school sports and an occasional concert or event have been held in the building. The exterior brick masonry is in good condition, according to the Hunden study. There is evidence of water damage on the interior ceiling. Doors and windows are in good condition. The survey concluded there is potential for reuse of the building.
The event floor is too small for anything other than basketball, volleyball or wrestling, and there is inadequate margin to provide substantial floor level seating, according to the study. The concourses, support spaces and restrooms are undersized for the spectator capacity of the building.
Hundenʼs survey proposed redesigning the space. If the seating bowl is kept, the existing concourses could be cleared of permanent and temporary uses to allow for better public use. Existing spaces on the north end of the building on the first three levels could be redesigned for lobbies, concessions and modern restrooms.
The most prominent functional problem is the lack of disabled access, according to the study. That could be solved with the addition of an elevator, according to the study.
The study proposes two options for the building. One is an athletic practice and performance space and the second is for a cultural performance space.
For the athletic space, the lower seating bowl would be removed and the remainder of the building would be renovated. That construction would provide an activity floor of about 120 feet by 140 feet, or 16,800 square feet. That space is large enough for two practice basketball or volleyball courts, separated by an operable divider curtain.
The cultural performance space would become an alternative use for Mark Price Arena as a performing arts space. Although the event floor is inadequate for sports in its current design, adequate seating could be added. The stage is large enough to accommodate all but the largest touring productions and seating capacity up to 2,400 could be provided. That could temporarily be reduced through use of a curtain that would cut off the seating bowl.
Dressing rooms and front-of-house space would need to be completely remodeled, and new stage lighting and dimming system would need to be installed, in addition to a new sound system and other stage modifications.
Molly Helm, a member of the Gateway Enid committee, said the artistʼs concept is not a final drawing of the interior of the building. An Enid school board member, Helm said the two-court concept would not work for school games and part of the design would need changing.
“The plan gives us use of the building and something more economical. Weʼre not spending money to refurbish the old building. Itʼs functional for the schools and weʼre getting a new building, which means lower utilities, more efficient lighting — all the things that make it better than fighting the renovation of an older structure,” Rose said. “And, we get the schools as a tenant, the schools will pay for it, we wonʼt pay that money each year.”
City officials have said bond issue is the only opportunity to save Convention Hall for further public use by the community.