Not long ago (a little over a week ago), public officials and representatives of an outlet mall development company held a public forum to discuss building a huge new shopping center. A good number of people showed up, and public opinion was strongly slanted in one direction.
The people there were overwhelmingly for it.
Contrast this to the past couple of public forums talking about an outlet mall in Tulsa, where sentiment toward a certain project was overwhelmingly negative.
What’s the difference?
Citizen views differed by location. Yes, we’re talking about two different projects, and you know what they say about real estate: Location is everything.
The project met with so much opposition is one promoted by Simon Properties. It’s located on the west side of Turkey Mountain, something that has drawn strong criticism from trail users, conservationists, nearby residents and the public at large. The promise of new jobs, more shopping and tax revenues has swayed relatively few people who see an outlet mall at that location as a bad fit, something that will cause serious issues in terms of traffic, litter, pollution and overall degradation of one of the few natural settings left in the city.
The project receiving so much support happens to be on the opposite side of town, in east Tulsa, an already developed, urban area where jobs and shopping are needed just as badly as they are in west Tulsa. The plan, put forward by the Horizon Group, has met no opposition. Whereas elected city officials are divided on building at Turkey Mountain (with several voicing opposition), only positive reaction has come from their ranks and the public on the east Tulsa proposal.
There is a lesson to be learned here. Those of us following these developments understand the city needs to grow its tax base, and a large retail shopping center is a good way to do it. Jobs and sales tax revenues are plum prizes. But city officials need to understand a couple of things.
First, they need to listen to the people. Very few in the public have voiced support for Simon’s proposal at Turkey Mountain (though they wouldn’t mind if Simon built somewhere else). Large numbers have turned out at public forums voicing opposition. For the east Tulsa proposal, only positive vibes and no controversy. If you’re an elected official, this contrast should be something of which to take note.
Second, they need to weigh the costs versus the benefits. Both proposals would provide jobs and revenue, but one proposal would do so at great cost to its surroundings — natural woodlands, a prime trail system and an established YMCA kids camp known for providing children with activities in a natural, non-urban setting. Sometimes an extra buck or two is not worth it. The other proposal would blend in. The east Tulsa project would be built in an area that is already developed and urbanized. Instead of detracting from its surroundings, it would likely spruce things up. And not a single tree would be uprooted.
Which project gets approval is ultimately up to the City Council. So I’d ask city councilors this: What will you choose? Where will you throw you support? Who will you listen to?
I’d keep in mind there is a possibility that retailers will flock instead to a third project outside Tulsa’s city limits, one being fronted by the Cherokee Nation in Catoosa, next door to the tribe’s substantial and successful casino development.
Clock’s ticking, folks. Tulsa does not have to choose between conservation and economic development. It can have both, plus all the benefits of new shopping and an expanding culture of outdoor recreation. All you have to do is look and listen.