South Oklahoma City — the Interstate 240 retail corridor — shall rise again.
That's the hope and aim of Envision 240, a project by Urban Land Institute Oklahoma, the South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the Oklahoma City Planning Department.
It started with interviews of I-240 “stakeholders” — business people, property owners, investors and residents — paid for by an $18,000 grant from ULI national.
A report out next month will leave the next step in the hands of those with an interest in seeing I-240 return to its glory days, generally regarded as 20 years ago, when it was a thriving connector between Will Rogers World Airport to the west and Tinker Air Force Base to the east.
Not that the highway is blighted. A big retail “power center,” 240 Penn Park, developed in 2004-2006, actually is a bright spot on the north side of the interstate near S Pennsylvania Avenue. But the road has seen better days, especially the 4½-mile mostly developed suburban stretch between I-44 and I-35, according to city planning specialists.
Shabby, not chic
The pockets of shuttered stores and creeping shabbiness are especially noticeable, property specialists said, compared with shiny destinations such as Town Center Plaza, a decade-plus long redevelopment of SE 29 east from S Air Depot Boulevard in Midwest City 10 miles northeast, and the Shops at Moore, developed in 2006-2008 along I-35 just to the south in Moore.
But first, those who would revitalize I-240 have to get the attention of those who are uninterested, said Leslie Batchelor, chairman of ULI Oklahoma.
Initial responses were “not as enthusiastic as we'd hoped,” she said Tuesday at a meeting to explain Envision 240 at the South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.
Gaining the interest of residents along the corridor, which Envision 240 defines as from SW/SE 68 south to SW/SE 79 and from I-44 east to I-35, will be important to successful revitalization, said Tom Eitler, vice president of ULI Advisory Services.
Ward 5 City Council member David Greenwell said he hoped to involve all of south Oklahoma City in the process.
Eitler, at the meeting, pointed to numerous other corridor revitalization efforts around the country for Oklahoma City to consider, and outlined several principles for “reinventing America's suburban strips,” such as “anticipate evolution,” “know the market,” “prune back retail,” “tame the traffic,” “diversify the character” and “eradicate the ugliness.”
Eitler said planners and stakeholders here need to decide whether Envision 240 should be mainly about urban design or economic development, and that all involved should see local government's involvement in any private-public effort not as a “bludgeon” but as a guide.
Humphreys raises question
That prompted former Oklahoma City mayor and developer Kirk Humphreys to ask Eitler from the audience what could be done about aggressive retail recruitment by neighboring municipalities Midwest City and Moore “throwing money at retailers, giving them money they can't refuse.”
Humphreys said, “It's almost like the free enterprise system is competing with the governments. It's pretty blatant. I don't think a nuclear strike is an option.”
Bass Pro deal mentioned
After the meeting, another developer noted that the city of Oklahoma City spent more than $17 million 10 years ago to lure Bass Pro Shops — under Humphrey's tenure as mayor and with his support.
Jim Rose, a retail property broker with Grubb & Ellis-Levy Beffort, said he is interested in what Envision 240 comes up with for the stretch of highway, which “has always been a real important part, a focal point” of retail in Oklahoma City.
Southside developer P.B. Odom III said the effort seemed to get off to a good start.
To read the Urban Land Institute publication “Ten Principles for Reinventing America's Suburban Strips, go to http://tinyurl.com/10