TMCNet:  Retailers ready shopping center: Tulsa Hills

[March 09, 2008]

Retailers ready shopping center: Tulsa Hills

(Tulsa World (OK) (KRT) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) Mar. 9--The Tulsa Hills are alive with the sound of commerce.

Watching the massive shopping center take shape has awed Tami Fleak for the past year as crews have built the $105 million retail mountain.

"It was unbelievable," the American Heritage Bank branch operation manager marveled. "It's a nice setting."

Beginning this weekend and continuing for the next month or so, large tenants such as Target, Belk and Lowe's will open their stores with hopes that a full development will eventually cover 1.5 million square feet.

The huge investment in west Tulsa has some people even offering prayers of thanksgiving. Lighthouse Church assistant pastor Tim Pixler recalls years of beautiful scenery in the area but no development that could attract additional people to the area.


In the past year, Pixler and his flock witnessed plenty of cranes and construction as Tulsa Hills was being built at the southeast corner of U.S. 75 and 71st Street.

"We see it as a positive thing for us," Pixler said. "There was pretty much nothing commercial out here; it was all just trees and hills."

All that's changing fast with the first

phase of the city's largest retail development since Woodland Hills Mall opened in August 1976. Tulsa Hills will play host to giant retailers as well as restaurants, technology outlets and speciality shops.

Perhaps more than anything, the shopping center will be a statement to the rest of the city: west Tulsa is a destination, thank you, and not just a nice, quiet place to live.

"It's huge. It gives everybody on this side, all the surrounding communities, a lot more options," Fleak said.

"This side of Tulsa always felt kind of ignored," she added.

This side of Tulsa is that part west of the Arkansas River. For decades, these west-siders wanting an all-inclusive shopping experience typically traveled to the suburbs, midtown or about seven miles due east to Woodland Hills and a certain hyper-developed area on 71st Street between Memorial Drive and U.S. 169.

Inverness Village resident Ed Livermore, who lives just west of the new center, suspects that he will shop or eat out at Tulsa Hills, mainly because it's closer. Yet he wonders if residential development and other projects will follow on its commercial coattails.

"I've haven't seen anything but what you might call spasmodic houses being built," Livermore said. "It probably will come now."

Woodland Hills Mall manager Curt Hesselink does not see Tulsa Hills -- because of its different mix of tenants -- as a direct threat to his operation or the southeast Tulsa shopping mecca. In fact, he admitted that his area already is saturated and cannot handle additional development.

The key question, as Hesselink sees it, is not so much competition as how Tulsa Hills will affect developments in Bixby and Jenks. Another unknown is determining just how retail becomes too much retail.

"There's a saturation point where all we're doing is exchanging dollars from one piece of the pie to the other," he said. "At the end of the day, people only have so much money to spend."

Tulsa Hills' developers believe customers will spend plenty of green at their new venture. Store openings will be staggered throughout the next year and beyond, according to reports.

Leland Clark works for Sooner Investments, the Oklahoma City developer that spearheaded Tulsa Hills. The project was not driven by Sooner's desire to develop a mall in any old area, he pointed out, but the major retailers' specific wish to be in that part of west Tulsa.

In addition, growth in nearby cities such as Sapulpa and Kiefer points to some upward demographic trends.

"The reason that we had an interest in developing Tulsa Hills was because the major tenants had an interest in being at that location," Clark said. "They saw it as a spot that they wanted to be."

The city of Tulsa certainly wanted to find some way of providing retail outlets for residents on the west side of the river. City councilors approved formation of a tax-increment financing district for the area in March 2006.

The TIF district, which sets aside some property tax revenue for that part of town, will fund about $13.5 million in infrastructure improvements for Tulsa Hills. Another $765,000 was earmarked to pay Jenks Public Schools for lost property-tax revenue.

Local businesspeople, like Fleak, believe the investment will more than pay for itself. She noted that American Heritage Bank built just west on 71st Street last year in anticipation of a commercial and residential growth spurt.

Tulsa Hills should take it to another level.

"They had some vision," Fleak said. "It's been a long time coming."

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Sunday -- Target opens

Wednesday -- Belk grand opening

April 1 -- Lowe's opens

Coming soon --Chili's restaurant

Summer 2008 -- Best Buy, PetSmart, Lane Bryant, Famous Footwear, Marshalls, Deb Shops, Subway, Yankee Candle, Payless Shoes, Maurice's, Rue 21, Nail Shop, AT&T, US Cellular, GNC, UPS, others

Late 2008, early 2009 -- J.C. Penney, Bed Bath & Beyond, Books-AMillion, Dress Barn, others

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Rod Walton 581-8457

rod.walton@tulsaworld.com

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