The Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center could soon be on its way to new management; during a Special Call meeting on Wednesday its trustees backed the city's plan to begin negotiations with venue management and hospitality services company, Spectra Comcast.

The Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center in Shawnee could soon be on its way to new management; during a Special Call meeting on Wednesday its trustees backed the city's plan to begin negotiations with venue management and hospitality services company, Spectra Comcast.

In January Shawnee City Commissioners unanimously voted to enter into negotiations with Spectra, which is being considered to manage the facility.

The plan hit a snag soon after and was delayed to allow expo's board of trustees more time to determine support. When the board heard the proposition from Interim City Manager Eric Benson, they expressed some reservations due to knowing so little about the company — as well as the lack of a list of other firms to consider.

The expo board then created a committee — designating three of its members and a Shawnee City Commissioner — to do more research on Spectra, as well as other venue management companies.

On Wednesday, Trustee Rachael Melot made a motion to appoint a committee — comprised of two expo trustees and members from the city — to meet with and enter into negotiations with Spectra for management of the facility.

Shawnee City Commissioner Darren Rutherford said he had spoken with Mayor Richard Finley about the issue this week and — though Finley still has the prerogative to do what he chooses — he had expressed that he would be supportive of the trustees' committee recommendation regarding how many members to have on it.

Trustees approved support of the plan, despite a dissenting vote by Chairman Randy Gilbert.

Melot said she believed the goal was for the trustees to make a recommendation to the Shawnee City Commission by its April 1 board meeting.

The city is then projected to negotiate through May 21, she said, with the idea of entering into a contract that would begin July 1.

“The hope is that if we were entered into a contract by then, the company could be onsite to observe and watch the IFYR (International Youth Finals Rodeo),” she said.

Gilbert noted a concern that, given that date, Spectra would become the facility's employer before the rodeo — and such a transition, if not fully prepared, could potentially compromise the smooth operation of the IFYR, due to the large amount of manpower it takes; current employees are paid by the city.

Benson pledged to keep current city employees in place until an agreeable transition is complete.

Gilbert then had questions regarding the future of the expo's board.

“What management abilities will the trustees have?” he asked.

Melot said the trustees would have the same responsibility to Spectra (once a contract is in place) as they do to the city now.

“Our role remains exactly the same,” she said.

She added that recent conversations regarding new management bring to light a need to answer what the expo board's role is and should be down the road.

Benson reiterated that legacy events are guaranteed to be protected to the degree trustees desire.

“It can be written into the contract,” he said.

Rutherford also said starting with a five-year contract is preferred.

“Three years is not long enough to get familiar and comfortable,” Rutherford said. “There's too much invested on both sides to try to have it done in three years; we're recommending a five-year contract to start with.”

The expo is touted as the city's pride and joy, but it has not been without a struggle, never quite reaching its expected potential — especially when it comes to making enough money to stand on its own feet.

In an effort to make improvements — a priority for all involved — these steps are being made to actively shift its course.

The expo board has been seeking city backing on a plan to restructure for years, Melot said.

Watch for updates.