The proposal that will provide the answer, a massive hotel complex, has been on the books since the Lake Texoma Lodge and land was sold. The official at the meeting was Dr. Harry Birdwell, Secretary of the Commissioners of Land Office.
That’s the agency that negotiated the sale of the lodge property to Pointe Vista developers eight years ago. The initial contract called for construction of a new resort on the property to begin in less than two years. No building construction has taken place yet.
Birdwell said the contract obligation was fulfilled by the demolishing of the lodge, cabins and other structures that made up the resort. Birdwell told the crowd he’s confident the developers will meet their contractual obligation — having a hotel operating there by May 2014 — because they already have invested $40 million in it.
Closing of the resort has had a major impact in the area. For example, Rick Bland, owner of the Country Cafe in Kingston, says he had to close two convenience stores he owned on Highway 70, and has seen business at his motel and boat storage facility drop sharply. Several other businesses in the area from Durant to Ardmore and beyond have either closed or found customer numbers sharply below those when the lodge was open.
Bland said Saturday that he was glad to hear Birdwell’s report at the meeting though he didn’t like it and found some answers vague. About the only new information he heard, he said, was that $40 million was invested, almost all spent on demolition and additional land purchases.
Several in the audience came to try to question Birdwell closely about the project but were somewhat stalled by the meeting format. All members of the crowd coming into the multi-purpose room of Kingston High School for the meeting were given a blank 3x5 card and told they could write their questions on it.
The questions would then be given to Birdwell and his staff after they finished their presentation. The idea, staffers said, was to ensure an orderly meeting.
This effectively closed off all but a couple of face-to-face question/answer moments between Birdwell and those in the audience.
Birdwell’s presentation was a recital of the events and lack of events in the eight years since the contract was signed. His answers generally reiterated the activities he had covered earlier. One question asked about penalties in the contract for failure to perform. Birdwell said penalties were specified in the contract.
A question then from the audience: “What are the specific penalties?” He mentioned no specifics but indicated they involved a process to take the developers to court. Birdwell said he, Gov. Mary Fallin and other state officials continue to push for a start on the promised new building.
He said the developers blamed the economic downturn that started in 2008 for the lack of Pointe Vista construction, because bankers then would not provide financing for the work.