The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

March 15, 2014

Still in the dark: Nearly year after announcement, no visible progress on ‘de-malling’

ENID, Okla. — There’s been excitement about Oakwood Mall ever since a Tulsa developer announced a plan to spend $35 million renovating it – turning it from an enclosed shopping center into outside-facing storefronts.

However, that excitement has been tempered by delays and silence from developer Vector Properties and J. Herzog & Sons, the mall’s current owner. Some shop owners in the mall — the same ones who would have to sign a new contract with Vector — say they are in the dark, too.

Incentive to build

Vector announced in June 2012 its plans to “de-mall” the mall, and then went about gaining support from the city of Enid and local stakeholders. Owners James and Brenda Dill could earn up to $5 million in new property and sales tax rebates, to be handed out over 15 years once renovation is complete.

First, though, they have to raise enough cash to purchase the property from Herzog and begin construction.

In June 2013, the last time anyone from Vector spoke publicly about the project, Brenda Dill said she needs at least 85 percent of the 550,000 square feet obligated to get a financier to underwrite the project.

No news

Ken Dao is one of those business owners who could help Vector reach that goal. Although his Pro Nails shop is small compared with the mall’s department stores, he’s already signed a contract to stay at that location through 2017.

When it comes to his future landlord, though, Dao only knows what he has read in the newspaper.

“They haven’t made any contacts whatsoever with us,” said Dao, who explained that the mall’s current management also remained tight-lipped. “I wish they would come out and say something. We’re still in the air.”

Even with the cloud of uncertainty hanging over his future inside the mall, Dao signed a contract this month to stay there another three years.

His customers, though, continue to ask about it.

“People demand an answer. We need an answer. It’s not good for business,” he said.

Emptied

Other retailers haven’t stuck around so long. Of the six-dozen storefronts in Oakwood Mall, about a third sit dark and empty. Just a handful of vendors remain in the food court, where mall patrons can get a giant cookie, slice of pizza or a drink from Five80 Coffeehouse’s second location.

Beds Unlimited has taken advantage of the vacancies by expanding its showroom into two former stores across the concourse.

Many of the locked shutters throughout the mall still advertise leasing options on placards branded with the Herzog name.

While it’s difficult to say exactly why there are so many vacancies at Oakwood Mall, Dao said it could be due to the announcement and slow progress of Vector’s de-malling plan.

“I’ve seen a lot of business move out,” he said. “I wish they would have just kept it quiet between those two and just don’t say anything to the public until they have the money and are ready to do it. It’s been bad for business.”

Some shops that recently have moved out, and others who remain, either declined to comment for this story or could not be reached. Dillard’s corporate office did not return a request for comment and neither did Sears’, although a spokesman said last year that they had been contacted and still were negotiating terms.

The mall’s movie theater has expressed plans to build a standalone structure on the property, but has declined to offer specifics, citing ongoing discussions.

A JCPenney spokesman said this week that the company does not publicly discuss real estate and contract negotiations.

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