Here are some of the things you can do in downtown Tulsa:
Watch a performance of the opera or ballet. Take in a hockey or arena football game. Get a hotel room. Worship at one of more than a half dozen churches. Enjoy a meal or drink at one of dozens of restaurants and bars. Attend a convention. Check out a live music performance at a street festival. Live in a loft apartment or condominium. Buy a unique gift at one of a handful of boutique retail establishments. Check out a library book. Pay a parking ticket. Attend a City Council meeting. Watch a court trial. Deposit a paycheck into your bank account. Buy office supplies.
But you can't buy a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs or a head of lettuce.
Until recently, that wasn't something a lot of people worried about. But now, as part of the effort to revitalize downtown Tulsa, city officials are emphasizing the need to add several thousand new residents to the area. And with those plans well on their way to reaching fruition through the anticipated addition of such projects as the Mayo Hotel and Luxury Residences, the First Street Lofts, the Tribune II development and others, it won't be long before all those new downtown dwellers go looking for a nearby market, a place they can stroll to after work and pick up something for dinner, some salad dressing, a bottle of laundry detergent or perhaps some new lightbulbs.
At this point, any such search would be in vain. There have been a number of attempts to bring a grocery store--or some limited version of one--back to downtown since the Homeland store at 11th Street and Denver Avenue closed in the 1990s, but each of those efforts has failed.
Nevertheless, the issue remains a priority for a variety of city officials, developers, businessmen and residents. Everyone, in fact, seems to think it would be a wonderful thing for downtown Tulsa. But they are less clear about the steps that need to be taken to make it a reality.
Jack Crowley, the mayor's adviser on urban development and planning, believes downtown Tulsa is much closer to having a grocery store now than it was even a few years ago. At some point, he believes, the new residents simply will demand it.
"If you move downtown, you're expecting to work around the corner, you're expecting you can walk to the things you need," he said. And that includes the opportunity to buy groceries.
But there needs to be a critical mass of those residents for that to happen, and with many of those new downtown housing projects still only in the construction or even planning phases, it could be a tough sell to convince a grocer to take a chance on the area. There's an old adage in the business world--"Retail follows rooftops"--and at this point, those rooftops in downtown Tulsa are too far between, in the minds of some observers.
"That's it--the residential density, that's the major stumbling block," said Mike Griffeth, manager of Petty's Fine Foods at Utica Square.
"Right now, today, there is not the population to support a grocery store of any size," District 4 City Councilor Eric Gomez said.
Crowley resorts to a new twist on another old saw to describe the situation. With only a couple of thousand residential units available right now, downtown has a lot of growing to do before grocery stores and retailers are likely to find it a suitable market.
"If you picture the residents as the chicken, and the services as the egg, this is a case where you've got to have a whole bunch of chickens before you get the egg," he said.
Not everyone takes such a dim view. Developer Michael Sager, whose First Street Lofts soon will add some much-needed resident housing to downtown, is a firm believer in downtown's viability as a grocery store site--now, not five or 10 years in the future.
"You can't tell me that a grocery store at the corner of 15th and Denver would have no customers," he said. "Look at the thousands of cars a day at QuikTrip. We have a large number of residential units in downtown Tulsa, but they're hidden from general public view. We have high traffic which is not supported necessarily by density of subdivisions but is supported by workers and others.
"So why not have a grocery store of a modest or large neighborhood size?"
Need for Feed
If you live in downtown Tulsa these days, as Crowley himself has for the last year and a half, your closest supermarket option is the Reasor's Foods location at 2429 E. 15th St. Only a 10-minute drive from downtown, Crowley considers that trip no great inconvenience. In fact, he said, many folks in much larger cities routinely drive much farther for their groceries than the people in downtown Tulsa do right now.
But that argument misses an important point, as Crowley acknowledges.
"If you're a young, urban professional, Reasor's is not what you picture (in terms of accessibility)," he said. "You still have to drive your car over there and pick it up."
City officials are working to recreate downtown Tulsa as not just a center of government, commerce, culture and entertainment, but as a neighborhood--a convenient, friendly place where residents can park their cars and find themselves within walking distance of almost everything they need.
A grocery store, they argue, is an integral part of that equation.
"A grocery store is crucially important," said Jamie Jameson, one of the developers behind The Village at Central Park, a "new urbanist" neighborhood just east of downtown in the Pearl District.
Scott Smith--who operates the Blue Jackalope, a small, neighborhood market at 306 S. Phoenix Ave. in the Crosbie Heights neighborhood just west of downtown--views it as a key element in the continued evolution of downtown.
"You've got to have something to drive the residential development," he said. "On a scale of one to 10, it's a good eight and a half."
Macy Snyder--director of public relations and social events for the Mayo Hotel and Luxury Residences, which will reopen after an extensive renovation in several weeks--couldn't agree more.
"All the studies people have done show that one of the number one reasons people don't want to live in downtown Tulsa" is because of the lack of a good shopping option, she said. That's why her family, which owns the Mayo, plans on opening a small store in mid September at the nearby Mayo Motor Inn as part of its renovation project.
"Quick and convenient," is how Snyder describes the market, which will offer produce, dairy products, bread and toiletries, in addition to serving as a gift shop for the historic Mayo. Eventually, Snyder said, the store may even offer prepared meals from the hotel kitchen that customers can take home and reheat.
Beyond that, she said, the Snyders will wait for their customers to let them know what they need.
"What we provide obviously will change a lot," she said. "We'll definitely need to find out what people downtown want."
But Snyder is the first to acknowledge that her family's new market, which she described as small, is not the long-term answer to downtown's shopping problem.
"It's not a full-service grocery store, and we don't want to provide that," she said. "But right now, I can definitely see that being in high demand in the next several years."
Snyder said the market at the Mayo Motor Inn is a good first step toward making that happen.
"There are a lot of other cities ahead of us, and they didn't start out with big grocery stores, either," she said.
The Mayo's market likely will attract customers from its hotel and apartments, as well as those staying at the soon-to-be-remodeled Courtyard by Marriot-Atlas Life, the Crowne Plaza Hotel and perhaps the cluster of loft developments going up on the north side of downtown, all of which are within relatively easy walking distance.
But would other residents, hotel guests or downtown workers be compelled to walk from greater distances, especially for a store with a limited inventory? Not many people think so, including Jameson.
"It's essential for small, local retailers of any description to have customers within walking distance because they don't have mammoth advertising budgets, and they're not franchise operations that can depend on a parent company for marketing," he said. "They've got to do their own marketing. When you're starting up, you've got to have customers walking past your door from day one.
"And that's where a dense residential market comes in," he said. "What we're missing is that kind of sensitive, well-designed urban neighborhood. We used to have that--50 years ago, we did. But we've disaggregated and disurbanized in downtown and midtown."
Jameson believes downtown Tulsa should be a place that attracts a number of smaller, funky shopping options like Smith's store in Crosbie Heights.
"Corner shops like the Blue Jackalope have always been around," he said. "What's interesting is that they're plugging these gaps for locally grown, healthy, fresh produce, and there's a growing market for that."
That market dovetails nicely with the kind of people Jameson expects to start moving into downtown Tulsa over the next few years.
"The kind of people who want to live in a truly urban environment tend to be more eclectic in their tastes and interests," he said.
Sager sees things from a different perspective. He views the walkability issue as largely overstated.
"There is a fallacy that the American public and the Tulsa public must have a grocery store within walking distance of their house," he said. "I see no one walking to the grocery store, carrying bags away from the grocery store. So, given that, why not downtown?"
Thinking Outside the Big Box
Smith has certainly given the idea of locating a store downtown some thought. He opened the Blue Jackalope--housed in a remodeled church--last year and hoped it would become a success he could duplicate elsewhere.
"We're really early in the game," he said. "But when I opened this store, it was clearly with the idea of expanding and opening other stores across the area."
That plan doesn't necessarily include a downtown presence. Smith said he has studied that possibility and is somewhat discouraged by the economics of the situation.
"It's going to take a lot of money to get into downtown," he said. "Even if you have a good idea of what people are looking for, the distribution issues are going to be tough to deal with unless you're doing it through a major supermarket chain in a scaled-down version."
For now, Smith said, the idea of opening a downtown location is well beyond his means.
"To operate a store without adequate access to affordable distribution, you'd have to have low overhead and either low labor or someone who's really dedicated," he said. "You'd need a situation where you're basically a subsidy from a building owner. I'm paying $300 a month rent here, and if it were any more, I don't see how I'd do it."
Nor does Smith expect that his model will appeal to everyone. The Blue Jackalope has a deli counter, a gourmet coffee bar and a reasonable inventory--"You need one of everything, but you don't need 15 different brands," Smith said--but it certainly has no room for the kind of amenities or selection to be found at a Whole Foods location, for instance. Smith expects it would take something much more upscale to draw customers from across downtown or near downtown.
"You're going to need somebody willing to go that extra mile and have it look the right way," he said. "Look at my counter--it's PVC and a sheet of stainless steel. That works for some folks, but for others? To be everything to everyone takes some deep pockets and good, solid, long-term development."
Ultimately, downtown boosters need to ask themselves an important question, Smith believes.
"Do you want a whole series of small shops or do you want a supermarket-type experience?" he asked.
Sager acknowledges that the idea of a downtown grocery store is a nebulous one that needs to defined in more exact terms. He believes a model that would work for downtown Tulsa would be a store that is 6,000 to 7,000 square feet in size that operates as a restaurant/market hybrid. As part of a mixed-use development, it likely would have residential units and/or parking on top or below.
"These should be catered to the office worker leaving downtown to pick up a roasted chicken and some gourmet pasta," he said. "I don't think it has to have 42 types of paper towels and toilet paper."
And that can definitely be done here, he believes.
"I'd like to see one in either the Blue Dome or Brady tax increment districts," he said. "The reason being that a portion of the sales tax generated by that retail outlet could go to paying for necessary infrastructure to bring that type of retail to those districts. So they would help generate sales tax dollars that would stay in that neighborhood.
"If we put it at 10th and Boston, the city's portion of the sales tax dollars would go back into the budget," he said. "If we put it in the Brady or Blue Dome districts, the sales tax dollars would stay for sidewalks, lighting, and necessary utility construction to facilitate that store."
Tulsa certainly isn't alone in its quest for a downtown grocery store. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a good-size city anywhere that hasn't been wrestling with the issue in recent years.
Some have had more success in resolving the situation than others. A Schnucks location opened in downtown St. Louis last year, while downtown Kansas City welcomed a Cosentino's Market this year. Downtown Dallas residents cheered the opening of an Urban Market location in their neighborhood in 2005, but in June, store officials--who received $1.1 million in public and private subsidies to open the location--closed the café and bar, a major neighborhood gathering spot, because of the national economic downturn.
And while the opening of those stores can be viewed as an encouraging development by those who hope to land a downtown market here, there is the sobering realization that each of those cities has a much higher downtown population than Tulsa, with its 1,500 or so downtown residents and 35,000 or 40,000 office workers. Kansas City, for instance, the smallest city of the three, has 17,000 residents and 100,000 workers. Tulsa can't even begin to compare to those numbers at this point.
The city could be facing another substantial hurdle. Take the example of downtown Oklahoma City, which has been struggling to attract a grocery store for more than a decade. Tulsa developer Tim Clark thought he had an ideal situation set up when he obtained a property in the northwest quadrant of that city's downtown.
A former lumberyard featuring a two-story brick building of approximately 30,000 square feet, the property seemed well-suited for a grocery, given a number of factors--downtown Oklahoma City's remarkable growth in residents, hotels and businesses in recent years, as well as the property's proximity to nearby historic neighborhoods, office workers and St. Anthony Hospital.
But Clark believed a typical, suburban-style store was not a good fit for the area. He hoped to land a deal with a Whole Foods-type operation, a store that would serve as a destination for shoppers from more than just the surrounding area. He soon discovered to his dismay that state laws prohibiting the sale of liquor in grocery stores made that a non-starter for such chains as Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.
"That's a big stumbling block to bringing these people to Oklahoma," Clark said. "Trader Joe's, for instance, would be a nice grocery store that would fit in downtown Tulsa, but state statutes don't permit them to sell liquor."
Trader Joe's, in particular, relies heavily on its liquor sales to draw traffic. The chain is well known for the deal it struck with California vinter Charles Shaw to produce its famed "Two Buck Chuck," reportedly the nation's best-selling wines, each bottle going for anywhere from $1.99 to $3.49, depending on the region. The chain also offers a wide variety of craft beers.
Without the opportunity to sell those products, Clark said, he was unable to convince a niche-type grocer to take a chance on Oklahoma City.
"It was a great location, and I had a number of great prospects," he said. "And Oklahoma City dearly wants a grocery store downtown."
State Rep. Danny Morgan, D-Prague, is well acquainted with the Byzantine nature of the state's liquor laws after working on a number of measures in recent years designed to promote Oklahoma's fledgling wine industry. He acknowledges that many of those laws are antiquated and hinder economic development in the state by discouraging the growth of wineries and beer brewers.
But he doesn't view the situation as hopeless. In regard to allowing grocery stores to sell wine, strong beer and/or liquor, Morgan believes the first step is getting the attention of other lawmakers and the public.
"If large retail stores got strongly behind it and made it an issue, places like Wal-Mart and Sam's, if they strongly came out and said, 'We need to change this,' it'll go a long way toward earning approval in Oklahoma," he said.
But that's only part of the battle, he said. Oklahoma's lengthy and populist Constitution, drafted largely by people who didn't trust a large, central government, contains a number of specific provisions--many of them related to the liquor industry--that haven't been changed in decades.
"Most changes in Oklahoma (liquor legislation) tend to have to be done through a constitutional change," Morgan said. "Eighty to 90 percent of the liquor laws here are written in the Constitution of the state. So that's a big handicap in Oklahoma."
Most of those changes have to be made through initiative petitions rather than the legislative process, he said.
"It's a very burdensome process, and maybe it should be," Morgan said. "I just wish there were more ways to address a lot of the alcohol laws we have on the books so we could respond more quickly and efficiently to help local entrepreneurs develop the resources Oklahoma has."
But Sager doesn't view the state's liquor laws as an automatic impediment, as long as some creative thinking is applied.
"We could pitch to Trader Joe's a physical demarcation in their stores where they could offer a liquor store to sell their very same products, with a child-care service so you could park your kids and go shop in the liquor store and know how you're going to go do that," he said.
Sager believes a store can be designed that complies with state law while remaining user friendly and staying within a niche grocer's typical store profile.
Whole Foods, a niche-type grocer that typically offers a large liquor selection at its stores, does operate a Tulsa store at 1401 E. 41st St. But that location was taken over by the chain when it merged with the Wild Oats Market chain last year. Kate Lowery, a company spokesperson based in Austin, said the chain operates several downtown stores in cities across the country, including Chicago and its flagship store in Austin. A dense urban core is the key to attracting those stores, she said, although that's not all of it.
"We don't have a cookie cutter approach," she said. "Population density, income levels, education levels and lifestyle all factor into it. It's very different from market to market and from region to region."
Lowery said even a city with 3,000 downtown residents--a number Tulsa hopes to arrive at soon--would be on the thin side in terms of attracting a Whole Foods location.
"But it's all up to the regional presidents," she said, referencing the company's decision-making process, with executives who oversee Whole Foods' 12 operation regions.
Lowery said many of the company's downtown locations are among its most successful, but finding the right downtown location can be tricky.
"It's hard to find the right amount of space, and is it the right fit," she said. "You've also got to take into consideration shipping, docking and receiving."
Of course, none of that even begins to address the issue of accessibility.
"Absolutely, that's the single most important element," Lowery said, when asked if a lack of parking could be a deal breaker.
"On some locations, we've done parking below ground, and sometimes we've done parking on top," she said, citing the new Whole Foods location in Toronto as an example of that creative solution. Patrons of that store park on a surface lot and ride an escalator down to the store, she said.
Other stores, particularly those in upscale areas, offer valet parking.
"That tends to work in some cultures but not in others," Lowery said.
But relying strictly on pedestrian traffic is not an option for Whole Foods, she said.
"If you don't have ample parking, you're going to have complaints," she said.
Sager is familiar with all those hurdles, but he doesn't think they are anything Tulsa can't overcome.
"We have to be inventive, we have to be creative," he said. "Let's solidify some ideas with our corporate partners to bring this to Tulsa. We need the corporate player, and we need to demonstrate the local need. We need to reach that one company that has a visionary in their marketing arm that says, 'Hmm, interesting ... this could work.' "
Sager envisions local leaders compiling a study that reflects the possibilities he cited, then actively using that document to recruit a niche grocer.
"In other words, take the game to them," he said. "Show them how we can finance it for them, site it and make it happen."
One downtown location that seems to have that issue addressed is the former Homeland location at 11th Street and Denver. The site has a fairly large parking lot that can accommodate 75 to 90 vehicles.
Yet, despite some aggressive attempts by the property's owner to market it to a retail operation, it remains vacant.
Tulsa-based Twenty First Properties Inc., a commercial real estate corporation, has owned the property since the late 1980s, when Safeway operated the store on the site. When Safeway sold its Oklahoma division a few years later, its stores here operated under the Homeland flag for another five years before closing.
Paul D. Wilson, president of Twenty First Properties Inc., said the building was constructed in 1963 and consists of approximately 22,000 square feet. The lot originally was 66,000 square feet, but additional property was acquired over time to bring the site's total to its current figure of approximately 100,000 square feet.
"We believe a retail operation is a good use for that location, and we have attempted to accomplish that over the years," Wilson said. "We worked closely with Walgreens stores back in 2002 on two locations--11th and Denver and 51st and Lewis. We were about to do two build-to-suit locations. We made it through the preliminary approval process, but at the final decision point, the Walgreens was approved at 51st and Lewis but turned down at 11th and Denver.
"At the time, we were told the demographic information of the neighborhood indicated a decaying household population and declining household income," he said. "We have revisited the issue with Walgreens many times without success. We have structured the economics of the deal dramatically for Walgreens if they would open a store at that location."
Wilson liked the idea of Walgreens taking over the site because it would fill a variety of niches. In addition to being able to pick up milk, bread and eggs, shoppers also would be able to get a prescription filled and purchase such items as hardware, greeting cards, soap and medicinal items.
So even though he had the opportunity to lease the site to various other non-retail entities over the years, he chose not to, believing none of them were a good fit for the area. He has continued to approach other retail and grocery operations over the years but so far has found no takers.
"There has been very little interest in that site for a full-service grocery store," he said. "That's why we pursued the Walgreens deal, because we felt like it might be a half step, allowing it to work in the area."
Wilson believes one of the big factors keeping a major national retailer from taking over the site is the inability of those operations to move into an existing building. Most retailers in that class lay out their stores in an identical fashion in an attempt to streamline their inventory and operational systems. So a Walgreens in downtown Tulsa would need to look and feel the same as a Walgreens in Broken Arrow or even Dallas.
Wilson said that would require the company to have the existing building on the site torn down and another one built to its design specifications. And it's that expense that causes the economics of the deal to turn sour. So far, he said, no retailer seems prepared to commit to the site for the 25-year minimum lease that would be required to cover the cost of new construction.
The area surrounding 11th and Denver does have a number of positives, Wilson said, including its proximity to the Oklahoma State University medical center, the small bump in population and the slight increase in per capita income that the residential areas to the south of it are experiencing.
"There is an underserved market in that area," he said. "The question is, is there enough of an underserved market in that area to justify the economics of that location?"
The poor state of the national economy hasn't helped Wilson's efforts to find a suitable retailer for the site, either.
"Retailers in general have suffered, and their expansion plans have been cut back," he said. "Is that a key location that would be on the top 50 list for Walgreens? I would hope so, but up to now, it hasn't been."
Meat 'n Potatoes
So what kind of grocery store would be a good fit for downtown Tulsa? Almost everyone agrees that, to begin with, it would have to be a scaled-down version of the cavernous, wide-aisled locations found in south Tulsa.
"You can do a U turn with a truck in some of those stores," Crowley said.
There are plenty of national retailers who operate with a reduced footprint. Crowley is a fan of Aldi, a discount grocery chain that operates more than 1,000 stores in 29 states. Aldi already has a substantial Tulsa presence, operating four stores in the metropolitan area, and its small floor plan and limited assortment might go hand in hand with the constraints that would go along with a downtown location.
Crowley believes with a few additions, that model might be the right one for downtown Tulsa.
"If you stick a deli with a take-out counter and a coffee bar in something like that, you're getting close," he said.
The Blue Jackalope's Smith believes downtown needs a store of about 3,000 to 5,000 square feet, one that closely follows the Whole Foods model, albeit with more of a local flavor--"Something between Trader Joe's and Aldi," he said.
Jameson touts a U.K.-based firm called Fresh & Easy, which operates neighborhood-size stores that concentrate on fresh, wholesome food and everyday staples. The company cultivates good relationships with its neighbors, making a $1,000 donation to a local group every time it opens a new store. It also strives to build sustainable, functional stores that meet high environmental standards.
"They're plugging the gap that Wal-Mart doesn't want to fill," Jameson said.
Jameson was a vocal opponent of Wal-Mart's effort to open a location in the East Village several years ago. That plan was never carried out, and nothing has emerged to take its place since, but Jameson still maintains the project was a bad idea.
"Those kinds of solutions are totally inappropriate in a downtown environment. We don't need category killers in a downtown," he said. "We need a diversity of people, architecture, uses and retail."
Jameson sees the kind of outreach that Fresh & Easy practices as essential. He cited Smith's efforts at the Blue Jackalope as a good example of a local grocer who is doing things right.
"He's engaging with the neighborhood around him by being an active member of the neighborhood association and taking a progressive view of the city. That's what big stores can't do.
"It also helps to establish personal relationships. When you get to know the retailer, it helps the neighborhood to coalesce. You don't get that in a larger store. You can't get that in a larger store."
Jameson would prefer to see a green, civically engaged grocer open a location downtown, though he acknowledges, once again, that the lack of residents is a stumbling block.
"I know there's a market there," he said. "The demographics are crying out for that. All you need is the residential to support it."
Jameson continues to argue for the need to make downtown a more pedestrian-friendly place as part of that equation.
"You need an attractive walk or a shorter cycle ride," he said. "Otherwise, guess what? You've got jumping-into-the-car syndrome. The moment they're tempted to jump into the car, they're also tempted to ride five miles to Wal-Mart."
Theme Park Groceries
While he doesn't necessarily share Jameson's view that the pedestrian experience in downtown Tulsa is "barbaric," Gomez, the District 4 city councilor, also worries how far downtown residents will walk to do their shopping. With that in mind, he favors a central location, perhaps something on Cincinnati Avenue, and a concept that combines a restaurant with a market in the same vein as the StonehorseCafé and Market in Utica Square.
"That's a place where you can not only grab a gallon of milk and some laundry soap but have a nice, prepared meal," he said.
Another Utica Square operation, Petty's Fine Foods, offers the kind of gourmet selection that potentially could find an audience among discerning downtown shoppers. But Griffeth, the store's manager, did not sound an encouraging tone about that possibility. The number of residents there simply doesn't justify that kind of investment, he said.
"I don't know--a whole lot more than there are now," he said, when asked if there was a population figure that would lead store officials to take a hard look at downtown.
Smith argues that whatever form a downtown grocery store takes, it had better be unique.
"I think the best thing that could happen is for a chain to come in and create a new experience," he said. "Break the model, do something different--something home grown and organic and have the ability to supply a bunch of satellite stores around downtown. I'm sure you could find ways to get local property owners to bid to have one of those. Then you could have a supermarket experience and a walking experience."
Such an operation would not come cheap, he cautioned.
"Really, the resources needed to pull something like that off would have to be something like a Reasor's," he said. "But I can't stress enough it can't look like a traditional supermarket."
UTW was unable to reach representatives of such companies as Trader Joe's, Reasor's Foods or Central Market HEB--a Texas-based niche grocer that so far has restricted its operations to that state--to gauge their interest in opening a downtown Tulsa location.
Crowley has expressed the opinion on a number of occasions that a Braum's market might be the most likely solution for downtown at this stage. The family owned, Oklahoma-based chain recently introduced a new store model of a little more than 5,700 square feet with a stacked stone exterior and a composition gabled roof. The interior features open beamed ceilings, track lighting and stained concrete floors. The traditional fountain area remains, but there is also a grill that serves sandwiches and a redesigned, larger market that features dairy products, bakery products, meat and produce.
"I would work hard to try to get one of these downtown," he said.
Failing that, Crowley envisions a mom-and-pop grocery in the range of 2,000 to 3,000 square feet as a possibility. Any such business model likely could learn a lot from one of the smaller Asian or Hispanic markets that have sprung up around the city in recent years, he said.
"It would be the size of a QuikTrip, but you'd be able to get something besides a candy bar, motor oil and taquitos," he said.
Smith would like to see residents of such other underserved areas of the city join forces with downtown residents to demand more and better options.
"What I've been touting through north Tulsa and west Tulsa is that the infrastructure exists to have stores like this, it just takes people going to convenience stores and saying, 'We want milk, eggs and produce--something other than beer and chips,' " he said.
Crowley won't be around to see any resolution to the issue, as he ended his temporary assignment with the city on July 10 and headed back to his full-time position as a faculty member at the University of Georgia. But he said it's important to keep examining the issue from every angle.
"You always keep working at it," he said. "You keep plugging away, looking for an angle." At some point, he said, "Somebody might give it a shot. But they're going to have to be pretty darn(ed) creative."
Sager certainly doesn't dispute that point. In fact, he said, the main obstacle to bringing a grocery store to downtown Tulsa up until now has been the city's own unwillingness to reach out to a company that might be a good fit through an imaginative, public/private partnership.
"We need pioneers, not followers," he said.
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