The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

March 20, 2014

Enid must press mall owner, developer to end prolonged indecision and inaction

ENID, Okla. — In June 2012, Tulsa developer James Dill approached Enid city government leaders with a bold, novel plan to bring significant new retail business to Enid: de-mall Oakwood Mall. Buy northwest Oklahoma’s largest shopping center and convert it from an enclosed mall into a large, open-air, regional shopping center.

City leaders and Oakwood Mall’s current operator bought into the idea. The city put up $5 million in incentives, and mall manager J. Herzog & Sons agreed to an option to sell. City Manager Eric Benson called the development “the largest economic boon to Enid in 30 years.” Plans called for new nationally known retailers, a 10-screen, stand-alone movie complex, and one or two popular new restaurants. Dill said he had been working with major Oakwood Mall tenants since late 2010 and they were “on board” with the plan.

That big announcement 22 months ago was followed by a flurry of … well, silence. Certainly private business negotiations are conducted in private, but even businesses that would be directly impacted by the de-malling have heard … essentially nothing.

Scheduled signing and destruction and construction dates have passed. The Enid regional economy has continued to stay hot and even grow. Retail sales have been exceptionally strong. Interest rates for new construction have stayed exceptionally low. But the word from Dill and Herzog is … nothing — no good news, no bad news, no decisions, no deadlines for making a commitment.

The indecision is devastating. Even a clear “no” would be better than prolonged indecision and inaction. The looming possibility of tearing down the indoor mall makes it unrealistic for retailers to make any investment in an Oakwood Mall site. Radio Shack and Riddle’s Jewelry and Chick-fil-A have moved out of the Enid mall and remain in business elsewhere.

Meanwhile, the northwest Oklahoma economy has continued setting records. The consumer spending dollars have been historically high — a stark contrast to most parts of the nation — but it hasn’t been enough to attract major new retailers.

City officials are frustrated and embarrassed by the absence of any tangible action by Dill or Herzog. Unfortunately, the city didn’t tie any realistic up-front deadline to the potential $5 million incentive. So, the limbo lingers.

City leaders need to press both Dill and Herzog for a decision and action. Perhaps the plan needs to change — a smaller indoor mall and one large new retailer in the de-malled area. The goal is significant new retail development — enhanced shopping options — however that can happen.

The only wrong action is no action.

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