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Lake Texoma area residents, state officials grow frustrated with stalled Pointe Vista development

by Brianna Bailey Modified: June 26, 2013 at 11:09 am •  Published: June 23, 2013

The developer said it also has spent millions on architectural, engineering and planning professional services.

The Pointe Vista site also lacks necessary infrastructure, Gooden said. Plans to tie into the city of Kingston's wastewater system had to be scrapped, because the city can't afford to expand its facilities.

The money that Pointe Vista has tied up in the area does not matter to Lisa Davis, one of the organizers of the group Restore Lake Texoma State Park. The group says it does not want the state to grant Pointe Vista any extensions to build the development.

“These are bad business decisions that the state made. These are bad business decisions that Pointe Vista made,” Davis said. “We should not be made to pay for their bad business decisions.”

Up in the air

In 2008, Pointe Vista negotiated to purchase an additional 1,022 acres of parkland at Lake Texoma that includes a campground at Catfish Bay. The parkland, owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would be transferred to the Tourism Department, and then sold to Pointe Vista.

“When we talked to the developer, they felt like they needed the whole area to do the project justice,” said Claudia Conner, general counsel for the Tourism Department.

Although the land remains under contract to Pointe Vista, an environmental-impact statement required by the federal government to complete the sale has never been finalized. Pointe Vista has yet to pay for the environmental study.

“The developer already put a deposit down with the Corps of Engineers for $300,000, but that was some years ago,” Conner said.

The federal government determined that the environmental review would cost more than $2.5 million, a price Pointe Vista has indicated to be too high, according to the letter it sent to the state in April. The developer is trying negotiate a reduction of the cost of the review and is willing to pay up to $1.2 million to fund the environmental study, it said in written comments to The Oklahoman.

Economic impact

While the Bar-B-Q Shack still serves up smoked brisket from a metal building on Kingston's main drag, business has slowed since the state lodge closed in 2006, owner Donna Bearden said.

The lodge and cabins along the shore of Lake Texoma once brought a steady stream of traffic to Bearden's business, but most of her customers these days are locals, she said.

“It's not what it used to be,” Bearden said. “When they announced this development, I thought we were going to be the next Branson, I really did.”

Bearden has since put up the Bar-B-Q shack up for sale. “Will sacrifice for $135,000”, she wrote in one classified ad for the business.

At 6.3 percent, unemployment was higher in Marshall County in April than the statewide 4.9 percent, according to the most recent data available. Algae outbreaks at Lake Texoma in 2011 and 2012 also saw tourism to the area decline as much as 20 percent, as Gooden is quick to point out.

Sales tax revenues in Marshall County plunged from $3.5 million in the 2005 fiscal year, before the lodge closed, to $1.6 million in 2006, but rebounded to $3.5 million for 2012, according to Oklahoma Tax Commission records.

Rightly or wrongly, a perception in the area exists that Pointe Vista has starved out many local businesses.

The Marshall County Chamber of Commerce has sent out news releases and engaged in other marketing since the lodge shut down to combat the perception that the park is closed. A campground at Catfish Bay is part of the 1,022 acres of Lake Texoma parkland under contract to Pointe Vista Development, but it remains open.

“People think that since the lodge is shut down that there is nothing to do down here — they have the perception that the whole park is closed,” said Vicki Byrd, chairwoman of the economic development committee of the Marshall County Chamber of Commerce.

The economic development committee recently sent a letter to the Commissioners of the Land Office urging them to stand firm to the project deadlines and force Pointe Vista to begin work on the hotel.

Codner, who also is a member of chamber's economic development committee, said that the developer has been engaged in the community, even donating money to local schools.

“With the exception of not building the hotel, they have been a really good corporate neighbor,” Codner said. However, the lack of movement on the development has meant lost tourism dollars and investment from other business in the area, he said.

“We have had people who have lost their businesses because of it — and other businesses that would have come to the area, but have not because of this,” Codner said.

Community divided

Over chips and salsa at the Gecko Grill, a sleepy Tex-Mex restaurant off Highway 70 in Kingston, Stephen Willis, an organizer for the Restore Lake Texoma State Park group, along with Davis and Bearden discuss filing a civil-rights complaint with the U.S. Justice Department over how the Pointe Vista development process has been handled by the state.

“They handed this contract to two wealthy white men in Oklahoma City,” Willis said. “Low-income people in the area couldn't even afford a room at that four-star hotel.”

The local population, women, minorities and local Indian tribes were left out of the bidding process to purchase the land, Davis said.

“I will not be relegated to cleaning the toilets for some place where I used to be able to go in through the front door of that lodge,” Davis said.

The community is divided on what should happen to Pointe Vista. Some, like Pitt, would like to see the land returned to the state. Restore Lake Texoma State Park, which claims to have about 300 members, last week issued a letter to state officials calling the sales of park land a violation of federal law and demanded that the Pointe Vista land turned back into a state park.

Codner remains hopeful the development will move forward.

“I think that their intention is to put this project together,” he said. “I would love to see it built tomorrow. Everyone has tried to work on it, but for various reasons, it just hasn't happened yet.”

Byrd also said she still believes that the Pointe Vista land on Lake Texoma would still be world-class location for a four-star hotel that would draw visitors from around the region.

Pointe Vista said that it is hopeful that financing for the project may finally materialize as the hospitality industry improves.

Truncating the development and building a scaled-down version of the hotel would not be competitive with nearby casino hotels built by area Indian tribes, Gooden said.

“We do not intend to compromise on the quality of the original idea,” Gooden said.

“Our most recent economic data indicate the region can support a quality resort development, when properly timed, geared around the natural amenities offered at Lake Texoma, and based on the concepts we presented in our original design five years ago.”

CONTRIBUTING: Michael McNutt, Capitol Bureau

by Brianna Bailey
Business Writer
Brianna Bailey has lived in Idaho, Germany and Southern California, but Oklahoma is her adopted home. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and has worked at several newspapers in Oklahoma and Southern...
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