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Tuesday April 23rd 2019

Economic Growth on Horizon for Lawton According to Mayor Fitch

Birthdays are often a time of reflection, a chance to take stock of one’s existence and measure the changes that have taken place over the years.

As Lawton celebrates its 112th birthday, it is a time for recollection and education. While many long-time residents will no doubt be able to remember the changes they have experienced over the years, for many new or young residents it will be a chance to see and learn some of Lawton’s history for themselves.

However, as the city prepares to celebrate its past, one man is looking to its future – a future that he is trying to mold and secure for the generations of Lawtonians yet to come. That man is Fred Fitch, Mayor of Lawton.

Fitch, now in his second term of office, said he has big plans ahead for other projects that will help to bring more revenue to the city, improve the aesthetic quality of the city, and ensure that Lawton will have the means to continue to grow and expand without too many growing pains.

For those not in the know, there are three main projects that Fitch has undertaken in recent years to either start or continue the ball rolling on many improvements that are needed to improve Lawton’s infrastructure while laying the groundwork for future expansion.

First, there is the much needed $100 million upgrade of the sewer and water lines. Fitch said that the entire system needed to be replaced because over the years the city’s main solution to such problems had been quick patch jobs; this had led to many of the lines being in total disrepair.

Fitch said that the city was already dissecting the problem before he was elected, finally coming up with a solution by creating a construction division for water and sewage within the Lawton Public Works Department. Fitch said the city was able to not only save money, but create jobs.

“We were able to save millions of dollars by not having to sub network out to out of town contractors,” Fitch said. “We saved money and created about 25 to 30 jobs.”

While he did say that there will eventually be cutbacks within the division, the division itself will remain in place for the foreseeable future as a means of maintaining the lines.

Second, Lawton recently finished purchasing the remaining water rights to Lake Waurika. Why is that such a big deal? Well, as Fitch puts it, “If you don’t have water, you don’t have a community.”

He said that when the reservoirs are full, Lawton is in great shape. The recent rainfall out near Lakes Lawtonka and Ellsworth is helping to maintain water levels.

Fitch said the average water level of all three lakes only gives the city 62% of availability of water, which he claims is very good. Fitch said that ideally that percentage should be somewhere between 70 to 80, but that does not happen often. Still, he is enthusiastic about what 62% means for Lawton’s future growth.

“Availability of water has enabled us to look 75-80 years into the future and know that we will still have water,” Fitch said.

Before taking office, Fitch was on the Waurika Conservancy District Board, so pushing for the water rights – and all that they mean for Lawton – has been a passion of his that began as a private citizen and has followed him into his political career. Fitch hopes future generations will one day look back and realize what a big decision it was to secure the water rights.

He said, “Just like we look back to the ‘50s and are grateful that Lake Ellsworth was built, securing the rights to Lake Waurika will be something generations to come will be thankful for.”

Lastly, there is the construction of the 9 Mile Creek Sewer Line, which will not only allow for water to flow more smoothly, but will enable the east side of Lawton to be developed.

Those who have lived in Lawton for more than a few years know that much the new development of the city has taken place on the west side of town. While expansion is a healthy sign of growth, Fitch said that Lawton’s westward movement has led to the city missing out on a lot of money.

“City limit and school district boundaries do not run on top of each other,” he said. “There is so much development that has happened on the west side of town, but it is all in the Cache School District. All the Ad Valorem (property taxes) from the new homes and industrial plants, such as Goodyear, go to Cache.”

Just to be clear, no one needs to feel guilty about rushing off to Target to buy their family’s school supplies. All of the ad valorem from the Target and the other shops by it will be staying in the Lawton Public School district (LPS).

Fitch said the expansion on the west side has been great, but it is now time to look to towards the east for future growth. By putting in the new sewer line, Fitch said that Lawton will be able to accommodate another 17-18 thousand homes on the east side of town which will all be in the LPS district, keeping the ad valorem from those homes in Lawton and supporting the Lawton Public School System.

One of the future projects that Lawton can expect is a new industrial park on the east side of town south of Highway 7. Fitch said the reason why the city is planning such a move is an economic one: by building on the east side of town, the infrastructure cost of things such as gas, electric, and sewer and water treatment drops to about 10 cents on the dollar compared to what it would cost on the west side of town.
Another goal of Fitch’s is to fix Lawton’s retail economy by improving the number and variety of retail stores in Lawton as well as adding eye catching elements to Lawton’s highway off ramps.

Fitch hopes to not only attract more consumers to Lawton, but to keep Lawtonians from spending their money elsewhere.

“I figure that we could be losing somewhere around $8 million a year in sales tax because our citizens are leaving Lawton to do their shopping,” he said.

The Downtown Lawton Redevelopment Plan was the first step in improving the look of Lawton – coming into the city from I-44 – and increasing the number of retail stores as an incentive for shoppers to come to Lawton. As part of that project, three overpasses on the north side of 2nd Street will soon be renovated and stained in various colors to enhance their beauty.

Some of the stores that have signed on to come to downtown Lawton are Kohls, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Michael’s, Bed Bath & Beyond, Petco and ULTA Beauty.

There are at least four other stores, as well as 3-4 restaurants, that have put in bids to come to Lawton, but Fitch did want to name them just yet.

Besides retail, Fitch said that some long term goals for Lawton include adding an Arts District and sports arena.

While he is quick to add that Lawton is not necessarily trying to mimic places like Oklahoma City’s Bricktown, adding such features here would enable the city to host events that it has not been able to accommodate thus far. Part of that vision will be coming true next year with the opening of the new conference center. Fitch said the facility will be able to hold upwards of 300 people, something that no other facility in Lawton can do on its own.

There will still be some more development on the west side, but it will be businesses and restaurants. Fitch said one of the biggest projects for that side of town will be the addition of a 16 screen movie theater with three restaurants inside, much like the Moore Warren Theater in OKC.

And so, as Lawton celebrates another year gone by, it can rest easy knowing that Fitch is committed to making sure that it not only provides the very best for its citizens, but becomes a retail mecca and powerhouse in southwest Oklahoma.