Turkey Mountain update: Mall developer unveils its plans, and what you can do about it

I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they're at risk.

I love these views at Turkey Mountain. But they’re at risk.

It’s been a little while since I’ve touched on the developments surrounding a proposed outlet mall at Turkey Mountain in Tulsa. Quite a bit has happened since then.

First, a few preliminaries for those of you unfamiliar with Turkey Mountain…

Turley Mountain is an urban wilderness area in southwest Tulsa, intentionally left as wild as possible and undeveloped, with the exception of a system of dirt trails and minimal signage. It’s become a local haven for hikers, cyclists, runners, families and equestrians, and it’s a true asset to the city.

Turkey Mountain is a conglomerate of properties. The city’s River Parks Authority operates the eastern part of Turkey Mountain, while the western section is privately owned by an assortment of property owners. Established trails run throughout the west side, including some which lead to the Westside YMCA. One piece of property is owned by a landowner who is seeking to sell it to Simon Properties, a huge mall development company that wants to build an outlet mall there. Construction of such a mall – and the infrastructure expansion that would come with it – would disturb or destroy wildlife habitat, eat some of those trails, and could have other negative impacts on the watershed in the Turkey Mountain area.

Needless to say, a lot of us are opposed to this proposal and would like to see the outlet mall built somewhere else. But Simon is intent on going through with its plans. On to the updates…

Simon unveiled its plans

On Friday, Simon Properties unveiled its plans for its proposed mall at Turkey Mountain. They’re dubbing it “Tulsa Premium Outlets,” boasting that it will have 80 stores and bring 800 jobs to the area, according to the Tulsa World newspaper.

A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain's west side.

A map of the outlet mall Simon Properties wants to build at Turkey Mountain’s west side.

The map of the proposal shows what Simon calls an open air “village” type format, surrounded by a large parking lot. I didn’t see anything on the plans to indicate a buffer between the lot and the rest of Turkey Mountain, aside from what I guess is the thin strips of green along the fringes; all I can assume is that the mall will be separated from the rest of the area by a fence, a wall, or something like that. I could be wrong about that. Maybe Simon has plans to mitigate the encroachment this mall would have on the rest of Turkey Mountain. If so, a bunch of us would like to hear it.

Simon has competition

Friday’s press conference was the third of three from outlet mall developers this fall. Two other competitors – the Cherokee Nation and Horizon Properties earlier showcased plans for upscale outlet malls on the east side of the Tulsa metro area.

The Cherokees want to build a huge outlet mall adjacent to their golf course and casino complex in Catoosa, a small town just northeast of Tulsa. The city of Tulsa would rather have something inside Tulsa’s city limits as to collect sales tax dollars. So the money angle is big. But the Cherokees have the land, the money and the existing attractions to make it work.

Horizon’s proposal is on Tulsa’s east side and within the city limits. But for whatever reason, the city seems to like Simon’s proposal better.

In any case, there is agreement that only one of these proposals is going to actually turn into reality. All three are competing to sign up the retailers needed to be viable. So the race is on.

Money seems to trump the grand plan

Interestingly, the city’s long-term plan for Turkey Mountain does not include retail development.

Over the years, planners and advisory groups – working in conjunction with city officials and a regional municipal planning group, the Indian Nations Council of Governments –  had formed an opinion and a plan for the entire Arkansas River corridor as it runs through Tulsa, including Turkey Mountain, which is on the river’s west bank.

Not only does the plan not say anything about plopping large retail developments around Turkey Mountain, it actually advocates expanding the wilderness area.

According to INCOG’s Arkansas River corridor master plan:

“Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness Area occupies one of the most prominent locations along the river corridor and represents a unique opportunity for substantial urban wilderness in close proximity to the heart of metropolitan Tulsa. The park should be expanded to the extent possible through the acquisition of adjacent undeveloped property and preserved in perpetuity as an urban wilderness/open space area, Development within the park should be limited to uses complementary to this great natural resource, such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” (emphasis mine)

And here we are now, with a huge corporation waving dollar bills in people’s faces, and the city seems to be forgetting what planners, through a lot of thought and study, decided what was best for the area.

So some points…

Tulsa Premium Outlets isn’t just near the Turkey Mountain area referenced above. It would be inside of it. While the land on which it would be built is privately owned, it is still part of the larger area the master plan deemed needed for the preservation of wild land “in perpetuity.”

City leaders, in considering Simon’s proposal, need to be asking how the mall fits into the master plan, and come to the correct conclusion that it doesn’t. The INCOG plan said anything developed in that area should somehow promote or complement activities “such as hiking, equestrian trails and stables, environmental education and related uses.” How exactly does a shopping center do that? The answer is simple. It doesn’t.

The city needs to think regionally, and realize that there are other viable proposals that can fill the outlet market. The Tulsa Regional Chamber has made a big point of not just promoting economic activity inside Tulsa’s city limits, but to think regionally. So on that front, the Cherokees’ plan makes sense. It’s a natural spot for development and wouldn’t consume any wild land. And if the city and business interests are dead set on having an outlet mall inside the city limits, Horizon has a plan for that.

The city needs to take a hard look at environmental impact. The watershed into Mooser Creek is quite large, encompassing the bulk of the greater Turkey Mountain area. Do we know what pipeline relocation, road widening and mall construction will do to the watershed? How will all that affect the YMCA? How many trails are going to be lost due to the mall and to road widening? How badly is wildlife going to be squeezed? And lastly, with all these serious questions out there, is it really worth it to move forward?

I know INCOG’s blueprint is not law or anything like that. But it’s a wise plan, one that takes into consideration that some things are worth more than the short-term gains of increased sales tax dollars and low-wage retail jobs.

This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But  we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.

This is what Turkey Mountain should be about. Shopping can happen anywhere. But we only have so many trails for families to enjoy.

What we gain from keeping Turkey Mountain wild is immense. Wildlife keeps its habitat. People win from having a wild place in which they can go, get healthy and be out of an urban environment. And preserving the area not only puts a stamp on positive community values, it also gives us an opportunity to teach children the value nature offers.

For city planners and the City Council, I’d ask that they remember these points before rubber-stamping Simon’s project.

As for those of us in Tulsa, it’s time for a little action. There is a petition you can sign where you can show support in keeping Turkey Mountain wild. You can write and call your City Council representative to let them know what you’re not keen on an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. And if you’re on social media, post your photos and opinions on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and tag it with #KeepTurkeyWild.

Time to get crackin’, folks. Be heard.

Bob Doucette

13 thoughts on “Turkey Mountain update: Mall developer unveils its plans, and what you can do about it

  1. Pingback: Plans Unveiled | Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition

  2. I can’t quite believe this is moving forward!!! Outlet malls are not the answer to everything to sell. In Oklahoma City, one of the major stores in their outlet mall is pulling out. The Stroud outlet mall was blown away by a tornado. Does Tulsa really need an outdoor mall, where a GREAT outdoor facility is already present for ALL Tulsa and surrounding area citizens to enjoy?

    Moni Bieser

    • I agree. And I saw that story yesterday about the OKC outlet mall. It was an anchor tenant that is leaving. That should be a warning. When you lose the big tenants, the little ones follow suit. Conversely, what we have a Turkey Mountain is awesome. I’d like to see it protected. Thanks for the comment!

  3. This land is not in fact owned by a single landowner. It is owned by a group of 20 people. It was bought over 30 years ago as an investment property. It was not intentionally left alone as you claim. There had been no interest from anyone to purchase the property. People that use the land for trails etc are actually trespassing. The owners have debated about blocking access for years. Your facts are incorrect.
    How do I know you might ask. My dad is one of the 20. My mom used to work for the group of doctors that bought the land. They asked her if she wanted to invest.

    • I understand that, but I can tell you that since all the trees were cleared out on the property in question, no one goes there. And I understand the value in an investment property, but there are two other issues at play: First, the city has a responsibility to develop land in its confines that are best for its residents. Hence, the debate at hand. Second, if a mall is built there, it won’t just affect the land being sold. The streets leading to the property would have to be widened considerable. Storm drainage would have to be installed. A pipeline would have to be moved. Land outside the mall plot would be affected adversely. So those are the issues that go beyond just what happens to this investment property.

  4. Pingback: Simon Property Group Formally Announces New Outlet Mall on Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain | YogisDen.us

  5. Has anyone been to a mall lately? How many shoes stores do we need?
    I understand property owner’s rights to do what they wish with what they properly own. But do they ever think about the land out side of an investment?
    When you buy a piece of undeveloped land, can you consider anything else besides yet another retail strip?
    At an increasing rate, Americans are buying items on-line. In the 90’s with the dot-com boom I really thought that most malls would be elderly housing by now.
    Now that people are not afraid to order on-line, fraud protection has increased and people are used to shopping for the best price, why do we need more malls?
    I never go to Best Buy. I shop on line and they ship to me for free.
    Why do we need to desecrate Turkey Mountain when I can buy shoes from Zappos.com or Sears.com?
    800 minimum wage retail jobs that could be located in down town Tulsa. Let’s be conservative here and actually conserve something instead of wasting our heritage.

      • It’s really sad to see open land chewed up when there are so many vacant buildings around.
        I’m not religious, but it seems ironic to see a new church go up in a once open field.
        A few years ago I saw a Synagogue being built on land that had a sign on it saying “Town Forest” Really! I had to laugh. The bulldozers had already destroyed the place. I wanted to send a photo to Jay Leno. He used to do the bit with ironic signs and stuff.

      • Yes. That’s a great point. I don’t think growth at any cost is not a good strategy for a community. The landowners have already cleared out a lot of the underbrush on the site, so in some respects it’s been despoiled a bit. But that’s just a taste of what’s to come. The outlet mall’s footprint would be far bigger than the parcel of land itself.

  6. You will never know what you’ve got till it’s gone.Fight for keeping ” God’s Country” the way it is.An earlier post is right,how many store do you need.I havn’t bought shoes in a store for years,just did most of my shopping on line or at regular retailers.I just watched one of these get built and the devastation is awful.The worst part is there is a chain of these things selling the same crud up and down the state ( Ca.)and the oldest one is essentially unused.None are in places anyone would want to go otherwise,and they are full of junk.How much stuff do people need.Giving up the real world,the one our grandparents worked for, doesn’t seem right,not for corporate profit over public benefit

  7. Pingback: Return to Turkey Mountain with the Tatur Tots and an Update on the Outlet Mall | YogisDen.us

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