But the store was still old. And at 18,000 square feet, it was far smaller than modern groceries that range between 40,000 and 60,000 square feet.
“When you rent a space from someone else, you do inherit someone else’s dream and vision,” Binkowski said. “Without the constraints of being a tenant, we are allowed to dream about a location and building that we will now own, on land that we own, for a community that has been faithful to shop with us, and that has shared with us what their dream is.”
Shoppers have asked for a deli like those at the Edmond Uptown Market and the Buy For Less on Northwest Expressway. They want a full service bakery with cake decorating. They want sit-down areas for parents to catch their breath.
“We intend to deliver on these wishes,” Binkowski said. “This will happen in a brand new, 50,000-square-foot store built on an adjacent site that will allow us to open the new store before we close and demolish the old one. This store will have expanded deli-bakery, floral, plentiful options in produce and specialty diet offerings, like most of the other stores do.”
And in an area of town the Oklahoma City/County Health Department identified as struggling with good health, the new store also will have a space to host the chain’s “Learn with Lunch” cooking classes with corporate dietician Becky Varner.
“Food is our ministry,” Binkowski said. “Food is the place where community starts. People bond when they break bread together. We have the supreme blessing of being ‘community makers’ because community happens when food shows up. And that is our dream for this location. When we have an opportunity to deliver on what has been needed for so long, to a community that has been pretty far down on the totem pole in getting a timely facelift, we pray that we just start a new vision.”
All the tools
Pettis sees the new store as just the start of a long-overdue game change for northeast Oklahoma City. Working with O’Connor, Pettis is hoping to secure a tax increment finance district that, like those established in the Oklahoma Health Center and downtown, will spur even more redevelopment up and down NE 23.
“We’re not just talking about the possibility of having a modern full size grocery store, but also some office buildings, some educational and retail components,” Pettis said. “And it’s going to be happening right in the heart of northeast Oklahoma City.”
The next steps will, however, take longer than development of the new grocery store, which is tentatively set to be built later this year.
If the city council on Tuesday approves pursuing creation of a new tax increment finance district, O’Connor’s tasks ahead will include consulting with county, library and schools officials and creating a plan for the district to be approved by the involved taxing entities.
Creating a new Urban Renewal blight area will involve even more delicate discussions with area residents who may recall when the agency, which is now overseen by O’Connor, wiped out entire neighborhoods in northeast Oklahoma City.
Both Pettis and O’Connor agree that legacy still stings, but is no longer a reflection of the current agency which has an entirely different staff, leadership and direction.
“Urban Renewal in the past left a very bad taste in the community’s mouth,” Pettis said. “But the Urban Renewal of yesterday is not the Urban Renewal of today or the Urban Renewal of tomorrow. This will not touch residential houses. But we do need to clean up streets like 23rd to make opportunities for job creation and retail development.”
O’Connor promised a blight declaration will only follow extensive studies and community participation.
“This area is important enough to the community that we need to go into it with all the tools we have available,” O’Connor said. “We really don’t have a lot of tools to use in Oklahoma. TIF (tax increment financing) is a powerful tool. The Urban Renewal Authority does have powers that even the City of Oklahoma City doesn’t have. So we want to make sure we’re armed and ready to go to do everything we can to move northeast Oklahoma City forward.”
Both Binkowski and Pettis say the new store and creation of the tax increment finance district will send a powerful message to other retailers and employers that opportunities await along NE 23.
“The district demarcation is just a tool that the City of Oklahoma City can use to invite development and brand new vision,” Binkowski said. “It is the meaning of the district that becomes the evidence. That evidence is that had by city leaders and neighborhoods. That belief is that, ‘You are worthy,’ and ‘We believe in the northeast entrepreneurship ability, and we are going to show it to you in a real, tangible way.’ If that happens, the message will be loud and clear.”
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It takes the private sector to take the risk and do the development,” O’Connor said. “So this is huge that Buy For Less is committed to northeast Oklahoma City to provide them with food and this development.”
President of The Alliance