Â© Copyright 2010, The Oklahoman STILLWATER — City leaders are questioning whether controversial Mayor Nathan Bates should have been awarded a grant to develop a bar and upscale apartments through a program associated with the city. "The utilization of tax dollars to award monies to a company owned and operated by the Mayor of the City of Stillwater … is suspect at best,” Stillwater Chamber of Commerce President Larry Brown wrote in a Feb. 26 letter to Oklahoma State University officials who awarded the grant. The $5,000 grant was awarded through a local economic development grant program called the Entrepreneur’s Business Assistance, Support, Incubation and Collaboration program, or E-Basic. Program members that select and help fund grant winners include OSU, the Stillwater Chamber of Commerce and Meridian Technology Center. The program is intended to primarily support technology-related businesses in Payne and Kay counties, grant materials indicate. Bates, 28, is an OSU student set to graduate in May. He has been the subject of two recall petitions since his election in April 2009. The first was withdrawn because of errors in the petition, and the second is set for a vote in May. He said he did nothing wrong when he applied for the grant money. He said he knew the chamber of commerce contracted with the city for economic development but denied knowing the chamber’s involvement with the program. "The only involvement I had (in the process) was I submitted a grant proposal to someone at OSU, and they told me about the program,” Bates said. Bates’ company was the only one awarded grant money during that round of applications. Program members were told in October 2009 that none of the nearly dozen applications submitted for the fall round of grants were viable candidates for money, Brown said. The city contracts with the chamber of commerce to oversee economic development for the city. Chamber officials report quarterly to city council members on the progress of the program. The last report was presented to the city officials on Feb. 15, council minutes show. Chamber of commerce officials in February ended their two-year involvement in the grant program, citing a lack of due diligence on the part of OSU members, documents obtained by The Oklahoman show. Bates’ application appeared to have been given special treatment, Brown wrote in the Feb. 26 letter to Glenn Freedman, vice president of research and programs at OSU’s center for innovation and economic development. University officials have not explained why Bates’ application was approved, Brown said. Calls to OSU program members were not returned.Comments
‘Cain’s-style ballroom’ plansBates’ company, Icon Properties LLC., was awarded the money in late 2009. He formed the company in November 2009 with a Jenks-based partner. A proposal submitted to the program states the estimated cost of the project totals about $1 million, including the cost of salaries for both partners. Grant money was to go toward building facade improvements and other structural issues. Plans for what Bates calls "a Cain’s-style ballroom,” similar to the Tulsa landmark, and the lofts are on hold. The building Bates and his partner planned to use has not been bought and blueprints are being drawn up by a family member, Bates said. Some of the $5,000 has been used, Bates said. There is no conflict since money awarded through the grant came only from the university, Bates said. He said he was never on a reviewing committee for the grants and his sole purpose in seeking the money was to help develop Stillwater. But Brown said in an interview: "There are procedures in place to review applications for funding. They were circumvented and not followed. We have not had any other application handled in this manner.” City leaders learned of the award to Icon Properties through e-mail exchanges that took place in late November. Bates had contacted chamber officials about possible tax incentives and other information that might help his business endeavor, Brown said. Chamber officials requested Icon Properties’ application, and through state records learned Bates was associated with the company. The application did not include Bates’ or his partner’s name, records show. It also was lacking in details about the budget and business plan, Brown said. The Oklahoman’s Watchdog Team: Looking out for you. Visit NewsOK.com/watchdog.