Visitors to Lake Lawtonka this summer will have trouble finding fuel for their bellies and their boats.
That’s because the two stores and fuel stations that service the lake, School House Slough and Robinson’s Landing, are not open.
Justin Scott and his family are just a few of the residents who are dealing with the inconvenience of the convenience stores being closed.
“It’s been open since I was 6 years old,” Justin Scott said of School House Slough. “This is the first time it’s closed.”
The City of Lawton, which is responsible for the lake, was informed by Kent Waller in early 2022 that he was not going to renew his lease, which expired at the end of December 2022. Members of the Lawton City Council first discussed the situation at a meeting in October 2022.
In November 2022, members of the City Council said they were concerned about operations of the store, and discussion was to begin then about what the city would do with the concession. The expectation had been to contract those operations, as well as look at the option of installing self-service gas pumps after Mayor Stan Booker questioned whether the city had the expertise to operate the store.
Two weeks ago the council directed city staff to go out for requests for proposals for a concessionaire to run the shop. But as of now, School House Slough remains closed.
“It’s horrible,” Scott said. “That’s where we got our gas from, the food, the beer, snacks for the kids. There’s no reason the shop shouldn’t be open.”
Scott said the closure forces him to leave the lake to get more supplies. Another family at School House Slough called it a “sad deal.”
In a public meeting in February 2023, held by Halff Associates, draftors of the new lakes’ master plan, Nickie Singleton spoke for many of her neighbors when she said what she wants the city to do is take care of what it already has “and leave us alone.”
Robinson’s Landing also closed
By the time Waller had informed the City of Lawton that he wouldn’t renew his lease for School House Slough, Lake Lawtonka had already lost its other concession area at Robinson’s Landing, 4 miles to the northwest of School House Slough. Former owner Mike Cowing had decided to not renew his lease. Until then, it was a popular place with a restaurant and bar, live music and pizza, as well as kayak rentals, and it also catered to the nearby neighborhoods.
Cowing said one of the main reasons for not renewing his lease was the City only offered him a one-year lease extension. When he took over Robinson’s Landing in July 2018, under a different director of the Parks and Recreation Department, he said they agreed on a renewal of the lease every three years. When the time came in 2021 to renew the lease, the city insisted on only one year. Cowing said that this was not acceptable, since he would need reliability as a business owner. Cowing also said there was a clause in his contract giving the City the ability to terminate the contract at any time.
“I was planning on doing this for a long time,” Cowing said, adding he had put in a lot of time and effort into the store. He recalled that he paid $30,000 to get the store running, since it came empty. The previous owner had paid $80,000 to get it going, according to Cowing. He also said he had to pay to fix electrical and plumbing issues after the City said the building wasn’t up to code after an inspection that was required to renew the alcohol license. Cowing said there was no such inspection done before he leased the store.
Now, the building is slowly running down, with holes in the wall and ceiling and piles of trees, gravel and cinder blocks in the parking area.
City: Robinson’s Landing not profitable
According to Jim Bonnarens, the City of Lawton’s lake superintendent, Robinson’s Landing was simply not profitable.
“Every concessionaire we’ve had has struggled because they don’t see the public influx of people that School House Slough does,” he said, adding that during the off season, there is “next to nothing” at Robinson’s Landing.
Bonnarens said that the store wasn’t generating revenue even as the concessionaire “made every effort to generate money. He couldn’t make it work. The location just wasn’t good. We don’t know what to do to generate revenue. “
Part of the problem, according to Bonnarens, is Robinson’s Landing’s isolation from most people and it being surrounded by rural subdivision.
“A lot of folks don’t know it exists,” he said.
He also said that when a Dollar General Store was built at Meers-Porter Hill Road and Oklahoma 58, it drew revenue away from the store. Cowing, on the other hand, said that his store was already closed before Dollar General opened.
Although Cowing agreed with Bonnarens’ opinion that, “it’s hard to make money on the north side,” he also said he was doing good with the store.
“I paid my rent. I would’ve kept going. We were profitable. We sold life jackets, hot food, etc. Dollar General wouldn’t have hurt us,” he said.
According to him, the main problem is the City not investing money, not just into the Robinson’s Landing area, but into the lake itself.
“They ruin the lake,” Cowing said. “They have no idea what they are doing. And it’s running people off.”
Investments into the lake are part of the lake’s master plan. But, the City Council has suspended any decision on that master plan, saying earlier this month that there were still questions to be answered.
Bonnarens said he doesn’t know what the City of Lawton’s long-term plans are for Robinson’s Landing, and City administrators say part of that decision rests with the master plan.
Bonnarens said his personal opinion is that the greatest benefit would be achieved by tearing down the store and replacing it with an open air pavilion and a fish cleaning station, with perhaps an adjacent boating and kayaking area.
He said there might be potential with Robinson’s Landing if it were developed like School House Slough is, but that would be “a tough sell.”