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A drive on south Interstate 240 between I-35 and I-44 presents contrasting features. Some areas are lined with national retailers, big-box stores and popular eateries. Then, dotted throughout that landscape are ailing apartment complexes, used car lots and 1960s-era strip malls. Divided by an interstate and a sea of concrete, the area is not exactly the place to take a leisurely stroll.
A plan in the works could help the area define itself, help stakeholders improve its appearance, and speak with one voice. Last fall, the Urban Land Institute – a nonprofit research and education organization dedicated to land use and development – granted the local chapter $18,000 to study the I-240 corridor and surrounding neighborhoods, and to develop a plan to help the area thrive.
Leslie Batchelor, chairwoman of ULI Oklahoma, says when she found out that ULI was awarding grants for innovative public-private partnerships to celebrate its 75th anniversary, she began chatting with city staff about an area of Oklahoma City that could benefit from analysis and recommendations. The I-240 corridor came up repeatedly.
“The city really deserves a lot of the credit for this,” she says.
Oklahoma City Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell represents the bulk of the I-240 corridor. As a lifelong resident of south Oklahoma City, he has watched as some areas prosper and others suffer. He is pleased with the mix of national retailers that dot the interstate landscape, but concerned about the aging apartment complexes and the lack of involvement from out-of-state owners.
“The opportunities to improve that area are tremendous,” he says.
Another problem plaguing the area is what former Mayor Kirk Humphreys calls a “lack of unique identity.” He says if stakeholders can come together for the betterment of all, and use that unified voice, they can get projects done and take any needs and concerns to the city.
“Leadership makes all the difference,” he says.
Identifying those leaders and getting a plan and recommendations into their hands is the charge of ULI. Batchelor says the Envision 240 Technical Advisory Panel report is scheduled to be completed in late May.
During the study process, some have asked why the ULI group is comprised mainly of people from Downtown and the north side of Oklahoma City.
“People can focus on those kinds of issues if they want to, and start saying, ‘This isn’t going to be successful,’” Greenwell says. “If they’re willing to work with us, help us and give us their ideas and experience, I’m all for it.” Greenwell says he is happy to be the liaison for south Oklahoma City — from helping identify leaders to taking improvement ideas for the area to his colleagues on City Council.
Several other council members’ districts include areas of the south side and I-240.
While ULI works on its plan, the corridor still is seeing activity. Jack in the Box recently opened at the corner of S. May Avenue and I-240.
Jim Parrack, a retail broker with Price Edwards & Co., says the vacancy along I-240 is at 9.7%, which is about what retail vacancy is citywide. Parrack says with limited parcels of undeveloped land, one area of opportunity is the former Shields Plaza shopping center at S.W. 74th and Shields Boulevard, purchased by local developer Terryl Zerby. Parrack says that project can be a catalyst for redevelopment of area. Looking at the bigger picture, he contributing ideas to the final report the present and for years to come.
“What we’re suggesting is as we toward the long term — the next 20 or 30 years. Perhaps the private and public sectors can work together and think some of the ways to continue the success of the corridor and build on that,” he says.
The advisory panel is working on wrapping up its report, and Batchelor will present a grant report to ULI by the end of June. From there, it is up to stakeholders to determine what to do with the recommendations. Next, Batchelor plans to look at other retail areas in the city that might need some help.
“Not only are the city and ULI hoping to make a positive impact on the I-240 corridor, but we’d also like to take away from that work some experience that would translate well to other parts of the city,” she says. “I-240 is not the only aging commercial corridor in the city.”
–Photos by Mark Hancock