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Building hope


A northeast OKC community looks for opportunity in new retail development.

Ben Felder April 9th, 2014

As John Pettis Jr. strolls across NE 23rd Street, a man stopped at a red light opens his door to give the Ward 7 councilman a wave and a thank-you.

After arriving at the other side of the street, Pettis is greeted by another wave from a man sitting at a bus stop, and a few motorists honk as they drive by.

“People are excited,” Pettis said.

“They are excited about this change.”

Pettis said the excitement he and others have is for the proposed revitalization of a rundown shopping center near NE 23rd Street and Martin Luther King Avenue. The plan calls for using tax incentives to help build a new full-service grocery store to anchor retail and residential development, giving the ward an economic shot in the arm.

“Ward 7 has been the forgotten ward,” said Pettis, who is approaching his one-year anniversary on the Oklahoma City Council.

Pettis was successful in getting his fellow council members to move forward on creating a tax increment financing (TIF) district in the hope of giving his ward a slice of the economic pie that has been enjoyed in other parts of the city like downtown.

“It’s something that should have happened a long time ago,” said Clarice Conway, co-owner of Mr. P’s Liquor Store, which sits next to the current Buy For Less store on NE 23rd Street, close to Eastern Avenue. “By putting the Buy For Less in a few years ago, it has helped a lot, but they don’t carry everything you need.”

Conway is glad to see the planned development come even though it means she will have to relocate her business. The entire shopping center and nearby buildings will be demolished to make way for the development.

“We have to move,” Conway said.

“But it’s needed.”

A long time coming
City leaders have discussed economic development in the northeast before, but plans have always sputtered. The new grocery store and development isn’t a done deal yet, but Pettis said the developer is eager to move forward and the city is working on a TIF plan that will use property taxes to pay for new infrastructure and provide developer assistance. If given approval from the council in the coming months, the project would become the city’s ninth TIF district, and City Manager Jim Couch said it’s an example of the kind of project TIF was meant to do.

“I can’t think of a better example of [a TIF project] than what Councilman Pettis is proposing for northeast Oklahoma City,” Couch said. “This is probably the type of project they had in mind when they did the TIF legislation.”

The development would be anchored by a new 50,000-square-foot grocery store and include space for local and national retailers, along with a clinic. Pettis also said the initial plans call for an educational facility attached to the grocery store.

“Connected to the grocery store would be maybe a 20,000-square-foot educational institution,” Pettis said. “And people from inside the store would be able to see the classrooms. That’s a very unique model.”

The Buy For Less that currently exists at the intersection is less than half the size of the proposed new store and is not considered full-service. However, Pettis said it’s the largest grocery store in his ward, which means many residents have to drive longer distances to buy groceries and purchase other common goods.

“Years ago, northeast Oklahoma City had thriving businesses, but over a course of time, developers and Realtors took businesses outside [the ward],” Pettis said. “But I think this is a huge step in the right direction to help a distressed area.”

The creation of a TIF district could help the area follow the lead of other districts across the city that have seen economic growth in recent years.

“They got stuff across 23rd Street,” said George Lewis, referring to development a mile down the road, west of Interstate 235, in Wards 2 and 6. “There’s got to be a change here.”

Lewis, who was waiting for a bus in front of the proposed development, said new businesses could also mean new jobs in the community.

“There are a lot of people who need work,” Lewis said. “We need help.”

Pettis said he is hopeful the use of tax incentives goes beyond 23rd Street, as he has already talked with community leaders about other pockets in the northeast quadrant that could benefit.

“I want to change NE 23rd Street into the street of opportunity,” Pettis said, stopping to wave at another motorist who shouted out a greeting. “Personally, it brings about some emotions. There is a lot of hope in this project.”

 
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