2022 Year In Review: Shops at McAlester: Project's opening, new leaders among top stories for the year

Dec. 31—People flocked to McAlester this year as businesses opened at the long-awaited Shops at McAlester this year.

The Shops at McAlester highway shopping center drew 90,000 visitors alone in August and is the top shopping center within 50 miles of McAlester.

Officials said about 150 people were hired as of September at pay higher than the average pay for Pittsburg County and more jobs will follow.

Starbucks became the first business to open March 21, 2022 at the highway shopping center at the intersection of Fourteenth Street and U.S. Highway 69 in McAlester.

The world's largest coffee chain opened the McAlester shop that started a five-year countdown for the developer to collect city and county sales taxes from businesses at the site.

Burk Collins & Co. reached a tax increment financing agreement, or a TIF, with the city of McAlester and Pittsburg County officials to develop the Shops at McAlester at his own expense in exchange for collecting their portions of sales taxes from businesses at the site. The agreement calls for Burk Collins & Co. to collect sales taxes from those businesses for five years or until he collects $5.5 million.

Officials approved the original agreement in 2018, but the process leading to the plan to develop the site started nearly a decade ago.

Hobby Lobby, long considered an anchor store for the site, opened on April 1. The Oklahoma-based chain of craft and home decor stores was anticipated to bring up to 50 jobs with pay at $18.50 per hour for full-time employees and $13 per hour for part-time employees.

TJ Maxx — the second-largest store at the site — opened in May, followed soon afterward with the openings of Five Below, Rackroom Shoes, Ross, Jiffy Lube opened soon afterward.

Chick-fil-A — the country's largest fast food chain that specializes in chicken sandwiches — opened Oct. 13 with hundreds going quickly through the drive-through and dining inside.

Ron Buckley, a retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General with 28 years of military service, is owner and operator of the new Chick-fil-A and said he's hired around 100 employees to work at the McAlester restaurant.

Work continues on Ollie's near the Hobby Lobby building, and at multi-tenant building beside Starbucks that will house a Tropical Smoothie Cafe and T-Mobile, with room for two more businesses.

Officials previously told the News-Capital more stores committed to opening at the site include Old Navy, Burger King, and more.

2. McGirt implications

The landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma ruling in July 2020 declared Congress never disestablished the Muscogee (Creek) Nation Reservation and a subsequent ruling applied the analysis to the remaining Five Tribes and the Quapaw Nation. The ruling only concerned criminal cases until hundreds of tax appeals rendered judicial rulings in 2022. An Oklahoma tax judge recommended a protest be granted, but the Oklahoma Tax Commission ruled Native Americans living within "McGirt defined boundaries" do not qualify for a state tax exemption.

3. New leadership in McAlester

Several community leaders took the reins in 2022 across McAlester. David Andren was hired as the city of McAlester's city manager. Shawn Howard was appointed as CEO of McAlester Regional Health Center. Dr. Robert Steeber was hired as superintendent of McAlester Public Schools. The McAlester Area Chamber of Commerce hired Brian Flynn as its new director.

4. Dancing Rabbit Music Festival

The Dancing Rabbit Music Festival brought thousands to downtown McAlester for free music concerts with renowned artists. DRMF started in 2021 and returned in 2022 with shows in May, June and July before expanding with a fall concert and spotlight series in downtown McAlester. DRMF also received the Merit Award for Outstanding New Event in the RedBud Awards, the state's highest honors in tourism and presented by the Oklahoma Travel Industry Association.

5. Elections in 2022

Another year brought more opportunities for voters to make their voices heard. City of McAlester voters reelected Ward 4 city councilor Randy Roden and selected Justin Few as the Ward 2 city councilor. District 3 Pittsburg County Commissioner Ross Selman won reelection in a runoff. David Smith and Randy Randleman won reelection bids as state representatives. Voters reelected District 18 District Chuck Sullivan to another term.

6. Hunter Park rededication

A Juneteenth ceremony featured the rededication of the newly renovated Michael J. Hunter Park in McAlester. Michael J. Hunter was born Nov. 2, 1946 before becoming the first McAlester resident to die serving in the Vietnam War white trying to save a fellow soldier on March 15, 1967. The park received a new splash pad, pavilions, picnic tables and more — including a mural honoring Hunter and Vietnam War veterans.

7. McAlester middle school construction

Work continues on the $35-million middle school and event center being built at McAlester Public Schools. The Randy Hughes Middle School is projected to be complete May 31, 2023 and will include several classrooms and a new event center that doubles as a storm shelter for nearly 800 students in grades 7-12.

8. Ryan's House

The Pittsburg County Abuse Response Abuse Effort dedicated Ryan's House — a new facility for child welfare professionals to provide services to abuse victims. The McGowan Family Foundation and Robert and Grace Wallace made donations for PC-CARE to purchase a building of its own. The site is named after Ryan Luke, the 2-year-old McAlester boy who died in 1995 from blunt force trauma to the head.

9. Italian fest and AFD

The Armed Forces Day Parade celebrated its 75th anniversary in McAlester with the AFD Luncheon, a huge parade, and special honors for veterans. The Italian Festival also celebrated a milestone after having to cancel the previous two years with its 50th anniversary year featuring family fun, Italian food, and community traditions.

10. What a year in sports

Three area teams won state championships in 2022 amid a plethora of historic performances, college signings and more in local sports. McAlester and Pittsburg won girls basketball state titles and Stuart won the fast-pitch softball championship, while several individuals won or competed at the state level in their respective sports.