Kristi Prough is a mom, a cyclist and, let’s just say it — a lover of Turkey Mountain.
“If you have kids, you have to do something, you have to go somewhere. … There are very few options for people to get outside in nature,” she said.
Prough is not, however, blind to the fact that the property on and around the wilderness area is valuable. As in dollars and cents valuable.
So although she was happy to hear that the George Kaiser Family Foundation has purchased property at 61st Street and Highway 75 once destined to become an outlet mall so that it can be preserved, Prough was also glad to see that the property owner, Bob Grant, was paid what he thought the land was worth.
“We recognize it has financial value to the owners and quality of life value for the community,” said Prough, who joined Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition in part to stop construction of the mall.
The Frontier reported on Wednesday that GKFF had paid Grant $2.95 million for 60 acres of land on the northeast corner of 61st Street and Highway 75 — the same land Simon Property Group had planned to develop into an outlet mall.
The company eventually decided to build the mall in Jenks after an outcry from outdoors enthusiasts and some city councilors who believed the development would negatively impact the wilderness area.
The purchase of the land by GKFF is part of a plan that calls for River Parks Authority to use Vision 2025 renewal funds to buy the land from GKFF and make it part of the River Parks Turkey Mountain Wilderness area.
If voters do not approve the Vision package in April, the land would remain under the ownership of GKFF. Foundation officials have said previously that they have no plans to develop land the foundation owns near Turkey Mountain.
Bob Parker, who brokered the deal for Grant, said Wednesday that Turkey Mountain activists who opposed the mall didn’t “think through” the proposal and its potential benefits, including millions of dollars in sales tax revenue for the city each year.
“You can develop those 60 acres and still have the rest of the park all the way to the river, all the way to Elwood (Avenue) and then have a cool place to eat, shop, whatever,” Parker said. “It really would have not only not had a negative impact but I think it would have had a positive impact on the visibility and accessibility to the park.”
But Colin Tawney, a founding member of Tulsa Urban Wilderness Coalition, said he does not believe future generations of Tulsans will look back on the episode as a setback for Tulsa.
“Certainly there are two sides to the thing,” Tawney said. “I don’t believe in 30 or 40 years we’re going to be sorry the mall was not built there.”
Tawney said he was ecstatic to read that the land had been purchased for preservation.
“It’s absolutely the best of all outcomes that could have happened,” Tawney said. “It was just a year ago we were worried that there was going to be a mall out there.”
Clay Bird, director of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, said there is no doubt the city’s reputation took a hit in the development community when the Simon deal fell through.
“It has definitely had an effect on our ability to target destination retailers,” Bird said. “Based on the feedback from the brokers we deal with, they are saying as far as their ability to market the city, it has become more difficult.
Parker also took aim at city councilors, saying they failed to do their job when they were swayed by a vocal minority who opposed the project rather than the hundreds of thousands of people who would have benefited from it.
Councilor Jeannie Cue, who represents the district in which the mall would have been built, said some residents in the district supported the mall but that she believes the majority opposed it.
“Bottom line: My job is not to represent big business,” Cue said. “It’s to represent the residents of my district.”
Christina Parson, 40, is a regular user of Turkey Mountain. On Thursday, she ran the mountain with her dog. She’s glad the 60-acre tract is being preserved and thinks Parker may have his numbers wrong when it comes to the number of people who opposed the development versus those who supported it.
“I think that might be a bit of a disconnect,” Parson said. “I have been coming out here for the last five years pretty much three or four days a week, and every year it gets busier and busier, and there are more families and more people, and on the weekends it’s crazy.”
And then there was Steve Raney, 62, who is a regular runner on Turkey Mountain. Before beginning his run Thursday afternoon, he said he was not clear on the details of the land sale but generally favored the idea.
But he also thinks there is room for commercial development along Highway 75.
“I truly think it would complement (the wilderness area) because there’s just so much space,” he said.
As for Prough, she’s got another reason to be excited that River Parks Turkey Mountain Wilderness area is expanding.
Prough’s son has Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. But when he goes to Turkey Mountain, Prough said, his symptoms subside and he calms down.
“I have a son who needs time away from electronics,” she said. “There aren’t many places where you can go untethered.”
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