Midwest City leaders may not have answers about the future of the Heritage Park Mall.
But at least they now have some ideas.
The City Council learned about possible plans and uses for the largely vacant building Tuesday night during a presentation from Texas based consultant.
Midwest City hired Jason Claunch and Catalyst Commercial to conduct a market feasibility study for the privately owned Heritage Park Mall. Claunch told the council that the mall property has potential but needs creative and careful planning to make it viable destination.
“Heritage Park Mall is no different than probably 300 other malls that are going through an evolution,” Claunch said. “The consumer market has shifted, your market has shifted and formats have certainly changed, so this is an opportunity for a fresh look at some ideas that are market based.”
Claunch believes the property could be reconfigured and renovated to accommodate needs for residential, commercial, office and medical space. The study included input from owners of the mall as well as residents through a community meeting in February. The group took inventory of the property and surrounding neighborhood, conducted market research and studied similar mall redevelopments around the country.
As part of the study, he outlined three possible configurations.
The first scenario would include Life Church and Sears, but demolishing the main mall core and redeveloping the area into smaller anchor stores. This scenario would also integrate a “main” street from Reno Avenue, aligning with the existing mall entrance, north to a proposed fitness center on the north side of the mall.
The second scenario would also include Life Church and Sears as well as demolishing part of the mall core building. Instead of adding new anchors, the development would include a common green area. The scenario includes mixed-residential around the northern section of the existing mall property with a connection from the existing neighborhood to the mall. That would allowi access to commercial services, the church and the park without having to drive. This scenario also includes food trucks along the park frontage to encourage continuous evolution of experiences in a mobile, low-cost format to activate the open space.
In the third scenario, Sears would be redeveloped into an entertainment/fitness use. The plans also includes a common green area and mixed-residential around the northern section of the existing mall property and connecting the existing neighborhood to the mall and allowing access to commercial services, Life Church and the park without having to drive. The scenario also includes food trucks along the park frontage to encourage continuous evolution of experiences in a mobile, low-cost format to activate the open space.
All three scenarios featured new buildings along Reno Avenue to draw visitors in.
Claunch said the mall currently generates about $275,000 in property and sales taxes. He said that would increase to $5.7 million for Scenario 1, about $3 million in Scenario 2 and $4.1 million in Scenario 3.
The mall property is owned by three separate parties, which presents an added challenge for redevelopment. Sears and LifeChurch own property on the east and west ends of the mall. LifeChurch bought part of the mall for $1.5 million in 2007. Ahmad Bahreini, of Edmond, owns the main portion of the mall. He purchased the property for $1.3 million in 2010. Sears has been in the location since the mall first opened.
Claunch said all three parties and the City of Midwest City are interested in seeing the property redeveloped. He said the parties would have to be on the same page for future redevelopment. Any redevelopment would take a couple years to happen.
City Councilman Pat Byrne said he agreed with and was troubled by several findings in Claunch’s report. He said the downturn of the mall has hurt the local tax bases and residents who live near the empty building.
“That empty building is doing nothing but sucking the quality of life out of Midwest City,” he said.
Byrne commended Life Church and Sears for investing in the property and challenged Bahreini to do the same. He also highlighted a recent article in the Oklahoman that detailed Bahreini’s issues with the City of Oklahoma City for storing vehicles in another property he owns in MidTown. Byrne questioned whether those old cars are now being stored inside Heritage Park Mall.
“We’re losing money, it’s hurting our qualify life and I’m tired of driving by an empty building,” Byrne said.
Bahreini argued that he has spent money fixing the roof and repairing the interior of the building. He asked for help from the city.
“It’s easy for you to say it’s an eyesore, and it is an eyesore,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not doing anything about it.”
Mayor Matt Dukes said the city invested $53,000 in the market feasibility study and said the burden is on Bahreini to improve the property.
“We have absolutely no obligation to assist you in developing that mall than we have an obligation to mow the lawn of any of these residents here,” Dukes siad. “You bought that mall and you have the obligation to maintain it and keep it within code. And currently, you are not.”
Dukes urged Bahreini to develop plans for the mall.
“You figure out how to do something with that mall. We’re not going to stand for it any longer,” Dukes said.
Bahreini said he does not have the money to redevelop the property and needs more time to create a plan. He also told the council that he has some cars stored in the old automotive repair section of the mall, but did not move additional cars from a property in Oklahoma City.
City Manager Guy Henson said they cannot have any significant discussions about the mall until Bahreini develops a plan.
“We certainly understand the redevelopment process and how complicated it can be and how expenses have to be dealt with, but at the end of the day you have to come up with a plan and there has to be some numbers associated with it for you and us to have a meaningful conversation,” he said.