Already postponed once, Simon Property Group has asked for yet another delay in presenting revised plans for its outlet mall on the west side of Turkey Mountain.
The company was set to appear before the Tulsa Planning Commission on April 15, a date that already reflected a postponement from its originally scheduled March hearing. And now, this: They want more time and wish to wait until June 17 to unveil their revisions.
I have a few theories on why this latest delay occurred. So here goes:
– Simon was taken by surprise over the public reaction to the proposed mall. This is a company used to getting its way, particularly in cities hungry for new tax revenue. The initial pushback last fall was probably ignored,with the thought that it would subside over time. Instead, it has only grown. The online petition against the mall has nearly 8,500 signatures, and the crowds at two public forums to discuss the mall plan have been decidedly against Simon’s proposal. There are a smattering of voices who are OK with Simon’s plan, but they are greatly outnumbered by those who are not.
– Simon has not won over the Tulsa City Council. While the mayor’s office has been in full support of Simon’s endeavors, other city council members have been either silent or in opposition. City council members will be the ones who will have final say over whether this project is allowed to proceed, and right now, it doesn’t look good for Simon. (Contact city council members here; emails, calls and letters are making a difference.)
– Simon was taken aback by demands for changes made by the Tulsa YMCA. The YMCA operates a kids camp directly north of where Simon wants to plop its mall, and board members are not happy about the detrimental effects the mall will have on camper experiences. The changes they seek are significant, and would alter the cost and feasibility of the project considerably.
– Simon was not prepared for the organized local opposition that has formed. The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition has turned into a credible, reasonable yet potent force in this debate. Other grassroots groups have also formed, further driving the issue home to Tulsa residents.
– Simon would like more time to possibly see the “heat” wear off.
All that is well and good, but no delays or revisions are going to change a few facts about why this proposal is bad for Tulsa. Here’s why:
– The location is bad for a large retail development. Simon would be building an outlet mall competing for shoppers in an over-retailed area (Tulsa Hills and The Walk at Tulsa Hills are just south of the proposal site). The road servicing the intersection — two lanes, no shoulders, steep hills and two big curves — is not capable of dealing with the increased traffic a mall would bring, and would be dangerous to shoppers, commuters and residents who live in the area.
– The erosion, litter and light pollution problems are not going to be solved with a few tweaks. Sorry, but when you build on top of a hill with steep ravines below, there will be storm water drainage problems, line-of-sight issues and blowing trash. Pollution concerns for the Mooser Creek watershed are real. And no matter how you aim your parking lot lights, it’s going to be a huge shining eyesore overlooking the YMCA camp and woodlands below. All of Turkey Mountain will be affected by this, and none of those effects will be good.
– The area is better preserved for recreation purposes. When it comes to quality of life, we only have so many wild green spaces. We have plenty of retail. Surveys have been conducted showing that the young entrepreneurial class of people who cities are trying to attract value outdoor recreation opportunities highly, and will often use that as a factor in determining where they will live and do business. Shopping is down the list. Degrading Tulsa’s top outdoor recreation asset is simply not in the city’s best interest, especially when you consider the culture such a place helps develop — healthy people who spend money on bikes, hiking gear, running gear, race entry fees and so forth. And because Turkey Mountain has become a regional and even a national draw for outdoor recreation enthusiasts and athletes, you’re seeing people come to Turkey Mountain from out-of-state, spending money on meals, hotels and more while they’re here. Go to Turkey Mountain on a sunny day, especially on the weekend, and you’ll see two full parking lots and trails filled with cyclists, hikers, runners equestrians and families just looking for some good outdoor time. Memories are made on the trails. Not in shopping centers.
So my advice for the executives at Simon is simple. Use the time between now and June 17 to rethink this whole deal. Use it to find another place to build your mall. Honestly, we’d love to see you succeed in that realm, just not at the expense of Turkey Mountain and all that it means to us. And if this is not possible, then use this time to plan a graceful exit. There isn’t going to be a proposal at Turkey Mountain that is going to work for you or for us. The sooner you realize that, the better off you, your shareholders and our city will be.