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Unfinished business: Nichols Hills waits for grocery store

Chesapeake Energy Corp. appears to have scrapped plans to open a company-run grocer in Nichols Hills Plaza.
by Steve Lackmeyer and Brianna Bailey Published: March 11, 2013
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“It's early days yet,” Clements said. “I assume everything is going to proceed as we've been told.”

At a City Council meeting in November 2011, Hood promised city officials that the company would bring a new grocer to the empty storefront by fall 2012. That date was pushed back to spring 2013. Nichols Hills, meanwhile, saw sales tax collections drop 17 percent for the year ending June 30, 2012, compared to the same period the previous year.

In a June 7, 2012, story, Reuters reported internal records at Chesapeake showed the energy company had put two grocery store managers on its payroll with combined salaries exceeding $200,000. The employees oversaw planning from a second-floor office in the same building that once housed Nichols Hills Drug

One of those two employees, Tom Sladek, now runs a sprinkler company in Kalispell, Mont. Sladek lost his job in November after he was told Chesapeake was reining in its focus to its oil and natural gas assets after former ConocoPhillips executive Archie Dunham was named Chesapeake's new chairman.

“They definitely took a different turn of direction,” Sladek said. “They got a new board of directors and wanted to completely get out of everything that wasn't oil and gas.”

Sladek said that as he left, specialty grocer Trader Joes had plans to take over the market space.

Properties for sale?

Pemberton, who fought off tears as he closed his family's 122-year-old Crescent Market, now finds it ironic that a prominent developer, whom he would not name, recently told him the Trader Joe's deal had fallen through due to Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon's departure. Pemberton said he was invited by the developer to reopen Crescent Market in its old location at Nichols Hills Plaza.

The building, however, is an empty shell. Pemberton sold all his furnishings and equipment at auction and his veteran staff has dispersed to other groceries throughout the metro.

Pemberton said he was informed by the developer that Nichols Hills Plaza, Metro Shopping Center, Classen Curve, Triangle and other area commercial investments were all up for sale. Other area real estate investors have privately confirmed to The Oklahoman the properties are up for sale.

Pemberton said he has considered buying the Shell station at the entrance to the Nichols Hills Plaza and adding limited food sales, but isn't interested in reopening Crescent Market.

“I don't have the pockets to compete with Whole Foods — they would still be competition,” Pemberton said. “The old store is just a skeleton now. It would take a lot to get it going again.”

Pemberton predicts “upheaval” is ahead for the entire area — a costly consequence of McClendon's experimentation with commercial development.

“When they ventured off from oil and gas, they were in over their heads no matter what they were doing,” Pemberton said. “Their philosophy was to pay two to three times what a property was worth, and you can't make money doing that.”

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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by Brianna Bailey
Business Writer
Brianna Bailey has lived in Idaho, Germany and Southern California, but Oklahoma is her adopted home. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the Univerisity of Oklahoma and has worked at several newspapers in Oklahoma and Southern...
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