Tulsa to See RiverWalk Development

Crowds flock there every night. The stores are thriving, as are the restaurants -- Los Cabos is reportedly one of the top moneymaking eateries in Oklahoma.

So what's taken Jerry Gordon so long to expand RiverWalk Crossing?

The outspoken developer said he has wanted to break ground on new buildings at his shopping center the instant the old ones were finished in 2005, but he claims he never got the support he wanted. Local banks passed on financing the second phase, and his conflicts with Jenks officials lead to his public appeal to be annexed by the city of Tulsa.

Now, Gordon said, the uncertainty and conflicts are over. He's officially landed financing for $24 million to build 164,000 additional square feet at RiverWalk Crossing -- at least.

The new buildings, which are set to open by the end of the year, will feature a large upstairs restaurant, a focus on retail stores and 22 upstairs, upscale apartments overlooking the Arkansas River.

"There's a lot of interest in residential development along the river," Gordon said. "I've already pre-leased some units even before I finished the designs. I'm guessing they'll fill up quickly."

American National Bank of Texas will provide financing for RiverWalk Crossing's second phase, as well as assume Gordon's current mortgage from Stillwater National Bank.

SNB financed the $25 million, 110,000-square-foot first phase. Gordon said Stillwater chose not to give him additional financing because his loan administrator, Merle Budd, retired. Budd, however, said in November that policies did not change at SNB after he retired.

Current tenants of RiverWalk Crossing, such as Judy Eddington, co-owner of JooJooBee's Club & Deli, said they're glad that the long-promised second phase is finally making progress. They hope the increase in foot traffic will give their establishments a leg up.

"We're excited," Eddington said. "We need more retail down here."

Plans for the second phase have changed somewhat since Gordon's initial announcement that the area would be anchored by a "big box" bookstore.

Now, the northern end's restaurant, whose square footage and final design will be dictated by its eventual tenant, will act as a focal point, much as the center's amphitheater acts now at the south end.

"We're designing the center around the upstairs restaurant to make it a huge draw," Gordon said. "Its outdoor balconies will all overlook the river."

Stairs to the balcony will flank a 25-foot tall, 50-foot diameter rock sculpture with a waterfall.

Gordon said he's negotiating with three potential tenants, two of whom represent national chains and one local person wanting to start a new concept.

"For the amount of attention we're paying to this, the restaurant has to have the right menu mix," he said.

Though restaurants make up a large portion of RiverWalk's current tenants, Gordon said the second phase will only sport two new eateries at the most, including the centerpiece restaurant.

Instead, the downstairs portion will feature more retail, with an emphasis on apparel. He said the second phase needs to complement the large number of entertainment venues already in place.

"We want to go more to the clothing places, since we're hoping to get foot traffic to increase," he said.

And Gordon could still cater to bibliophiles.

"Personally, I'd love to still see a bookstore there," he said. "We'll just see how things fall."

Lone Star Steakhouse, originally planned as an outparcel building, is no longer in the cards, Gordon said. The expanding plans for the second phase, as well as the need for parking, has consumed the space originally planned for Lone Star.

Hampton Inn Garden Suites still plans to open a hotel on the remaining outparcel segment, Gordon said.

He said leasing for the second phase has already begun. Though he wants to attract smaller retail outlets, he's also negotiating with three big box retail stores, including a sporting goods store and a home furnishings store.

About 40,000 square feet of upstairs space is dedicated to loft apartments, which will be constructed with high-end materials, Gordon said. The 22 units will range in size from 800 to 2,200 square feet, though he hasn't yet set rental prices.

Since the new addition will lengthen RiverWalk Crossing to more than half a mile, Gordon said he's planning to install a tram system to ferry people from one end to the other.

The retail space in the current buildings are completely occupied, Gordon said. New additions include JooJooBee's, which opened in October, and LD's Sports Bar and Grill, which will open soon, he said.

Gordon originally said Piztros, an Italian bistro concept, would open in the space now given over to LD's, but a non-compete clause with Gina & Guiseppe's Italian Deli and Market involving pizza scuttled the agreement, he said.

Piztros was enthusiastic about locating at the RiverWalk and could still become part of the second phase, he said.

Since RiverWalk opened, only one tenant has closed. Gary's Grill, one of the shopping center's first tenants, shut down in June.

Jimmy Blacketer, managing partner of Los Cabos, said his restaurant bought out Gary's Grill to add an 85-seat Fiesta Room for private parties and overflow seating.

"We needed the space," Blacketer said. "We're doing well and already showing growth over last year, despite the weather."

Other businesses, such as the Funhouse arcade, which moved from the 71st Street and Memorial Drive area last year, are also doing well.

"We're happy we moved," said Rod Marshall, owner of Funhouse. "I was excited about riverfront development and thought it was a good opportunity."

Blake Smith, co-owner of The Movies at RiverWalk Crossing, said his new theater draws a good crowd every weekend.

"We've been doing real well," he said. "We're within about 5 percent of where we were expecting, and that was when we expected phase two to be further along."

Gordon said the 20,000 square feet he's dedicated to office use above the retail portion of RiverWalk has not rented as well, though he only has 4,700 square feet left to fill.

With the progress on phase two, Gordon said he's no longer pressing to be annexed by Tulsa. He originally proposed the annexation in November, after Jenks did not pursue plans to declare RiverWalk a tax-incre ment financing district, or TIF, to help finance the second phase.

A TIF district directs a portion of tax revenue generated in an area to infrastructure costs.

"That was me speaking out in anger at the city of Jenks," Gordon said.

In November, Jenks Mayor Vic Vreeland said city officials didn't believe the project met the criteria for a TIF district because it is not a blighted area.

Kim MacLeod, press secretary for Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor, said the annexation issue was never formally raised to any Tulsa official.

Robert Evatt 581-8447 BR/

Time line

March 2003: Plans for Riverwalk Crossing, a $25 million, 110,000-square-foot center, are unveiled. An anchoring hotel and a "big box" entertainment venue are also announced.

August 2003: Construction begins. Negotiations with potential restaurants and office tenants are under way, and two hotels are said to have signed letters of intent.

March 2004: Gina & Guiseppe's Italian Deli and Market becomes the first location to publicly commit to the center.

August 2004: Leases for The Movies at Riverwalk Crossing, Gary's Grill and The Melting Pot are announced.

December 2004: Construction concludes. Within weeks, Cat and the Fiddle, The Wild Honeysuckle and Gary's Grill restaurant open. A second phase to cost $35 million and include 300,000 square feet of space is announced.

January 2005: The Melting Pot opens.

May 2005: Los Cabos and Gina & Guiseppe's open; summer concerts begin.

December 2005: The Movies at Riverwalk Crossing opens.

June 2006: Gary's Grill closes; Los Cabos expands into the freed space.

July 2006: Riverwalk Crossing is entirely leased, and developer Jerry Gordon says Lone Star Steakhouse and Hampton Inn Garden Suites will build outparcel buildings. However, he says he's having trouble finding financing for phase two.

November 2006: Gordon proposes that Tulsa annex Riverwalk Crossing, saying the city might provide better development assistance than Jenks. No action is taken.

February 2007: Gordon announces he has secured financing for the second phase.

New tenants filling Kings Landing Another new retail development in the area, Kings Landing at 9900 Riverside Parkway, continues to fill up.

Developer Sharon King Davis said construction on the $9 million, 50,000-square-foot shopping center is wrapping up, but four tenants are already open for business there.

"Things are going great," she said. "Tulsans seem to be very excited about this development.

The four open tenants include Interiors Market, a home interiors store; Fifty 5 Degrees, a wine bar and gourmet cuisine restaurant; Pink Daisy, a boutique clothing store; and Push Pedal Pull, an exercise equipment retailer.

Six more tenants have finalized leases and will open at the center in coming months, King Davis said.

"We're rapidly approaching 100 percent leased," she said.

New additions include restaurants Red Rock Canyon and Michael Fusco's Riverside Grill; J. Kole, a women's shoe store; Tulsa Hair Company; Ciel Gallery, a gift shop and boutique; and Floor Haus, an interior floor and design company.

Currently there are no plans to expand the center further, King Davis said.