Crossroads Mall loses Dillard's but stays optimistic

From October 24, 2008

Read article at this link here.

Nick Summit's Commentary

Posted February 13, 2008 (user submitted)

When Crossroads Mall opened in 1975 it was the 9th largest shopping mall in the United States, and the largest in Oklahoma. It is still the second largest mall in Oklahoma at 1.3 million square feet.

My parents have fond memories of the mall. They remember taking school field trips to the mall wonder, with buses in the parking lot coming from neighboring states as well. The parking lot is where everyone learned to drive. Only the best and busiest stores had locations in there. The mall's location couldn't be beat, at the intersection of I-240 and I-35 just to the east of the heart of south Oklahoma City.

In hindsight the picture wasn't all as rosy as it seemed. The mall actually officially kick-started the worst of Oklahoma City's urban white flight, which led to downtown and the most central historic districts in town becoming poster children of blight and neglect. Retail that was scattered across the inner southside neighborhoods all either died away or flocked to Crossroads Mall, taking away economic activity and niehgborhood activity. The inner southside became the most blighted part of Oklahoma City with the advent of Crossroads Mall.

Today the location is the reason this mall is dying. The southside is just too dumpy that now it's starting to hurt Crossroads Mall, and as the suburbs of the southside have stretched further and further south enveloping Moore and Norman as well, pockets of retail have developed along major corridors, especially along I-240 west of the mall, and along I-35 south of the mall all the way down to Norman, a good 25-minute drag.

Crossroads Mall is outdated and has not been significantly renovated in decades either despite touting a "major renovation" (that basically meant new paint and light fixtures and nothing else) every now and then. The expanding retail booms in Moore and Midwest City have taken its toll on Crossroads Mall with the closure of its J.C. Penney's, when separate Moore and Midwest City locations were opened instead in brand-new outdoor shopping plazas. The 90s were marked with loosing Montgomery Wards, an anchor that remained unfilled until 2005 or so when Steve & Barry's University Sportswear took over that space.

And therein lies the problem. Crossroads Mall is not doing bad, per se. It's still dying very quickly however. What used to be a family shopping destination now is a gang hangout and a glorified cheapo depot. They had to institute "family hours" recently which only means banning teenagers from the mall after 6 because drugs and gangs were getting to be such a problem at the mall. Steve & Barry's sells mostly plus-sized NCAA merchandise at steeply discounted prices, and is not exactly a fixture you would see at any respectable mall...they don't even sell any OU merchandise because they can't get licensed by OU. Chain stores that were respectable have been replaced by stores that are not, like for example Shelley Wong's Things, Kool Stuff and Your Choice Rug Design. So occupancy is not so much the issue, although vacant store spaces are getting noticeable throughout the mall.

The next anchor to go will be Macy's--one of the bought-out Foley's locations. Macy's is starting to realize that Crossroads Mall is not exactly a mall fit for a store as nice as Macy's, and they have been mostly receiving clearance merchandise to sell. None of the respectable stores in the mall (there are few) and basically limited to American Eagle and Pac Sun have been meeting their sales quotas for a long time, and if locations were to open in Midwest City or Moore, Crossroads locations would be closed to get out of the way.

There's also a new factor contributing to the demise of Crossroads Mall--other than suburban sprawl further out, a high-crime reputation, a poor image (nobody really says, "I'm goin to Crossroads Mall!" like they would, "I'm goin to Penn Square, or Quail Springs!"), and demographics--now growth inside I-240 seems to have it out for Crossroads. Downtown is seeing a resurgence, with 2,900 new residential units planned or under way currently, talks of major new shopping and office developments, and the advent of NBA basketball, the Big XII basketball tournament, major parades and festivals, major regatta events on the river, and everything else contributing to the resurgence of not just Downtown, but the whole OKC metro area in general.

Public perception right now is that Downtown is good and wonderful, and is coming back in grand fashion, while Crossroads Mall is evil and blighted--which is completely the opposite from when the mall opened.

That and the fact that the county dump is located just 1 mile to the east, and the huge trash mountain towers over the mall as viewed from I-35 on the west side of the mall.

ODOT (OK Dept of Transportation) very nearly took it on themselves to put Crossroads Mall out of its misery. The plan is to redesign of the I-240 and I-35 intersection to include new flyover lanes to alleviate backed up traffic and to open up room for adding lanes to the clogged commuter artery between Downtown and suburban Cleveland and McClain counties. One of the flyover lanes was designed to incidentally close off the Pole Road exit from I-240 (the main entrance to Crossroads Mall), but after a huge uproar from Crossroads Mall management claiming they're "trying" to reinvent its shopping center, the plans were reiterated and instead houses on the other side of I-35 were demolished to make room for the flyover lanes.

One way or another Crossroads Mall has maybe 5 more years. Macy's will soon close, meaning gone will be Penney's, Montgomery Ward, and Macy's--leaving just Dillard's. Dillard's won't stick it out much longer than that once major shopping mall projects further south of I-240 (in an area vastly under-served by retail, especially those that refuse to go to Crossroads Mall) start coming to completion. Crossroads Mall won't be missed, but it will be remembered as it sits empty for years while city leaders figure out what to do with it.

The site is prime for future redevelopment, believe it or not, because the site sits adjacent as well to a railroad line being targeted as a commuter rail line from Edmond north of OKC all the way down to the Norman/OU area. The site could become a great rail-oriented mixed-use development in the future similar to ones along the DART lines in Dallas, but in order for that to occur the mall structure, which is entirely unsuitable for something along those lines, would have to be razed.

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