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Osage Nation moving forward with multi-million dollar Sports Complex

Despite no buy-in from the Osage Nation Congress, the Pawhuska City Council unanimously voted in its favor

At the end of a fiery meeting on Oct. 27, the Pawhuska City Council unanimously voted to shut down a one-block stretch of Prudom Avenue, thereby allowing the Osage Nation to build an outdoor health complex on the old railroad right of way that has long been an eyesore and dumping ground.

Unexpectedly joining with the majority was city Councilor Rodger Milleson, who had adamantly opposed the plan and who was roundly chastised by some members of the public for having a conflict of interest: Milleson has a heavy-equipment shop abutting the railroad right of way, a right of way on which he – like many others – had long squatted by storing equipment until the Nation forced him off. 

At its most raucous moments, Milleson’s motivation for opposing the closing of Prudom was pointedly questioned.

“Are you representing your ward or yourself?” demanded Ron Neal. “You should recuse yourself.”

Lee Ann Ammons also asked Milleson to recuse: “Mr. Milleson, you have a conflict of interest. You need to recuse yourself.”

Retorted Milleson: “I’m representing my ward.”

Ammons: “We’ll see!”

In the end, Milleson turned to Butch Gilkey, who lives in the neighborhood. “Mr. Gilkey, should I vote ‘yea’ or ‘nay?’” he asked.

Replied Gilkey: “I think you should vote for it.”

And Milleson did. After the unanimous vote was cast, the crowd of about 80 erupted into applause and luluing.

Not all in the audience were happy, however.

In exchange for closing Prudom, which crosses the railroad right of way where a soccer field is planned, the Nation will build a new Fourth Street connecting the neighborhood nicknamed The Bottoms to Lynn Avenue.

Some residents of the area feared that without Prudom, they could be trapped by traffic during large sporting tournaments at the site, that emergency vehicles would take longer to arrive if they had to travel down Lynn then over the new Fourth Street, and that losing that one block of Prudom would inconvenience them.

Justin Carr, the head of the Osage Nation’s roads department, tried to allay those fears. He noted that the new Fourth Street would be far superior to Prudom – which is tattered – and that the number of ways in and out of the neighborhood would remain the same: Two, with Fourth replacing Prudom and Kihekah remaining as it is now.

Capt. Lloyd Arnce with the Pawhuska Fire Department also spoke out, noting that he had timed routes in and that the new Fourth Street would lead to faster response times in The Bottoms, in part because fire trucks wouldn’t have to negotiate heavy traffic downtown.

The vast majority of people at the meeting were enthusiastic supporters of the road closure and the sports complex although, as was pointed out, few in attendance at the meeting actually live in the neighborhood.

A 2021 inspiration board for what the proposed outdoor sports complex could feature. Courtesy Photo

The complex will have two regulation softball fields and a baseball field, all with synthetic surfaces, basketball courts that can be converted to pickleball or tennis with the change of nets, three sand volleyball courts, a soccer field, football field, outdoor stage, an urban garden, walking trails, horseshoe pitches, batting cages and two concession stands ­– including one in a rebuilt train depot that will look like the old Midland Valley Railroad station that long stood there.

Casey Johnson, the Nation’s Secretary of Development, said that the Nation had initially considered erecting the depot that was built on site for the film “Killers of the Flower Moon,” which was dismantled and is now in storage.

“We we’re talking about it and didn’t know how Pawhuska would react to having the Fairfax train station in Pawhuska, so we decided to take that building – or those parts – and build a visitors’ center in Fairfax using those parts, putting it on a foundation, insulating it, adding water for bathrooms, and putting in real windows,” Johnson said.

Where that visitors center will be in Fairfax has yet to be decided, Johnson said: The Nation wants it to be on Main Street or nearby but doesn’t currently own any land that would be appropriate.

“Other cities would kill for this”

The Pawhuska plans delighted many at the city council meeting.

Greg Ganzkow, an agent with Coldwell Banker Realty, said the project was guaranteed to be of great financial benefit to Pawhuska.

“There are going to be thousands of people that benefit for generations to come,” he said, sparking applause. “This is going to revolutionize our community.”

He also noted that it will improve the environment since the Nation is removing about 3 feet of soil poisoned by toxins. “I’m glad that toxic stuff is leaving this community,” he said.

Milleson retorted: “There ain’t nobody here saying they don’t want a sport park. We’re just cut off from access by the sports park.”

Nikki Austin, who lives in the area, agreed. “Just don’t fence me in,” she said. “Don’t lock us up. Just keep that corridor so people who live there can get out.”

Stuart Tolson also spoke in support, noting that concerns about parking and traffic have long been an issue in Pawhuska and that locals have learned how to deal with those issues.

“We’re looking for a reason to say no,” he told the council. “Why aren’t we looking for a reason to say yes?

“How many cities would kill for this?

“My challenge to you is, ‘What legacy do you want to leave when you don’t sit in that chair?’”

Elizabeth Hembree, the director of the regulatory Osage Nation Gaming Commission, sang the project’s praises, too.

“This is the biggest blessing we’ve had in years,” she said. “This is exactly what we need here.”

“If we could do it, I’d say let’s join hands and sing Kumbaya.”

Pawhuska City Councilors from left: Roger Taylor, Susan Bayro and Rodger Milleson at an Oct. 27 meeting. LOUISE RED CORN/Osage News

Finding other funding: Congress was not supportive

The one group that is not yet on board for the project – or singing Kumbaya – is the Osage Nation Congress. In 2021, the chief’s office asked for congressional approval to earmark $17 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding for the same project, but it was not well received and the bill died.

Johnson said that ARPA allowed parks to be built with federal funding and that it was clear then – as it was Thursday night – that the complex is both needed and wanted by the community at large.

In the wake of Congress’s rejection, the executive branch went to work finding other sources of funding. Federal roads money is being used to build the new Fourth Street as well as trails, parking lots, lighting and to perform remediation of the soil.

The Nation applied for a $3 million state tourism grant and was near the top of the list to be awarded it, but Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has repeatedly locked horns with Native nations in Oklahoma, made the final choice and the Osage Nation was left out. Lt. Gov. Matt Pinell, Johnson said, supported the Osage getting the grant and the Nation is reapplying for that grant. In addition, it has found funding and technical support from other federal sources, oil companies and sporting associations in Oklahoma and nationally. 

“We’re going to build it, and if it’s one piece at a time, that’s how it’s going to be,” Johnson said. “As the funding comes in, we’re going to work slowly or quickly in stages.”

After the soil remediation is done (the huge pile of soil on the east side of the land is good soil from the construction of the Wakon Iron and will be used as fill where contaminated soil is removed), the Nation will plant clover on the right of way to feed honeybees it is raising nearby at Harvest Land, Johnson said: “We’ll make the cycle of life work that way.”

Johnson said that ultimately, the big dream for the Nation, is to buy more land and build a “RecPlex” like the one in Ponca City: A building with indoor swimming pools, rock climbing wall, weight rooms and other fitness activities.

“We need to get kids out of the house and give people something to do other than drugs and whatnot,” Johnson said. “People need to get off the couch and into a safe environment where they can just walk or run or just get moving.”

Author

  • Louise Red Corn

    Title: Reporter

    Email: louise.redcorn@osagenation-nsn.gov

    Twitter: @louiseredcorn

    Languages: English, Italian, rusty but revivable Russian

    Louise Red Corn has been a news reporter for 34 years and a photographer for even longer. She grew up in Northern California, the youngest child of two lawyers, her father a Pearl Harbor survivor who later became a state judge and her mother a San Francisco native who taught law at the University of California at Davis.

    After graduating from the U.C. Berkley with a degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures with no small amount of coursework in Microbiology, she moved to Rome, Italy, where she worked as a photographer and wordsmith for the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, specializing in the French-speaking countries of Africa.

    When the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl parked over Rome in 1986, she escaped to New York City to work for the international editions of Time Magazine. She left Time for Knight-Ridder newspapers in Biloxi, Miss., Detroit and Lexington, Ky., During nearly 20 years with Knight-Ridder, she was a stringer (freelancer) for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Parade Magazine.

    In 2004, she married Raymond Red Corn and moved to Oklahoma, where she worked for the Tulsa World before she bought the weekly newspaper in Barnsdall and turned a tired newspaper into the award-winning Bigheart Times, which she sold in 2018. She hired on at the Osage News in early 2022.

    Throughout her career she has won dozens of state, national and international journalism awards.

    Red Corn is comfortable reporting on nearly any topic, the more complex the better, but her first love is covering courts and legal issues. Her proudest accomplishment was helping to exonerate a Tennessee man facing the death penalty after he was wrongfully charged with capital murder in Kentucky, a state he had never visited.

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Louise Red Corn
Louise Red Cornhttps://osagenews.org

Title: Reporter

Email: louise.redcorn@osagenation-nsn.gov

Twitter: @louiseredcorn

Languages: English, Italian, rusty but revivable Russian

Louise Red Corn has been a news reporter for 34 years and a photographer for even longer. She grew up in Northern California, the youngest child of two lawyers, her father a Pearl Harbor survivor who later became a state judge and her mother a San Francisco native who taught law at the University of California at Davis.

After graduating from the U.C. Berkley with a degree in Slavic Languages and Literatures with no small amount of coursework in Microbiology, she moved to Rome, Italy, where she worked as a photographer and wordsmith for the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, specializing in the French-speaking countries of Africa.

When the radioactive cloud from Chernobyl parked over Rome in 1986, she escaped to New York City to work for the international editions of Time Magazine. She left Time for Knight-Ridder newspapers in Biloxi, Miss., Detroit and Lexington, Ky., During nearly 20 years with Knight-Ridder, she was a stringer (freelancer) for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Parade Magazine.

In 2004, she married Raymond Red Corn and moved to Oklahoma, where she worked for the Tulsa World before she bought the weekly newspaper in Barnsdall and turned a tired newspaper into the award-winning Bigheart Times, which she sold in 2018. She hired on at the Osage News in early 2022.

Throughout her career she has won dozens of state, national and international journalism awards.

Red Corn is comfortable reporting on nearly any topic, the more complex the better, but her first love is covering courts and legal issues. Her proudest accomplishment was helping to exonerate a Tennessee man facing the death penalty after he was wrongfully charged with capital murder in Kentucky, a state he had never visited.

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