The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

March 15, 2014

Enid city officials frustrated, optimistic over ‘de-malling’

ENID, Okla. — Vector Properties’ owner James Dill will be the best thing to ever happen to Enid, City Manager Eric Benson said this week.

Benson’s call for patience underscores the complex, private and extremely expensive nature of large retail projects that sometimes take longer than expected. Benson said he is confident Oakwood Mall eventually will be renovated.

“But unfortunately, the level of the game that’s now being played is outside our community,” he said. “I think we’re all wanting it to happen. I know that we wish we had more control of the issues, because we know we would favorably contribute.”

Demolition on the interior of the mall originally was scheduled to begin in July 2013, but lack of funds held up Vector’s “de-malling” plan. Vector has not returned repeated requests for comment over the past six months.

The mall still is owned by J. Herzog & Sons, who similarly did not return calls.

Ward 6 Commissioner David Vanhooser, who sat on a panel that recommended giving Vector a $5 million tax rebate incentive for buying and renovating the mall, acknowledged the complications that can arise in raising and spending $35 million to renovate it.

“I am very frustrated with how long it’s taking. I think the public expected to see some dirt work start out there a long time ago,” he said.

Vanhooser said Enid City Commission hasn’t heard anything new lately, but the last update was that Vector still was working on securing leases for stores that eventually could do business at the new outside shopping center.

“It just sure seems like it’s taking an awful long time to get that done,” he said.

Ben Ezzell, who represents Ward 3, said he keeps hearing “you’ll know more soon.”

“And soon hasn’t quite come around yet. I’m trying to be patient,” he said. “I know a deal of this scale is a little hard to put together. So I have some sympathy for that. I also know this stuff takes time, but I’m ready for it to happen. I want to see it happen.”

The tax rebates will be disbursed from new sales and property tax revenue after the project is complete. When it is complete, officials hope the outcome will enhance the city’s commercial corridor on West Garriott.

“The mall itself has really deteriorated,” Vanhooser said. “The businesses that are in there are just few and far between, which is making it worse.”

There are about two dozen shuttered storefronts inside the mall, but Herzog appears to still be actively recruiting new tenants. Many of the darkened storefronts have a placard advertising lease space. Late last year, they snagged Five80 Coffeehouse’s second location, and a firm is set up to help people during the tax season. Beds Unlimited has expanded its showroom to include former shops across the concourse from the main store.

“I expect that one of these days there’s going to be some big announcement and it will, more or less, catch us all by surprise. And it will hopefully be all very good news,” Ezzell said.

Big developments take a while, he added.

“It’s starting to get a little bit on the extreme side of a while, but stuff takes time,” Ezzell said.

Vector Properties has a long history of retail development in Oklahoma. A similar project almost 20 years ago converted Tulsa’s enclosed Southroads Mall into the Southroads Shopping Center, which now is filled with popular retailers.

Delays in retail development are not unusual, Benson said. What makes this different could be the significant public exposure Dill’s plans have gotten since he announced the project in 2012. “Ask any city. It took Lawton four years to open a Target store, and they went in with the funding in place,” Benson said. “I think that the manner in which Jim Dill is approaching this is testament to his commitment. We’re going to get there. We just have to stay the course.”

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