City council approves urban renewal plan for mall
By Jeff Harrison
Midwest City Beacon
Concerns and questions have swirled about the former Heritage Park Mall for years.
Midwest City leaders took a big step toward addressing them last week.
The city council approved the Heritage Park Mall Area Urban Renewal Plan that lays the groundwork for the city to acquire the former retail property. They unanimously passed the urban renewal plan at the April 25 meeting after hearing from several supportive residents and business owners.
Heritage Park Mall closed more than a decade ago and has sat largely vacant. LifeChurch purchased the west portion of the building and remodeled it. Sears closed in 2017 and was purchased by Midwest City in 2019.
Several people were nostalgic about the mall’s past and upset about the lack of upkeep and unfulfilled promises by the owner.
Sherri Bruce, a resident, said she has fond memories of taking her children to the mall years ago but is heartbroken by the current state of the building. The city shared photos of the interior of the building taken during building and fire code inspections in recent years.
“This used to be a hub of the city and now seeing pictures of it breaks my heart,” Bruce said. “This is disgusting. This man [Ahmad Bahreini] was supposed to regenerate the mall and instead let it get to this. There is no excuse. This not what the city is about. I am in full support of you guys taking care of this and making something good again.”
Thomas Galbraith, a resident, said the city has been lenient with the property owner and applauded their efforts.
“If that was what my house that looked like that, the city would condemn it and it would be bulldozed in a week,” he said.
Glen Goldschlager, a resident, said the mall is burden for city staff and is a potential hazard.
“Could you imagine trying to fight a fire in that thing,” Goldschlager said. “Let’s be proactive and really support our first responders and make sure they never need to do to that.”
Ahmad Bahreini, the property owner, was the only person who spoke against the city’s efforts for urban renewal. He recognized people’s frustration with the mall but said the city has created obstacles towards its redevelopment. Bahreini has racked up numerous citations for building and fire code violations over the past few years.
“I’m to blame for part of it. But without water we can’t work on it,” he said. “And to get a certificate of occupancy, we need water and all of those other things.”
Under the Oklahoma Urban Redevelopment Act, municipalities have tools to prevent the spread of blight in their communities by encouraging redevelopment and rehabilitation of properties that are blighted.
Midwest City’s urban renewal plan includes authorizations, relocation policies and procedures and how it will be implemented. It also defines the area, objectives and actions, and land uses.
The plan does not include details about how the property would be redeveloped or potential future uses. Any development will include input from the public and be subject to design review and consideration by the urban renewal authority.
Since approving the urban renewal plan, the city must obtain fair market value appraisals for the property which will serve as the starting point for negotiations on buying the property. The city cannot purchase properties for less than fair market value.
If the parties cannot reach agreement, the city can use eminent domain to acquire the property.
Midwest City started the urban renewal process in August when the city council declared the mall property as blighted. City staff created the proposed Heritage Park Mall Area Urban Renewal Plan.
The approval process goes through the Midwest City Urban Renewal Authority, Planning Commission and City Council.
The Council held two public hearings before adoption of the plan. The first of those public meetings took place March 28 and did not include any action by the council. The second meeting was April 25.
The Midwest City Urban Renewal Authority consists of residents who are appointed by the mayor and approved by the council.
The urban renewal area is located on the northwest corner of Reno Ave. and N. Air Depot Blvd., primarily consisting of the former Heritage Park Mall, Sears, Montgomery Ward, A to Z Outlet as well as the former Thunder Burger.
The mall, Montgomery Ward, A to Z Outlet and Thunder Burger are owned by Ahmad Bahreini and ABAB Inc. Midwest City’s Economic Development Authority purchased the Sears building in 2019. Life Church, Pelican’s Restaurant, and Becker’s Auto Service are not included in the blighted area nor the urban renewal efforts.