Skyscraper, energy companies top list of Oklahoma City business news in 2012
Oklahoma City's new Devon Energy Center, questions for Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby's fight against health insurance mandates were among the top business stories this year.
SandRidge is one of the most active drillers in Oklahoma, and plans to drill hundreds of wells next year in the northern Oklahoma, which could generate more than $1 billion of economic activity in that part of the state.
Outside of downtown Oklahoma City, retail and residential expansion continued in Deep Deuce and the Plaza District. St. Anthony furthered its commitment to MidTown with the announcement of a $53 million expansion to its hospital and professional buildings. Further east, the University of Oklahoma said it planned to buy the 700,000 square-foot Presbyterian Health Foundation's research park. The deal, which is expected to close in early 2013, would expand OU's research facilities beyond its OU Health Sciences Center along N Lincoln Boulevard.
New naming rights for the RedHawk's baseball park in Bricktown quickly ran into opposition just days before the season started. The Chickasaw Nation bought sponsorship rights and wanted to name the park after its casino in Newcastle. But Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and other city leaders bristled at the change. They said it was insulting to taxpayers, who had approved construction of the ballpark as part of the original MAPS projects in 1993. Within days, the tribe reversed course and said it would become Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark instead.
Local business owners outspoken about their Christian faith also made the news, albeit for vastly different reasons.
The Green family, owners of Oklahoma City-based crafts retailer Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., sued the federal government in September, challenging a health insurance mandate in the federal health care law that would force Hobby Lobby and Christian bookstore Mardel Inc. to cover certain types of contraception. The Greens said inclusion of the morning-after pill, the week-after pill and some intrauterine devices in the retail chain's health plan would go against their religious beliefs. The family believes those types of contraception could cause abortion.
Hobby Lobby, with 13,000 employees, could face federal fines of up to $1.3 million per day starting Jan. 1 if it doesn't include the contraception in its insurance coverage. After failing to get a temporary injunction in district and appellate court to delay the mandate's implementation, Hobby Lobby and the Green family plan to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, the head of Mustang's Tate Publishing fired 25 employees for critical comments about the company made online and in anonymous emails. In a recording of a staff meeting, CEO Ryan Tate can be heard alternating between prayer, biblical quotations, insults and legal threats. Tate said employees had been warned against spreading what he called misinformation about possible outsourcing to the Philippines.
Retail expansion continued at the Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City, at Interstate 40 and Council Road. A 27,800-square-foot addition in early November added six stores, including Columbia Sportswear Co., Kenneth Cole, Lucky Brand Outlet, Coach Men's Factory and Loft Outlet. The situation was less hopeful at Sears, which announced the liquidation and closure of its department store at Quail Springs Mall. The mall's owner, General Growth Properties, bought the Sears property and plans to market it to other tenants.
A couple of longtime Oklahoma retailers closed this year, including the 91-year-old Horn Seed Co., Oklahoma City's first modern garden center. Coit's Drive-In, known for its root beer and Christmas tree sales, closed its three city locations after more than 50 years.
The Oklahoma City business community also said goodbye to several local giants, including “Old Man River” Ray Ackerman, the visionary advertising executive and downtown booster who fought for transformation of the Oklahoma River flowing through downtown. Fashion buyer and retailer Ruth Meyers, who in 1975 founded the tony Nichols Hills boutique that bore her name, died in October.
CONTRIBUTING: The Oklahoman business staff
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