OKC, groups coming together for I-240 retail corridor

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

by Brian Brus

The Journal Record

Retail through the southern side of Oklahoma City along Interstate 240 is getting a closer look by city leaders.

Oklahoma City Hall and the local chapter of the Urban Land Institute have formed a partnership with the South Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber to explore interests and underdeveloped opportunities related to one of the area’s most active and important corridors, said Leslie Batchelor, chairwoman of the nonprofit ULI.

The project, dubbed “Envision 240,” will examine and re-envision the corridor with property and business owners, developers, and other stakeholders in the area, she said. Over the next few months, the partners will conduct fieldwork, hold meetings, provide information, and convene a group of land use and development experts to provide recommendations for helping the area thrive. The first public meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. March 6 at the south chamber.

The research and related costs are funded by a ULI grant of $18,000 that will be matched by City Hall and other available resources, city Planner Kim Cooper-Hart said. The Oklahoma City grant is one of 30 awarded by the national organization. Other cities that received grants include San Francisco, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, Boston and Toronto.

Although the corridor can be defined in several ways, Batchelor said, for the purpose of study officials will consider only the I-240 service roads between Interstates 35 and 40. That means Crossroads Mall and Will Rogers

World Airport will not be part of the formal study, although researchers will be aware of their influence on traffic patterns, she said.

Cooper-Hart said the corridor has provided high-quality retail and commercial services to the area’s residents and businesses since the 1960s. With its central location, healthy occupancy rates, and developable land, the I-240 corridor has the assets to flourish with a little attention.

“The city has wanted to take a look at this corridor for a long time. This ULI grant has given us a great opportunity to rally people around it and look at it together,” Cooper-Hart said. “The timing was amazingly serendipitous, too, because we’ve been talking about the corridor’s role in long-term transportation plans, the way it connects other vital areas.

“It’s not about new development so much as it is getting the right mix of urban uses,” she said. “That freeway was built in 1965. When you look at the residential areas around there, in the 1960s and early ’70s, that’s when a huge rush of people moved into that area. But things have changed a lot over 40-50 years.”

Given the growth of the city overall, the corridor can’t be ignored and needs to be positioned to remain competitive, she and Batchelor said.

“It’s not the only aging commercial corridor we’ve got in the city,” Batchelor said. “And hopefully some of the lessons we can learn from this effort will also be useful to us in other corridors as well.”