Officials ponder future of money-losing state lodges

Sunday, July 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Oklahomans are debating whether the state should sell its money-losing lodges or keep investing millions of dollars into them.

Lodge operations at Western Hills, Lake Texoma, Lake Murray, Roman Nose, and Quartz Mountain have lost more than a combined $4.2 million in the past 10 years.

Only Lake Murray and Lake Texoma have ever finished a year with profits during the last decade. Lake Murray made money for six consecutive years, but has lost money the last four years.

Quartz Mountain, which state regents assumed care of Jan. 1, has never made money since it was established in the 1950s.

The lodges are kept going with state subsidies. Last year the Legislature appropriated almost $2.8 million for the lodges, or more than double what was appropriated in 1996.

A poll conducted by the University of Oklahoma Public Opinion Learning Laboratory shows 59 percent of three hundred residents surveyed favored lodge operations with state funds. The poll shows 57 percent would like to use public money for capital improvements at the lodges.

State Rep. Kenneth Corn, D-Howe, supports using a statewide bond to finance lodge renovations and is opposed to turning over the lodges to private corporations.

``A lot of Oklahomans can't afford to vacation in Florida or California,'' Corn said. ``But they can afford to take their families to our state parks, where they offer some of the most beautiful and scenic sites around. I don't think the state lodges were ever intended to make money.''

Corn also says the lodges have local economic benefits that may not be immediately obvious.

``People don't just stay at the lodges,'' he said. ``They go into these areas and pump gas, buy food, go to movies, play golf.''

Gov. Frank Keating has long supported privatizing the lodges.

State Tourism Executive Director Jane Jayroe says she will gladly talk to gubernatorial candidates about the good financial health of Oklahoma's state lodges.

``This is a problem we need to address,'' Jayroe said. ``These lodges need major renovations. And what scares me most is if we don't address this issue now, we'll be here 10 years from now looking at the same ceiling paint, same old roofs. Then we'll be looking at closures, if not permanently.''