I’m going to say something that might shock some of you.
Welcome to the Tulsa market, Simon Premium Outlet Malls.
That’s a phrase a lot of us were more than willing to say, provided that the real estate giant did not plop its planned outlet mall on Turkey Mountain. But in a huge turn of developments, reports have surfaced that Simon has changed its plans, now intent on building its massive retail project on an already cleared piece of property in the Tulsa suburb of Jenks, several miles south and well away from Tulsa’s last great green space, Turkey Mountain.
Simon announced plans to build an outlet mall on a piece of property along U.S. Highway 75 and 61st Street in southwest Tulsa, land that just happened to be at the southwest corner of Turkey Mountain on a piece of privately owned property. The land overlooks a YMCA kids camp and adjoins a large section of wooded wild land, enjoyed by hikers, runners, cyclists and nature enthusiasts. The thought of having such a large project built there (80+ shops) drew heavy community opposition, with worries over loss of trails, stormwater pollution, erosion, loss of wildlife habitat, traffic safety problems and costs all being mentioned.
The outcry was heard by a number of Tulsa City Council members, many of whom voiced skepticism toward the viability and value of having a mall there. The Tulsa YMCA also made its position clear, that the project as proposed was not acceptable given its proximity to the Westside YMCA kids camp. Public forums about the project were one-sided, with large majorities of those attending saying they didn’t want a mall built on the west side of Turkey Mountain.
On Wednesday, a report in the Tulsa World, citing the Jenks mayor and city manager as well as documents from Simon Property Group, showed that the company now intends to build in Jenks, just off the Creek Turnpike. Simon has gone so far to enter into a contract with landowners of the new site in Jenks.
WHAT THIS MEANS
For now, the property at Turkey Mountain will remain undeveloped. Although Simon still has a contract on the tract, the focus of the company has changed. Simon has clearly seen that it will not have public or City Council support for doing what it wants to do at Turkey Mountain. It looks like momentum for Simon’s project has swung south.
The land in question, however, is still in play. Just because Simon wants out does not mean the land’s owners are going to do nothing. Unless conservation is their stated goal, people don’t buy land just to let it sit there. My assumption is that it’s still for sale. So while Simon is focusing elsewhere (and any future investor would face the same hurdles Simon faced), that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
There are efforts underway to take the parcel off the market for good. The Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, which spearheaded efforts to preserve the land, is now an officially recognized non-profit organization that can accept monetary, tax-deductible donations. One of the coalition’s goals is to buy the land if it becomes available. It’s valued at somewhere around $3.2 million. It’s a tall order to raise that much money, but the TUWC has been fighting — and winning — uphill battles since it was formed last fall. If you want to donate, here is a link to the coalition’s GuFundMe site; a link for larger donations through the Tulsa Community Foundation; and for direct donations, you can go to or mail donations to Yorktown Bank, 2222 S. Utica Place, #350, Tulsa, OK, 74114.
This is a big win for conservation. Normally, conservation efforts fall short in Red State America, particularly when it comes to conservation vs. economic development. It doesn’t get any redder than Tulsa. But when people were able to see all the issues at stake — preserving a natural space, promoting outdoor recreation and health, valuing quality of life over tax revenues, just to name a few — they overwhelmingly sided with conservation. There is plenty of room in and around Tulsa for economic development, but very little space given to places like Turkey Mountain. Tulsans should be proud for having seen this and, more importantly, acting on it. The message of many voices is strong, even when the goal is a little outside what is normal within the region’s prevailing politics.
This is a big win for Tulsa. Certain people at City Hall may disagree (on the grounds that the city is losing out on potential tax revenues), but in the long run, this is good for the city. Turkey Mountain is a tremendous asset for Tulsa. It’s a draw not only for Tulsa-area residents, but for those living outside the metro area and even outside Oklahoma. People go there to enjoy the trails, coming from all over the country. They spend money here. And for people looking to relocate, having an asset like Turkey Mountain is just the sort of thing that makes the city look more attractive. Preserving and even enhancing places like Turkey Mountain is critical in terms of recruiting young professionals and even entire companies. Very few cities in the Midwest and the South have such a place. We do. Turkey Mountain is a huge selling point. Protecting it should be a priority.
But what about those potential lost tax dollars? It’s not that cut-and-dry, given that Simon wanted a large tax increment finance district set up to help fund construction of the mall and the substantial infrastructure improvement that would be needed. Given the uncertainty of the plan’s success at that location, the possibility exists that the sales taxes earned at the mall might not offset the city’s costs. Even so, Tulsa can still get behind another outlet mall project on the city’s east side. If economic development really is that big of a priority, that’s where City Hall’s attention should go. If the city can help that project succeed, it will get the new revenues it seeks and enhance quality of life by protecting its natural assets.
Keep in mind, nothing is set in stone. All kinds of wheeling and dealing can change things on the turn of a dime. But this week’s news should be welcomed as a positive development and be seen as a call for further action. The next step is solidifying the future of the all the property in Tulsa’s urban wilderness. Act accordingly!