Although a cheery banner overlooking Avondale Drive briefly promised that a grocery store would be open in Nichols Hills Plaza by fall 2012, Chesapeake Energy Corp. appears to have scrapped its plans to open a company-run grocer in the shopping center.
The banner disappeared months ago and an office in Nichols Hills Plaza once staffed with at least two Chesapeake Energy employees tasked with opening the supermarket is now dark, locked and empty.
Officials with Chesapeake Energy declined to comment about the grocery or the future of the shopping center.
Construction workers were putting the finishing touches on exterior renovations and landscapers were planting new flowers one recent afternoon on the south end of Nichols Hills Plaza, but the city has yet to receive a building permit application for the store's interior.
“They've gone about as far as they can go without a building permit,” Nichols Hills Building Inspector Kelly Hurley said.
While most of Nichols Hills Plaza still bustles with shoppers and restaurant patrons, the southern half of the shopping center has been largely vacant for months.
It was there that generations of shoppers patronized Crescent Market and Nichols Hills Drug, a family-run drugstore complete with a 1960s-era lunch counter.
Crescent Market closed in fall 2011, and soon after its owner Robert Pemberton reported its demise was hastened by a $6,000 a month rent increase sought by Chesapeake and competition brought on by Whole Foods.
The neighboring Nichols Hills Drug closed its lunch counter despite a community outcry and survived in a smaller storefront at the plaza until January, at which time owner J. Black gave up on promises made by Henry Hood, Chesapeake Energy vice president of land, that his pharmacy would be incorporated into the planned grocery store.
Black ended a half century at the plaza and moved to a new location a few miles west in Oklahoma City.
Nichols Hills has seen double-digit percentage declines in its sales tax revenue since several merchants have left the Plaza shopping center in Crescent Market's wake.
The two-square mile city has precious few retailers to generate sales tax revenue Nichols Hills Mayor Peter Hoffman said. However, the city is still doing well, because of increased tax revenue from new home construction and its initiative to refinance some municipal bonds, he said.
Hoffman believes that although Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, the driving force behind much of the company's real estate development, is leaving the company, McClendon will continue to play an active role in the future of Nichols Hills.
“He wants to be actively involved and a visionary with real estate for our city,” Hoffman said. “His heart has always been in the right place and will continue to be.”
However, Hoffman and other city officials are still short on specifics about what Chesapeake's plans are for Nichols Hills Plaza, he said.
“I fully expect that it will be developed to its highest and best use,” Hoffman said.
Nichols Hills Councilwoman Sody Clements continues to be optimistic about the future of Nichols Hills Plaza.