? Sooner Investments has retail developments in 12 states

By Carol Cole

Transcript Staff Writer

The developer chosen by the University of Oklahoma Foundation to create the University North Park shopping area detailed his ideas Wednesday for the center and philosophies on how to make that happen.

Bob Stearns, developing partner with Sooner Investments, gave the Citizen's TIF Advisory Ad Hoc Committee a wish list of tenants he'd like to fill the retail and entertainment components of the 585-acre development east of Interstate 35 between Robinson Street and Tecumseh Road and west of OU's Max Westheimer Airport.

He said it was going to take his partners throwing millions of dollars at the project to make it work. Sooner Investments has shopping center developments in 12 states.

"The buzz word in our industry is a sense of place. ? What the real meaning of that is a place to really hang out and enjoy instead of just a place to go shop and buy goods," Stearns said. "And what the retailing industry has discovered is that by creating this sense of place ? that people actually tend to spend more time and more retail dollars are going to be spent at these types of places."

He said at the end of the day, University North Park needs to be the kind of place a person would have to go to Kansas City or Dallas to experience.

One of the reasons he said the UNP development would work is because Norman is what retailers consider an "underserved market."

"There is just not enough stores on a national basis for the retailing dollar that exists here. Which means ? (retailers) believe you are exporting dollars," Stearns said, suggesting many may be driving to Dallas, Oklahoma City's Penn Square Mall or up the road to Kohl's in Moore. "The reason that's important is because that drives interest."

He said the next thing retailers look for is the right kind of project to go into, desiring to cluster in one place.

"So in our sense of place we try to create that feeling ? it's what we call the lifestyle component and create that sense of downtown, a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere with a park and restaurants," Stearns said.

The big anchor stores are key to attracting the smaller specialty retailers, he said, naming several he hoped to bring to the development.

Stearns said Target contacted his firm three years ago to start the process of finding another place to locate one of its premiere Super Target stores in either south Oklahoma City, Moore or Norman.

"Target is on everybody's list, because they do the advertising. Their new stores are very nice, very fancy and they bring in a lot of people. ? They bring in a diverse person. Multi-millionaires shop at Target and people with very small incomes and everybody in between.

"They've agreed to build in excess of what they did in Edmond," Stearns said.

Another anchor or power center his firm would work to attract is Belk's Department Stores, which he described as "an interim platform between Dillard's and Neiman Marcus." He said Belk's is the oldest department store in the country.

"They're a very nice store and they're very good operators," he said, citing that Belk's had already visited Norman and liked what they saw.

Stearns said most of the retailers his firm would go after would be stores not already located in this area.

"There has been a lot of feedback and concern about cannibalization. That's a pretty legitimate concern ? in every city when there is a new development is being built," he said.

Costco is another anchor store he plans to target for the development.

"Costco has been looking to get into Oklahoma for about five years. Their real estate department has studied every single opportunity," Stearns said.

He said the area would need to attract a diverse group of restaurants.

"Hopefully not restaurants that are not located around the corner from somebody's house already," Stearns said.

Some of the restaurants on his target list included P.F. Chang's China Bistro, Fleming's Steak House, Wolfgang Puck's Express and the Cheesecake Factory.

A portion of the long list of retailers to be targeted includes Talbot's, LL Bean, Banana Republic, Joseph A. Banks, Victoria's Secret, JoAnn Fabrics, Dick's Sporting Goods, Comp USA, Apple Computers, Whole Foods Marketplace, Dean and Deluca, Restoration Hardware, Harry and David, Sharper Image, Ethan Allen, Bombay, Williams-Sonoma, Pottery Barn and Crate and Barrel.

Stearns said he would like to bring in Movieco Theaters for a unique concept in entertainment and develop a convention center-style hotel on 23 acres of the site.

"It will take five years to build this whole thing out," he said, with the development built in phases. "To do something of this scale ? this scope and this importance ? will affect the future of Norman."

Committee member Sharon Parker asked why stores like Sak's and Nordstrom's weren't being considered for the mall.

"There is no chance and that's the cold hard facts," Stearns said. "I'm sorry. I don't think that's what you wanted to hear."

He noted that Tulsa's Sak's is the chain's lowest performing store and always has been. "We don't have the density and don't have the income."

Stearns said in other markets with higher demographics, Nordstrom's has been offered $20 million in incentives to locate there.

He said his firm has Oklahoma roots, which makes this development even more important to them.

Without a tax increment financing district to provide infrastructure improvements, he said his firm would only be able to develop a fraction of the area, probably about 80 acres.

The TIF District would be used to finance a $21.4 million bond issue. About $8.5 million would modify intersections including exchanges at Interstate 35 at Robinson and Tecumseh exits. A frontage road would be constructed along the interstate for an additional $3.4 million.

Off-site right-of-way acquisition cost is projected at $5 million, extension of the Legacy Trail system, landscaping, public art and trees through the area at $5.5 million, and engineering and legal fees at $1.4 million. A contingency is built in for about $1 million.

Sooner Investments has made an official offer to the foundation for 290 acres of the property, which has not yet been accepted or rejected.

Stearns said the minute his firm closes on the property, that it would go on the tax rolls, "some $140,000 in taxes" for a property that is not generating any ad valorem or sales taxes currently.

"The first phase of this development, which is Target and buildings next to it is $50 million on the tax rolls."

But if developed fully, he projects it could yield "well in excess of $200 million in sales tax revenue."

Frank Hill, counsel for the foundation, said even with the proceeds of sale of the property to the developer, it would not be feasible for the foundation to make the needed traffic improvements.

The foundation plans to develop the balance of the property with residential and office development.

Carol Cole 366-3538 ccole@normantranscript.com

Trending Video