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Oklahoma Watches and Warnings

Controversial land sale in Stillwater triggers taxpayer lawsuit

STILLWATER, Okla. - There's an uproar in Stillwater over plans for a possible new movie theater.

At the center of the issue: its location.

The City of Stillwater and Warren Theaters announced the project earlier this year.

It appears to be going on a piece of land the city sold years ago to a children's museum that has now resold it to a private developer.

Now taxpayers think they're getting the short end of the deal.

Back in 2009, the City of Stillwater sold the land to the WONDERtorium Children's Museum board for $77,500 - a lot less than the $311,000 the city paid for it ten years before.

The city also financed a big portion for the museum because it was meant to allow kids in the community to enjoy these big, bright colorful rooms.

"The contract and the deed require that the land only be used for a children`s museum, and if it's not used for a children's museum, then it reverts back to the City of Stillwater," Cory Williams said.

Williams, the former state representative for the district including Stillwater, filed a lawsuit on behalf of taxpayers.

Instead of the land going back to the city, the city council pulled that clause out of the deed in 2017, allowing the museum to sell the land to a private developer for $550,000.

Nothing went back to the city.

Now, there are talks of the land being offered in an incentive package to Warren Theaters, leading to this lawsuit.

​"I think that's something the city should really think about and reconsider, especially if they're going to give it away," Stillwater resident Dale Shipley said.

​"In our city charter it specifically says if you transfer anything over $225,000 you have to do it by a normal ordinance which requires notice, debate, comment, and question, or you have to do it by a vote of the people," Williams said.

​The developer, Russ Teubner, told News 4:

“I was not a party to the 2009 transaction between the City and WONDERtorium.  However, I know that many citizens and businesses in Stillwater have supported the WONDERtorium since its inception.  Thus, the City Council’s public actions were supported by many citizens and families.”

Concerned taxpayers had been circulating a petition calling for an investigation before this lawsuit was filed.

Now a judge will decide whether the city acted properly when it changed that deed to the land.

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