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After Aubrey

Nonprofits and retailers wonder about their relationship with Chesapeake in a post-McClendon environment.

Kelley Chambers April 3rd, 2013

Some could argue that in addition to being in the energy business, Chesapeake Energy is in the Oklahoma City business. From shopping centers to the support of nonprofits and the arts, many rely on Chesapeake dollars. With the departure of Chesapeake co-founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon, many who benefit from the company’s philanthropic efforts wonder what’s next.

Aubrey McClendon
Credit: Shannon Cornman

The nonprofit sector was put on notice by the company in January with a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing that stated Chesapeake planned to significantly curtail its charitable giving. The company did not disclose how much less it would be giving to charitable causes. Chesapeake’s 2011 annual report showed more than $31 million in donations that year to charitable causes and initiatives.

Marnie Taylor, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, said many nonprofits in the state have gotten a bit spoiled with corporate dollars coming in from friendly companies. For many, CEOs like McClendon, Devon’s Larry Nichols and Continental Resources’ Harold Hamm seem like old friends rather than the people who answer to boards and shareholders.

“Sometimes we forget these are large, publicly traded corporations with boards of directors who are not all Oklahomans,” Taylor said. “It creates a different feel to the relationship that we have all appreciated.”

While Chesapeake dollars do help nonprofits operate, the company does not solely keep them afloat. Taylor said her center received $70,000 annually from Chesapeake for the last few years — only a small portion of her $1.2 million budget.

The Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma has also reaped the benefits of Chesapeake donations, but the company is not its sole supporter. Rodney Bivens, the food bank’s executive director, said Chesapeake provided $2.5 million in matching gifts over the last three years. That money paid for nearly 18 million meals for those in need.

“While we are saddened by the news of Aubrey McClendon’s retirement, we are hopeful that Chesapeake and its employees will continue to support our efforts to fight hunger in Oklahoma,” Bivens said. “Aubrey and Chesapeake Energy have been extremely generous to the Regional Food Bank for more than a decade — not just financially but through volunteerism and being advocates for our mission.”

Retail future
Chesapeake is also in the retail real estate business. McClendon is responsible for construction of Classen Curve and The Triangle at Classen Curve and the purchase of Nichols Hills Plaza. All are within walking distance of the company’s campus at N.W. 63rd and Western. At The Triangle, he brought in Whole Foods Market and Anthropologie. At Classen Curve, the tenant mix includes upscale eateries and shops. Nichols Hills Plaza is home to several local eateries and retailers and a Starbucks.

With McClendon out of the picture, some wonder what’s next for those centers.

Credit: Shannon Cornman

In May, Danielle Keogh opened Liberté in 2,500 square feet at Classen Curve. The women’s clothing and accessory store was a dream of Keogh’s, and she was encouraged by McClendon’s vision for the center. As of yet, no one from the company has reached out to her about any possible changes there.

“Understanding that the company is in a state of change demands all parties associated with it a temporary surrender of security,” she said. “I expect if there are any plans for changes at Classen Curve that they will brief us post haste as they do with any other business concern.”

Mark Inman, a commercial retail broker with CB Richard Ellis Oklahoma, said all three shopping centers, if handled correctly, could create an open-air lifestyle center that the city is lacking. He said a traditional lifestyle center has at least 250,000 square feet.

“That could work there,” he said.

“It could be something quite nice for our market.”

Marnie Taylor
Credit: Mark Hancock

Inman said the area has plenty of retail potential with its abundance of Chesapeake employees nearby and its close proximity to Penn Square Mall.

“There’s a lot of potential, at least in the long term, to continue developing those projects,” he said.

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