If you’ve ever followed the boxing, you know what it looks like when a confident fighter meets a buzz saw. Back in the day, that was Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas. Everyone assumed the champ would dispatch poor Buster in three rounds or less, but we all know that didn’t happen. Iron Mike knew what he had going for him. He just didn’t properly see what was coming at him on that night.
Last month, the Simon Group showed up en masse to a Tulsa Planning Commission meeting and told those who were there a couple of important things concerning the outlet mall they plan to build on the west side of Turkey Mountain. First, they said they’d built more than 80 retail developments around the world, and that we should trust them. And second, they told us to just look at what they’d already done here in Tulsa.
OK, I’ll bite. They told us to trust them. Trust, as I see it, is something that comes with concrete plans and verifiable facts. What we’ve received thus far is a plan that is a little vague on important details, most important of which is how this mall, which would overlook the Westside YMCA kids camp, would affect that camp and the rest of the woodlands in terms of drainage, litter and light pollution. Many of us have no doubt the impact would be negative, and we have yet to see anything concrete that would ease those concerns.
It also doesn’t seem like Simon has taken the traffic issues as seriously as the rest of us do, especially the people who live along 61st Street and Elwood Avenue, which is right next to where Simon’s mall would be built. Their plan calls for using a tax breaks to widen the 61st Street bridge over U.S. 75 and a little bit of the road from the bridge to just east of the development. But anyone in the know would tell you that traffic along all of 61st Street and Elwood Avenue, that hilly, curving two-lane ribbon of asphalt, would increase dramatically. The road is simply not built to handle traffic from such a large, high-traffic development like an outlet mall. Traffic going in and out of the mall parking lot would also be congested, as there is just one planned entry/exit.
So just from an eyeball test, the mall is going to create a traffic nightmare. Trust is, they say. Sure. Trust, just don’t verify.
On to the next point: to look at what Simon has already done here in the Tulsa Market.
I’m aware of two projects. One was the Eastland Mall in east Tulsa. When it opened in the late 1980s, it was a pretty great place, but it didn’t last long. All accounts showed that Eastland began failing not long after it opened.
It’s still open, but not as a shopping mall. Instead, it’s a repurposed property with offices (now under different ownership), a few restaurants and a tiny bit of retail. So as far as this part of Simon’s track record in Tulsa, I’d call Eastland Mall a swing and a miss.
But then there’s Woodland Hills Mall. Now this has, indeed, become a serious retail success story in Tulsa, anchoring a retail area that has become the most powerful commercial engine we have in the city.
But also, just look at it. The traffic there is as heavy as anywhere else in the city. The number of street lights between Memorial Drive and U.S. 169 on 71st Street rivals what you might see in the block-by-block traffic control downtown. It’s a sea of big-box stores, chain restaurants, strip malls and other buildings orbiting the mass that is Woodland Hills Mall. Just the thing you want to see plopped in the middle of the city’s top urban green space, right?
Oh, and let’s just take a look at the pictures of what the property around Woodland Hills Mall looks like…
Imagine that loveliness hovering over the Westside Y. I guess we could teach kids the value of hard work by assigning them to daily litter patrol, right?
Needless to say, the skeptics go well beyond me and other trail users. Greater Tulsa YMCA officials have expressed their concerns on two different television news interviews, and members of the Tulsa City Council have expressed very public and blunt doubts about the outlet mall plan’s viability at the location Simon proposes. Many people are also not wild about subsidizing a multi-billion-dollar corporation’s plans for the mall with public funds via a tax-increment finance district.
(It might also be noted that there has been no public opposition to competing plans in east Tulsa and Catoosa.)
The argument that preserving the land as it is – wild, forested hills – has become the consensus preference for the people who actually live here as opposed to the suits at Simon’s Indianapolis corporate headquarters. People like the idea of maintaining a spot where they can hike, ride a bike, run or take their horse as opposed to yet another shopping center. We’ve got a lot of those already.
So Simon asked for a time out. Company representatives were to appear at a Planning Commission next week, but asked for a one-month continuance. Translation: After getting battered by bad press, turning public opinion and open doubts from the people who have final say on the mall’s approval, Simon is taking a standing eight-count in their corner of the ring. I guess these things happen when your plan isn’t very good to begin with, and that’s not a surprise, given how poor the site is for a mall, and the other weaknesses I’ve already noted.
That doesn’t mean this issue is decided. Far from it. But it does mean there is a growing chorus of opposition to a mall at Turkey Mountain, and that people in power are listening. That’s a trend I’d like to see continue.
There are things you can do. Here are some ideas:
If you haven’t written city council members and the mayor, do it. Encourage dialogue. Write respectful, concise and well thought-out letters and emails, but plainly state your case. And don’t just write your councilor. Write all of them. Get their contact information here.
If you live in District 2, or anywhere else in Tulsa, go to the public meeting Councilor Cue is hosting. Be there, bring your neighbors, and let your voice be heard. Turkey Mountain is important to all Tulsans and beyond, but it specifically affects her and her constituents. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. March 17 (this Tuesday) at the Marriott Tulsa Southern Hills, 1902 E. 71st Street.
If you haven’t signed the online petition, do so. It’s more than 7,600 signatures now. Numbers matter. Be part of that growing list. Go to the petition here.
Volunteer to be a part of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition. Turkey Mountain and other vital outdoor green spaces in the area are the things this group is trying to protect and promote, and the group does good work. More great things are in the future, including continued advocacy for the greater Turkey Mountain area. Learn more about TUWC and how to join here.
Turkey Mountain is an asset as it is. Its existence has been noted as a serious draw for people inside and outside the city, and is a great tool to recruit residents and businesses who care about quality of life issues. Building an outlet mall there would only degrade it. So stand up and be heard. Folks are listening.