Grand River Dam Authority looking to sell its Vinita headquarters, build new facility near Chouteau

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The Grand River Dam Authority’s administrative headquarters in Vinita. Courtesy/GRDA

The Grand River Dam Authority is planning to sell its long-time administrative headquarters in Vinita and build a new headquarters at the Grand River Energy Center, near the MidAmerica Industrial Park in Mayes County.

The state-owned power company is asking for at least $990,000 for the building and property, located at 226 W. Dwain Willis Ave. Though, according to GRDA, the appraised value of the property is $1.1 million, and it will not take less than 90 percent of the value for the property, according to a notice on the GRDA’s website.

Since its creation by the Oklahoma Legislature in 1935, the quasi-government entity has been headquartered in Vinita.

Vinita Mayor Chuck Hoskin, a former legislator, said he was disappointed by the move, and that around 30 GRDA employees remain at the Vinita office.

“I’m extremely disappointed they’re making this move. This is not something that happened suddenly. They’ve been transferring people for quite some time,” Hoskin said. “In a city the size of Vinita, 30 jobs is a tremendous amount. It’s an impact we will feel for some time.”

Rep. Rusty Cornwell, R-Vinita, said he too was disappointed by the move, and though he understood the rationale behind it from a business perspective, that does not ease the economic loss that Vinita will face as a result.

“This has been going down slowly for probably ten years, several years for sure,” Cornwell said. “We’ve seen them move more and more jobs out of Vinita and to Tulsa. This should have been addressed way before now. Now we just don’t have a good argument to hold them here.”

Rep. Rusty Cornwell, R-Vinita. Courtesy/OKLAHOMA LEGISLATURE

Interested bidders will be allowed to inspect the property from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Oct. 30, the notice states, and GRDA will conduct a sealed-offer sale for the property at 10 a.m. on Nov. 12. GRDA may retain possession of the building for up to 60 days after the sale has closed, according to bid documents.

The property consists a little more than 12 acres zoned for commercial activity inside the city of Vinita, and includes a 27,900 square-foot office building, a 9,000 square-foot warehouse, a 120-foot tall microwave tower. The main building was constructed in three phases in 1964, 1979 and 1991, according to bid documents.

In 1984, there was an unsuccessful attempt to move the GRDA’s headquarters to Pryor, and when GRDA purchased an office building in Tulsa in 2012 to move some of its operations there, the move drew protests from some employees.

The GRDA is a nonprofit, non-appropriated state agency created to control, develop and maintain the Grand River waterway, including power generation through hydroelectric dams on the river. It has since expanded to electricity generation through coal-fired power plants, natural gas, and wind farms, and has electrical customers throughout eastern Oklahoma. The organization also has its own police force with jurisdiction in counties that GRDA owns or leases property in, and in 2016 it absorbed the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission and its powers and duties to protect, enhance and preserve the Illinois River and its tributaries.

During its October meeting, the GRDA’s Board of Directors approved a $1.4 million no-bid contract to hire the Tulsa-based engineering and architectural firm Cyntergy to design and oversee construction of the new GRDA headquarters building.

The new building is to be located near the Grand River Energy Center, located just east of Chouteau and south of the Mid-America Industrial Park outside of Pryor, said Holly Moore, director of properties for GRDA.

An early rendering of the proposed new GRDA headquarters at the Grand River Energy Center, presented during the GRDA Board of Director’s October 2019 meeting. Courtesy/GRDA.

During the meeting, Moore told the board that Cyntergy had worked on other GRDA projects in the past, including remodeling its Tulsa office. Under the contract, Cyntergy would oversee construction of the building, which would likely take between 18 and 24 months, Moore said, though a construction contract to build the facility would first require board approval.

The firm is also heading up an effort to build a “huge” planned community next door to the Mid-America Industrial Park, located just south of Pryor, for companies such as Google that have facilities in the industrial park, said board member Thomas “Pete” Churchwell.

GRDA has around $14 million set aside for the construction of the new headquarters, said GRDA CEO John Sullivan, though the exact size and cost of the building has yet to be determined.

Consolidating GRDA’s administrative operations to one location would help the organization become more efficient and cost effective, board member Tom Kimball said.

“I’m all for the consolidation,” Kimball said. “I think that will bring us efficiencies you could only dream about. I just want to be sure we’re getting the bang for our buck and not building the Taj Mahal.”

Though many GRDA employees are officed in Vinita, fewer workers than in the past are at the location, said John Wiscaver, vice president of corporate and strategic communications for GRDA.

“It’s really not the headquarters anymore,” Wiscaver said. “We have a significant amount of operations, but not like we did a decade or two ago, when we had a far bigger footprint.”

Cornwell and Hoskin both said the 2017 split between GRDA and its largest and longest power customer, Northeastern Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (often referred to as REC) was one of the big reasons for GRDA’s move. After parting ways with GRDA, REC agreed to purchase power from KAMO Electric Cooperative, which is also based in Vinita.

Cornwell said he GRDA board members told him one of the reasons for the move was because the organization had trouble attracting qualified workers to Vinita.

“I really find that hard to believe,” Cornwell said. “KAMO is just down the road basically doing the same kind of service and they somehow continue to grow and get qualified employees. I think it’s a matter of an urban-rural deal to be quite honest.”

Wiscaver said legislators and the governor’s office are already aware of the planned move, and though there have been some questions from local Vinita officials about GRDA’s plans, there has been little in the way of pushback.

Hoskin said changes to state laws concerning GRDA made it easier for the authority to make the move out of Vinita.

“At one time, it would have taken legislative action to allow for the move of GRDA, but over the years the Legislature saw fit to cede the power to the board of directors of GRDA, and that’s really what made it possible,” Hoskin said.

Vinita Mayor Chuck Hoskin. Courtesy/VOTE SMART

Cornwell, who is a freshman state lawmaker, said public officials should have started years ago to work to keep GRDA in Vinita.

“I think there was a ball dropped somewhere along the way before now,” Cornwell said.

Hoskin said at least one group is looking at possibly buying the building, but declined to reveal who.

“We would love to see an employer move in there who will hire local folks, pay livable wages and make things as good if not better than they had been,” Hoskin said. “That’s our hope.”

Wiscaver said its likely that employees who live in Vinita would be required to commute to the new office south of Pryor once it is built, but where those employees will be housed prior to completion on the new building has yet to be determined.

“We’re certainly going to proactively be putting together a plan in terms of if the sale does move forward and the property is sold that includes what we do with our folks in the interim and all that,” Wiscaver said. “We haven’t finalized those plans as of today.”

This story was updated at 12:36 p.m. Oct. 23 to include comments from Vinita Mayor Chuck Hoskin and Rep. Rusty Cornwell.

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Clifton Adcock

Senior Staff Writer

A veteran investigative reporter who has covered eastern Oklahoma for more than 15 years, Clifton joined The Frontier in April 2017. A native of southeastern Oklahoma, he has covered numerous issues from criminal justice to politics for publications including the Tulsa World, the Oklahoma Gazette, and Oklahoma Watch. Clifton holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Oklahoma. Clifton can be reached at clifton@readfrontier.com. Follow him on Twitter @cliftonhowze
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