Turkey Mountain update: A bad mall plan’s details are revealed, and it still looks pretty bad

A more detailed plan of Simon Group's plan for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. Note just one entry and exit on a two lane road (traffic nightmares), and at the bottom of the map, you'll see that the site butts right up to a ravine. No thanks.

A more detailed plan of Simon Group’s plan for an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain. Note just one entry and exit on a two-lane road (traffic nightmares), and at the bottom of the map, you’ll see that the site butts right up to a ravine. No thanks.

The latest news on what’s happening with the outlet mall on Turkey Mountain is twofold: it’s not unexpected, but it’s also very revealing.

The Simon Group recently submitted more detailed plans for its proposed Premium Outlets project that it wants to build on the west side of Turkey Mountain. The site is on a privately held parcel next to the Westside YMCA and undeveloped wild land that is part of the greater Turkey Mountain area.

Simon is promising jobs and shopping. What it wants is permission to build right on top of one of the last urban green spaces left in the city, and they’ll be asking for help from the city in the form of a tax increment finance district designation, which is basically a temporary subsidy funded by you and me so they can make the needed infrastructure improvements.

If you’ve read past posts on this topic before, you know I’m not in favor of building an outlet mall there. To recap my reasoning:

The site is a bad place for a mall. The roads leading to the site are just two lanes wide, they’re very hilly, and feature a couple of sharp turns as 61st Street turns into Elwood. Traffic in that area is already bad and will grow worse by several magnitudes if a shopping center goes up there. Widening those roads will be a nightmare to people already living nearby, and it will only get worse if and when that mall opens.

A multi-billion dollar company like Simon shouldn’t be asking for taxpayer money to build an outlet mall on such a bad site. TIF districts can be good, particularly if they end up paying off in the long run. But given how bad this site is, and how much money Simon has, approving this plan AND handing over taxpayer money is just wrong.

No matter how it’s built, an outlet mall cannot be a good neighbor. Representatives from the Westside YMCA have already gone on record with KJRH-TV that they have concerns about what a mall right on top of them would mean in terms of YMCA camper experience and erosion (I’ll get into that point in a minute). And I’ve already mentioned what’s in store for the residents living nearby if Simon moves in.

A collection of 80 stores, lots of cars and a huge parking lot presents serious drainage and pollution concerns. The proposed mall site is on a flat space with a steep dropoff into a ravine that drains into Mooser Creek, a diverse and fragile ecosystem of which all of Turkey Mountain is connected. The mall site would present rainwater runoff concerns in the form of erosion and upstream pollution from all those cars and trash dumpsters. And given how much trash already blows around, the outlet mall would only add to that problem. Simon contends it can angle parking lot lighting away from the rest of Turkey Mountain, but no matter what they do, light pollution will be present.

Wild land and a commercial shopping development are not compatible. It’s already been established that the River Parks Authority and the Kaiser Family Foundation – the two main stakeholders on Turkey Mountain – have no plans to do anything but keep the urban wilderness area wild. Wildlife in the area already deal with a fairly compressed environment, and taking a big chunk of that away would only stress those populations more.

The outlet mall at Turkey Mountain would degrade quality of life for Tulsa. Notice I didn’t say an outlet mall on its own is a bad thing. But rather an outlet mall in that location would degrade a real asset for the city, an area with more than 40 miles of wooded trails for hikers, cyclists, runners, geocachers and equestrians. Individuals and families go there to experience nature on its terms without having to drive out of the city. As it exists, the greater Turkey Mountain area is a prime site for people to get outside, exercise and get in tune with nature like no other place in the city. Plopping a mall on a chunk of that land would degrade the experience.

ON TO THE NEWS…

Simon’s more detailed proposal as submitted to the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission reveals a few interesting notes. For starters, it still includes just one entry and exit, a problem given the amount of traffic one might expect at a large retail center, and magnified when you’re talking about a two-lane road feeding it.

The edge of the development will butt right up against a steep dropoff into a drainage area to the east, so those erosion and drainage issues are very real. I’d hoped that they’d at least put some distance between the mall and the ravine, but their drawings show that is not the case.

Simon suggested that they might be willing to include some sort of trail, if feasible, into their plans. So they’re throwing us a bone. Sort of.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

If this mall proposal bothers you, there are some things you can do. So here are my suggestions:

Email the mayor’s office and each of the members of the Tulsa City Council. Respectfully and concisely let them know how you feel, and why you don’t want an outlet mall at that location. You might be reminded that it’s private property, but you still have a say in how and if projects like this are approved or denied. Contact the mayor here, and find contacts for the city council here.

If you haven’t already done so, sign the electronic petition. There are more than 6,900 signatures on it now. Add to that number here.

Attend future meetings of the Planning Commission and, if it gets that far, the Tulsa City Council, when this development is being discussed. The more faces these people see and voices they hear, the more city officials will listen. On Thursday, Feb. 19, the Planning Review Committee, immediately following the 1:30 p.m. TAC meeting, will meet at 2 West 2nd Street, 8th Floor, in the Large Conference Room of the Williams Tower II Building in downtown Tulsa. No comment is taken at this meeting, but a large, silent crowd will make an impression. And then  during  a follow-up meeting, zoning changes and corridor plans will be reviewed March 18 at 1:30 p.m.,  175 East 2nd Street, 2nd Level, One Technology Center, in the Tulsa City Council Chambers. They will take public comment at that meeting. Be at those meetings if you can.

Find ways to volunteer. There are periodic cleanup and trail maintenance days out at Turkey Mountain, so be looking for opportunities to join such efforts. Also, consider joining the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, which is actively advocating for preserving and promoting Turkey Mountain as well as organizing activities like those cleanup days, among other things.

Keep using the trails, and spread the word to people you know how great it is. Many people still don’t know much about Turkey Mountain, and they won’t care about a place they don’t know or ever see. This tide is swinging the other way now, and for the better. But the more people who care about Turkey Mountain, the more city leaders will take their points of view into consideration.

Stay tuned, get active, and I’ll see you out on the trails.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: The damage that’s already done

There have been a lot of encouraging signs regarding the fight to keep Turkey Mountain’s wild nature intact. The formation of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition was one such sign. The positive reaction to the upcoming cleanup day is another. And the petition against building an outlet mall on the wilderness area’s west side has more than 6,300 signatures now.

People are becoming more aware, and they are standing up for conservation at the local level here in Tulsa.

Unfortunately, not all the news is good. Developers who have proposed the mall are doing “due diligence” work at the site, taking core samples and such. Who knew that such preliminary actions would be so destructive. Below is a sampling of the damage done this week:

For whatever reason, this massive old oak had to be razed. Steve looks disgusted. I know I was.

For whatever reason, this massive old oak had to be razed. Steve looks disgusted. I know I was.

Bye-bye, tree.

More trees that got in the way of heavy machinery.

More trees that got in the way of heavy machinery.

More of the same. Trees that got in the way of “progress.” Thanks, Simon Properties!

One of my favorite views, but now all chewed up.

One of my favorite views, but now all chewed up.

Love the view, but the foreground has definitely been sullied by a tracked earthmover. It cuts deep.

They were guilty of getting in the way.

They were guilty of getting in the way.

A view obstructed by felled trees. These things were living not long ago. Left to rot now.

The tools of destruction.

The tools of destruction.

My friend and fellow blogger, TZ Childress, said it best. These guys are just doing their jobs. But dang. They’re really good at it. Good at breaking stuff.

Two felled trees blocking the Old Boys trail.

Two felled trees blocking the Old Boys trail.

I wonder if these trees were cut to block the trail here.

I took these pics with a couple of running buddies. Steve, who was pictured in the first frame, just got into trail running not that long ago, and in his first race, a half marathon, he won his age group. His girlfriend, Brooke, is a very experienced runner who is also just getting started on the trail running habit. She’s run many marathons and is training for her first 50K, which is coming up pretty quick.

She said that one of her boys, when shown TZ’s pictures of the damage, teared up, wondering why anyone would do this for something as mundane and unnecessary as an outlet mall.

That’s a pretty good question. And it’s one that not only needs to be asked of developers, but also members of Tulsa’s city council. The mall is not a done deal. Nothing has been approved or even discussed in city planning meetings. But that time will come.

Here’s the deal: If this mall gets approved, what is pictured above is just a sampling. Much more acreage will be cut down. Drainage issues look problematic: storm water runoff from a parking lot (which would include toxic things like spilled motor oil, gasoline, other auto fluids and whatever leaks from trash dumpsters) looks like it would flow downhill into a ravine, which eventually drain into Mooser Creek, itself a delicate ecosystem maybe a mile to the north. And who knows what erosion issues we’re talking about.

The loss of woodlands would also put pressure on wildlife habitat, and for trail users, well, some of Turkey Mountain’s best would go away.

There is nothing wrong with building an outlet mall. But building an outlet mall here is such a bad idea. There are better places for one to go. Find one of those. Let’s stop the damage at Turkey Mountain. Contact the mayor and all the members of the city council and let them know how you feel. Sign the online petition. And do it soon.

In the meantime, we have a cleanup day coming up. I invite you to come. What a good time to talk to people how important this is.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: A coalition forms, and takes action

An endangered view at Turkey Mountain. But more people across Tulsa are working to save it.

An endangered view at Turkey Mountain. But more people across Tulsa are working to save it.

A couple of new developments going on at Turkey Mountain, and both are related — to a degree — with the controversial plan to build an outlet mall on the wilderness area’s west side.

Last week, a group of local trail and wilderness advocates got together with Tulsa media outlets to announce the formation of the Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations with concerns about preserving and conserving wild space in the Tulsa area.

The idea behind the group is to give people who seek to protect Turkey Mountain a voice, and even more, a seat at the table when the future of that hilly patch of woods is debated. The coalition is getting a lift from the Oklahoma Earthbike Fellowship and the International Mountain Biking Association, both of which are longtime advocates for preserving trails and the wild areas where they exist.

tuwc

The formation of the group is a good sign for Turkey Mountain. It means there are large numbers of people who are concerned about development encroachment on the area and the detrimental consequences it can have for wild spaces that were so wisely set aside decades ago. It’s also an organization that allows for an even broader number of people to get involved not only in speaking out on issues like the mall (though the coalition was careful to note that it is not taking an official position on the controversy), but also becoming a part of activities that will care for Turkey Mountain and potentially other wild spaces in the Tulsa area and northeast Oklahoma.

One of those opportunities is happening this weekend. At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, members of the coalition will be leading a cleanup day at Turkey Mountain, and anyone who wants to be there is invited to come. People are asked to bring work gloves and maybe pruners or loppers. Trash bags will be provided. It’s a great way to give back, and also meet trail and wilderness enthusiasts like yourself. So I’d definitely encourage you to go if you can spare a few hours that morning.

The coalition is already up and running online. It has a website, and you can follow TUWC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

People had talked about forming a group like this for awhile, but it was Simon Properties’ proposal to build an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain that stirred everyone up to the point of getting this thing off the ground. That just shows you how good people rise up when confronted by something they see as a threat to what they hold dear.

So check out what the coalition is doing, learn how you can become involved, and definitely dig into the website to see a slew of interesting articles and posts (including a few from me) about issues affecting Turkey Mountain as well as the wilderness area’s well-chronicled history.

Big Money may want to mow the forest down, but the people want to preserve their woods. We’ll prove it on Saturday.

Bob Doucette

Turkey Mountain update: Risking wilderness and taxpayer money on a dubious outlet mall plan

Is this the future of what an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain looks like? The track record for such enterprises isn't that good.

Is this the future of what an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain looks like? The track record for such enterprises isn’t that good.

One of the questions that has been raised by some people is what harm could come from building an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain.

Over the past few months, I’ve written about this quite often. The construction of an outlet mall at the proposed location will wipe out many acres of woodlands. It will consume many existing, scenic trails. It will encroach on wildlife habitat. And with the infrastructure expansions that will be necessary to handle the expected traffic at the shopping center, even more trails and woodlands all along 61st Street and Elwood Avenue will be consumed. The mere presence of an outlet mall at the place where Simon Properties wants to build will have a negative impact on all of Turkey Mountain. The destruction of forest, the light pollution, potential drainage issues, the noise and more can only be bad for Turkey Mountain, and thus bad for the city.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, however, there is more. All of that is rooted in the history of outlet malls in Oklahoma.

Back in the 1990s, a company by the name of Tanger built an outlet mall in Stroud, just off the Turner Turnpike. It was touted for its ideal location between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, and the high traffic that highway carried.

It was opened with much ceremony, but before long it was already headed for trouble. Tanger Outlet Mall’s future was cut short when it was destroyed by the May 3, 1999, tornado, but the truth is that it was headed for closure anyway. Insurance funds could have rebuilt the place had it been worth Tanger’s time. But what’s left there now? A huge empty lot.

Fast-forward to just three years ago. A redevelopment project in Oklahoma City ended with the opening of the Outlet Shoppes at Oklahoma City, just off Interstate 40 in one of the fastest-growing areas of that city’s metro area.

The ideal location, high traffic and favorable publicity wasn’t able to stop that mall’s loss of a major tenant this past fall. Saks Off Fifth, which is operated by Saks Fifth Avenue, is already pulling up stakes. So a large anchor tenant in a highly visible shopping center in Oklahoma’s largest and most prosperous community is already withering on the vine.

Is this a harbinger of things to come for that development? If more shops there close, what will become of that mall? Could it become a huge, barren lot lined by empty stores? Time will tell, but if nothing else, it speaks to the risk involved in such projects, even with marquis brands from established companies being part of the plan.

Simon's plan for an outlet  mall. To the left, just one entry/exit.

Simon’s plan for an outlet mall. To the left, just one entry/exit.

Now look at what Simon Properties wants to do at Turkey Mountain. The company wants to build an outlet mall off a highway with less traffic than I-40, on a hilly road not designed for high traffic, with only one entry and exit point. And they want to do it in an area already flooded with retail businesses just to the south.

I’d argue that the proposed Premium Shoppes at Turkey Mountain is a plan destined for failure. And what will that leave us with, should that come to pass? A barren parking lot with empty buildings sitting atop what used to be wild, old-growth forest that people and wildlife once enjoyed. A city asset will become a liability, and there won’t be any chance of recovering what it used to be.

The chunk of woodlands for the proposed outlet mall, showing the rest of Turkey Mountain and the nearby roads. The overall impact of the project would likely be much bigger than the site itself.

The chunk of woodlands for the proposed outlet mall, showing the rest of Turkey Mountain and the nearby roads. The overall impact of the project would likely be much bigger than the site itself.

There are places where you can build outlet malls and give them a decent shot at success. Most of those places are going to be in areas that have already been developed. But the bad thing about ripping down a forest is that when it’s gone, it’s just gone. When you look at the location Simon is proposing, and the dubious model it has chosen, you have to wonder if allowing this project to go forward is in the city’s best interest. I’d say no.

But I’m not the one who needs convincing. Tulsa’s city councilors are the ones who need to hear from you. There are other options for an outlet mall, and there are better uses for the land in question at Turkey Mountain.

Simon Properties will very likely be asking for taxpayer support to build its mall in the form of a tax increment finance district, which basically would give Simon a seven-figure subsidy to embark on this risky project. Any TIF district would need to be approved by the city council.

A couple of things: A TIF district can be good, and the money is eventually repaid if all goes well. Shopping centers can be good. Economic growth is not necessarily the enemy of wild places.

If the outlet mall at Turkey Mountain gets built, you can kiss this view and that trail goodbye.

If the outlet mall at Turkey Mountain gets built, you can kiss this view and that trail goodbye.

But limited traffic, poor access and a dubious business model don’t seem to be worth risking wilderness land and taxpayer money, and that’s exactly what’s being proposed. Even the guarantees in a TIF district agreement do nothing to restore a site if it goes belly up. So contact your city councilors. Ask them to do right by Turkey Mountain and to come up with a comprehensive plan for how land at Turkey Mountain is to be used. Ask them to be good stewards of our money. Tell them, via phone call or email, that an outlet mall at Turkey Mountain is a bad idea.

Bob Doucette

Update: Where things stand on Turkey Mountain vs. the outlet mall

turkA

Trail enthusiasts picking up trash on the privately owned lands of Turkey Mountain’s west side.

It’s been about a week since news about the planned outlet mall on the west side of Turkey Mountain first broke.

There have been a few developments since the, but truth be told, the “plan” for this outlet mall is in the infant stages. So much so that city officials attending a town hall meeting for the Tulsa’s District 2 admitted that they didn’t know anything about it until the developer announced it.

But there are other things to report. Here’s what I gather so far…

Public response to the outlet mall has been pretty strong, with trail enthusiasts coming out loudly against it. An online petition to preserve the west side of Turkey Mountain was started late last week, and thus far has nearly 4,000 signatures. You can see (and sign) the petition here.

A Facebook page opposing the Turkey Mountain outlet mall popped up and already has more than 1,400 likes, and the Twitter hashtag #KeepTurkeyWild is trending. Multiple blog posts have been written on the subject of why developing Turkey Mountain for retail is not a good idea.

It should be noted that local media has taken notice, publishing and broadcasting stories on the public outcry against commercial development at Turkey Mountain.

UPDATE: The George Kaiser Family Foundation, which owns a significant chunk of the west side of Turkey Mountain, has said it has no interest in developing its portion of the land in question, as reported Wednesday by the Tulsa World newspaper. Presumably, that puts a whole lot of land out of the equation (and saves a lot of trails) while isolating the pocket that is being considered for the outlet mall.

The city has taken an interesting position on Turkey Mountain. Like I pointed out last week, everything west of the Powerline Trail (which includes the 50-acre plot at 61st Street and U.S. 75 where the outlet mall would go) is private property. The city of Tulsa has pretty much taken a hands-off stance toward that property.

turkmap

That’s fine, I suppose. Except for one thing: The city has a responsibility to make sure that any development within its limits is done in a way that is actually good for the city.

It would be easy to say that increased sales tax revenue and new retail jobs is good for the city. But this would ignore other factors, such as rainwater drainage issues (just how much runoff from the mall would pour into the ravine just to the east of the mall site, and how much damage would that cause?), traffic issues and the impact of the needed infrastructure expansions on lands that are on 61st Street and Elwood Avenue. Contrary to what many people think, if the mall gets built it will likely affect the rest of Turkey Mountain, as well as properties owned by homeowners, a church and even city property. Four- and six-lane roads (where there is now a two-lane road) have a tendency to do that.

And let’s talk about economics. What economic good does this undeveloped green space provide the city of Tulsa? You’d be surprised.

There was a cycling/running race there last weekend, and each race comes with entry fees that benefit businesses that organize and run these events. A trail running race will take place there on Monday. Money made at these races support local jobs, and sometimes they also raise funds for charities.

And all these trail enthusiasts who bike, hike and run at Turkey Mountain spend money on things like trail shoes, hiking boots, hydration packs, bicycles, cycling gear, running clothes and any number of other things that go with these activities. A lot of retailers sell a bunch of gear to this spend-happy demographic. They might not be buying $200 Coach purses, but they might be buying $160 Hoka trail shoes or $2,000 Trek mountain bikes, and those generate sales tax dollars, too.

Some people have said trail users have been getting away with trespassing for many years now. Really? If a property owner allows people to go on that land, improve that land, clean up that land, and so forth, can you really call that trespassing?

So let’s dive into that a little bit. At least a couple of times a year, crews of volunteers go out to Turkey Mountain with trash sacks, saws and shovels and do horrible things like picking up trash, trimming back overgrown areas and improving trails to prevent destructive erosion. Yeah, some users leave behind trash. But a lot of other users clean that stuff up by the truckloads. Here’s some photos of “trespassers” keeping things clean and wild at Turkey Mountain, including those places on private property.

turk2

turk3

This doesn’t include programmed trail maintenance programs that have built the system that exists there today. And it does include times where we’ve cleared out illegal campsites (from real trespassers) and helped police locate a mobile meth lab so it could be safely removed.

Far from being trespassers, I’d say the city’s outdoor community has been an excellent steward of Turkey Mountain, be it the part on city property or the parts on private property. We care about this place, and it shows not just how passionately we oppose retail development there, but also in the previous weeks, months and years that we’ve been out there trying to keep it healthy, safe and clean. And we do this for free.

I’d emphasize that no one I’ve talked to is against building an outlet mall. We’d just prefer to see it built somewhere else. And for the future, it would be good for all the stakeholders involved — the city, land owners, trail users, and so forth — to come up with a long-term use plan that would help us preserve the city’s lone open and wild green space.

Turkey Mountain is a special place, a unique facet to the city of Tulsa. Large numbers of people get outside, get healthy and spend time with their families out here. Tulsa has fine parks, but this is one of those rare places within the city limits where you can get outside and be in a truly natural setting. If we lose it, it’s never coming back.

So keep an eye on this situation. If it’s important to you, pay attention, write your city council representative (the council has final say concerning approval of big developments like this) and talk to your friends and neighbors about it. Get involved.

Bob Doucette

Paving paradise: The (possible) story of how an outlet mall will eat Tulsa’s Turkey Mountain

A look across the river toward Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, Tulsa's lone wild green space. Could it be endangered by developers?

A look across the river toward Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness, Tulsa’s lone wild green space. Could it be endangered by developers?

Some big news hit my hometown this week.

A couple of days ago, a real estate development company announced big plans to open a high-end outlet mall on the Tulsa’s southwest side. Potential retailers named in the announcement include outfits such as Coach, Nieman Marcus, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ann Taylor and more.

Promises of new jobs and more revenue for the city were touted as potential benefits to the project. And it would dovetail quite nicely with the existing Tulsa Hills shopping center and a neighboring retail development to the south, The Walk at Tulsa Hills. It would seem that the southwest corner of the city was getting ready to explode into shops, restaurants and parking lots filled with happy customers all too willing to plunk down their hard-earned shekels on whatever goods they fancied that day.

But that corner of the city is also home to something that is the opposite of this proposed temple of free enterprise and commercialism. It’s home to the city’s only wild green space.

It’s home to Turkey Mountain Urban Wilderness.

I’ve written about this place a lot. It’s where I go trail running, and when I feel a little more easygoing, a place I like to hike. I train here. I compete here. I have met some truly awesome people in this place, folks who I now call friends. It’s a slice of hilly, wooded wild land filled with twisty, rugged and wonderful singletrack trails that challenge trail runners and mountain bikers like no other place in the state. It’s the place where a mountain hound like me can escape, a small plot where I can get my adventure fix.

I’m not alone in that. Usage of the park, which is owned by the Tulsa River Parks Authority, has increased steadily over the years. People hike with their families here. Folks ride horses here. I can’t tell you how many miles I’ve logged since discovering this gem three years ago when I became a Tulsa resident. Green spaces like this are rare in this part of the country, and the citywide love for Turkey Mountain has grown mightily in that span of time.

And now developers want to plop a mall right next to it. Some would argue right on top of it.

I’ve been watching social media posts about the planned outlet mall, and where it would be located. It’s definitely somewhat complicated. So I’ll try to explain it as concisely as I can.

Turkey Mountain “proper” includes a chunk of land on a couple of ridges on the west bank of the Arkansas River. It’s bordered to the south by a major thoroughfare, to the north by city and industrial property, and to the west by privately owned tracts. Some might include those undeveloped western tracts as part of “greater Turkey Mountain,” as a web of trails runs through all of it, with landowners seemingly OK with allowing trail folks to explore unhindered.

On that west side is where the concern lies. The outlet mall would be built on a corner lot of private property. But like much of the west side of “greater Turkey Mountain,” the tract to be developed is intersected with trails. Here are a couple of images (courtesy of Ken “TZ” Childress) showing a map of Turkey Mountain and the outlet mall tract superimposed.

The proposed outlet mall tract, in red.

The proposed outlet mall tract, in red.

The outlet mall tract superimposed on a map of Turkey Mountain's trails. A large section of those trails (admittedly on private property) will be gone if the mall is built.

The outlet mall tract superimposed on a map of Turkey Mountain’s trails. A large section of those trails (admittedly on private property) will be gone if the mall is built.

One of the tragedies: Losing trails there. If the mall goes in, the vista pictured below goes away, to be replaced by rows of stores, Dumpsters, and parking lots filled with oversized SUVs. It will be gone for good.

An endangered view.

An endangered view.

The deal is about done, though the timing is interesting. Developers of this proposal are admittedly competing for business from another developer looking to build its own outlet mall on the city’s east side. It sure looks like an unsubtle way of courting retailers to me, looking to stick it to a rival. Anyway…

I see a couple of problems for people like me, who would rather see the whole swathe of land stay wooded and wild. It’s private property. The owners can sell it to whoever they want, and if that buyer wants to build a mall on it, they can, provided the city gives its OK. I find it hard to believe that city leaders would turn down a money machine, at least not over the objections of non-moneyed people like me. I fully realize that when it comes to who gets heard, big money wins every time.

But we’ve been here before. A couple of years ago, another developer pitched a plan to build a theme park on the banks of the Arkansas River. Jobs, tourism and money, he promised. Besides, he said God told him to do it. All it would cost was wiping out some of the southern trails on Turkey Mountain.

A bunch of us objected. Loudly. And the Tulsa City Council stiff-armed the proposal as roughly as Adrian Peterson fends off opposing tacklers.

AD! Help us stiff-arm wanton commercial development! (twincities.com photo)

AD! Help us stiff-arm wanton commercial development! (twincities.com photo)

We breathed a sigh of relief.

But can we hope for a similar outcome here? I’m not so sure. An outlet mall is downright reasonable compared to the far-fetched, divinely inspired theme park scheme we brushed off in 2012. But if we speak up, there are possibilities for positive outcomes:

  1. We can convince the current property owner to scrap the deal and sell the land to River Parks, or to donate it for a sizable tax break.
  2. We can convince the developer that the fuss is not worth the fight, which could buy a little time to come up with a more long-term solution to preserving the green space.
  3. We can force city officials to win concessions from the developer to limit encroachment and impact on the wilderness area.

The cost of doing nothing? It’s hard to say. But it is within our nature as a society to erode our treasured wild places. It’s happening all over the country, even in places as sacrosanct as the Grand Canyon.

Some people won’t understand the sharp aversion to the outlet mall that me and thousands of others have. They like the idea of more shopping options and big-name stores.

But here’s the thing: We have malls. Lots of malls. A huge development in southwest Tulsa already exists, and another one is on the way. High-end retail already flourishes in places like Utica Square, and the whole 71st Street corridor surrounding Woodland Hills Mall (interestingly, owned by the same people proposing the outlet mall) has engulfed a huge chunk of south Tulsa with miles and miles of big-box stores, chain restaurants, department stores and other shops. We have places to shop already. And yeah, there is room for more.

But Tulsa has one – just one – wild green space. Only one sliver of undeveloped forest where parents can take their kids to explore nature. One place where you can be in 15 minutes and lose yourself in wilderness. One place where there is no pavement, no street signs, no honking horns, car exhaust or neon lights. It’s unique to the city.

And just to be clear, this is not just some silly trail runner being overly sentimental. Turkey Mountain is an asset, one that promotes physical and mental well-being, as well as explorative curiosity. And we need to protect it. We need to pass it on for future Tulsans. We can guard that asset or we can sell it out. And for what? Most likely, a brown-and-gray collection of boxy buildings with stores that will likely fade out for something else many times over.

Sometimes the best investment is plain old conservation.

This is that time.

Bob Doucette