Updating the conference center, new events center part of project proposal
By Robert Barron, Staff Writer
Enid News & Eagle (http://enidnews.com)
ENID — Part of a proposed $40 million downtown renovation project will be updating and expanding Cherokee Strip Conference Center, which was built in 1987, and constructing a new 4,500-seat events center.
Enid residents will decide Tuesday on a $20 million bond issue, which, if approved, will be matched with another $20 million from the city to create a $40 million downtown redevelopment project called the Gateway Enid initiative, officials said.
The Gateway Enid project would renovate Enidʼs downtown, but also make it visible and appealing to people driving by on Garriott.
In addition to renovating the conference center and building the events center, the project also includes:
• Renovating Convention Hall/Mark Price Arena.
• A large public green area and plazas.
Once the projects are complete, the finished result is expected to bring tournaments, performances, conferences and businesses of all types to Enidʼs downtown area.
“I expect it to bring better facilities for people who live here for everything from wedding receptions to family reunions to any sort of meeting space business needs,” said Molly Helm, a spokeswoman for the study committee on the Gateway Enid project. “Better facilities for our citizens, as well as concert and sports venues. Those bring people in from out of town because we can offer more.”
The current conference center combines a new structure with two existing Maine Street buildings, along with parking and loading. The building occupies a full block of downtown Enidʼs civic area. A study by Hunden Strategic Partners states the overall impression of the conference center is pleasant, but dated. The center could play an important part in the downtown development, along with the events center and remodeled Convention Center/Mark Price Arena.
Hunden Partnersʼ survey recommended the conference center be remodeled so the 11,800- square-foot space is more ideally suited to a ballroom. That renovation would require addition of carpet, improved wall decor and acoustical upgrades, along with other physical changes expanding the main space to accommodate a number of simultaneous functions. Along with the new events center, the area could attract events such as conventions and trade shows, consumer shows, sports events, conferences, concerts, corporate training and other meetings and banquets.
Some of the events also will rely on the attraction of a downtown hotel, which Hunden research indicates could be attracted if the bond issue is approved and the downtown redevelopment is done.
The cost of the Cherokee Strip Conference Center project is estimated at $2.5 million by the Hunden research group. The cost of constructing an events center is projected to be $16 million to $18 million, depending on which of three downtown scenarios is chosen.
The events center would become the home to Enid High Schoolʼs basketball teams. It also could be used for trade shows, concerts and other events.
City officials have estimated the downtown renovation project could attract 300,000 people a year to Enid by the next decade. Those people would be coming for the added sporting events, cultural amenities, receptions and banquets, performances and even conventions, should a downtown hotel be built by private investors. Helm, who was formerly associated with Leonardoʼs Discovery Warehouse and Adventure Quest, said that museum currently sees as many as 90,000 people a year.
“When you think that small museum has that many visitors, and tens of thousands are school kids on field trips, I donʼt think itʼs unreasonable to say several hundred thousand will go through during a year,” Helm said.
A 75,000-square-foot events center and updated conference center could host regional basketball tournaments that easily would increase the number of visitors, she said.
“People need space, and we donʼt have it, on a regional basis it sounds very promising,” Helm said.
Helm emphasized the community will not grow to be 300,000 population, but other people will come to Enid to enjoy what is here.
“It wonʼt turn us into a big city, just provide amenities that a community this size can support,” Helm said.