Envision 240 leaders are looking south for a glimpse of a possible future for the Interstate 240 corridor.
They're encouraging property and business owners along I-240 between I-44 and I-35 to get aboard — literally. A bus tour of the Camp Bowie District in Fort Worth, Texas, is tentatively set for March 28.
The Fort Worth district, along Camp Bowie Boulevard, “is dedicated to beautification projects ... promoting and driving traffic to its businesses, spurring economic development, and hosting special community events such as the Fort Worth Music Festival, Camp Bowie Christmas, Glory Days Classic Car Show and more.” See the website at campbowiedistrict.com.
Envision 240 is the now yearlong effort by Urban Land Institute Oklahoma, the South Oklahoma City of Commerce and the Oklahoma City Planning Department to consider ways to rejuvenate retail business and improve the appearance of the 4-mile stretch of I-240.
It started with meetings of business and community leaders and representatives of adjacent neighborhoods that led to a study, available at www.okc.gov/planning/envision240/reports.html.
Now, promoters are working specifically with property and business owners “to find out what their needs are, to dive into the ULI (Urban Land Institute) report more, to see if there's an opportunity to move forward,” said Elaine Lyons, president of the South Oklahoma City Chamber.
Consultant Tom Gray of Smith & Gray Co. in Edmond said the formation of a business improvement district or tax increment financing district would be helpful in coordinating and funding any organized effort. Gray is working with Vince Howi, Smith & Gray project manager. Kim Cooper-Hart, urban planner with the Oklahoma City Planning Department, said the aim is to have a steering committee in place by June.
The Envision 240 report outlined three goals:
• “Re-tenant the area's viable big- and mid-box stores. Large vacant spaces don't leave a good impression on residents or potential new tenants. Plus, they aren't generating income for the building owner to make improvements or repairs.”
• “Reinvest in the area's best retail centers and nodes. The currently good nodes are a worthy investment to attract shoppers and businesses. The depressed and less productive centers can be candidates for revitalization investment — but only if the surrounding areas keep up a good backdrop.”
• “Redevelop outmoded retail for other uses, such as employment center civic and cultural amenities, residential and/or mixed-use centers. What goes on inside a building will change over time; what worked 10 years ago may not work today. Shopping mall conversions are taking place all over the country, generating new investment and creating new activity centers in what were once underutilized and blighted spaces.”
Southside developer P.B. Odom III said that a decade ago I-240 was “far more in need than it is today” and that Envision 240 is an effort to coordinate and bolster trends that are already under way.
The closing of Ultimate Electronics, 515 SW 74 along the interstate in 2011 and the recent acquisition of the property for US Foods' Chef'store is an example. A plan for expansion near 240 Penn Park, where Odom has land, is another.
Odom pointed to 1970s-era apartment buildings that some see as detracting from I-240's appearance and potential: As the area continues to improve, “they will be gone,” Odom said, because “the land will become too expensive” and someone will acquire them, raze them and bring the land to a higher use.
Odom said any reluctance about a coordinated effort comes from those with no long-term interest in the area.
“We have been in business over 75 years, so our thinking is generally compatible and in line with the city and state, and even the federal government, for that matter.”
Fort Worth tour
For more information about the March 28 tour of the Camp Bowie District in Fort Worth, Texas, call the South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce at 634-1436.