POSTED ON MARCH 27, 2013:
Carnival of Hopefulness
Crystal City could be rising
It will be a temporary transformation when the Crystal City shopping center parking lot turns into a carnival event, with the four days of rides and games beginning April 3.
But neighborhood residents say they hope to see permanent change come to the neglected and mostly vacant Crystal City, a bustling shopping hub when it opened in the late 1950s.
"It was where everyone went to shop in southwest Tulsa, so it was an exciting place," recalled Jeannie Cue, a city councilor helping organize the carnival with her husband Tom and his brother, Sam Cue.
But "money was not put back in the center, so it has deteriorated over the years," Cue said.
While a Route 66 sign emblazons the side of one building, elsewhere there is a large "For Lease" banner. At the approximately 111,000-square-foot property, located near Southwest Boulevard and S. 33rd West Avenue, most store windows are now empty.
That could change with new ownership, however. Florida-based Monticello Acquisitions, LLC, purchased the property in a late February auction for "a little bit less than $500,000," said Dean Lewis, a senior associate with real estate brokerage firm NAI Petrous, though he added that the deal was not expected to be finalized until late March.
Historic Crystal City
COURTESY SOUTHWEST TULSA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Bill Smith was publicly linked to an attempt to buy the property in 2012. Lewis said Smith in the principal of Monticello Acquisitions.
A business partner of Smith's, Brenda Morrow, said in a phone interview that plans call for bringing businesses back to the retail center.
"We want people to be assured that is our plan, to give that shopping center back to the community. We have no intention of doing anything other than making it far less of an eyesore than it currently is," Morrow said.
At one time, the property had 27 tenants. When it was sold to "Buck" Myers roughly 15 years ago, Lewis said the property had an 85 percent occupancy rate. It was the heirs of Myers who agreed to the auction price.
But can the shopping center still be viable with the new Tulsa Hills retail development just a few miles down the road, also in southwest Tulsa?
The interest is there, according to Matt Crain, president of the Southwest Tulsa Chamber.
Last year, reports surfaced of plans by Smith to purchase the center, and Crain said local businesses expressed strong interest in moving into the facility.
"People were in a mode, well I may want to move in there in two months. They were seriously calling and asking, wanting to find out what we knew, based on their assumption that it would be open for business," Crain said.
The key to success may be in capturing the uniqueness of Crystal City in contrast to the Tulsa Hills retail development, Crain said.
"I do think there are shops and places that would work," he said.
Crain spoke about how Crystal City could help in efforts to draw Route 66 travelers into southwest Tulsa.
"We wish we could put something unique enough there that it would be a tourist stop," Crain said.
Morrow said the new ownership group recognizes that the site is on Route 66.
"We're committed to doing something. We're not sure yet what exactly that will be until we can get our arms around this. We are committed with the chamber to do something as a tie in to the Route 66 revitalization," Morrow said.
Cue said her hope is to get a grocery store into the site.
"That's been the big concern of the neighbors, here in the old Red Fork area and around the Carbondale area, something close, walkable," Cue said, also describing how a greater variety of restaurants would be welcomed in an area with large manufacturing businesses like AAON, as well as oil refineries.
Morrow said she and Smith may visit the carnival, which will also have on display images of the site's former glory.
Even before it was a shopping center, Tulsans flocked to the area for amusement, including at one time a roller coaster known as The Zingo.
The area's rich past will be on display during the event, Cue said.
Crystal City Carnival
COURTESY OF GARY PATTON
"We're going to have some pictures set up of the old dance hall, amusement park, of what it looked like and the rides back in the day," Cue said, adding that the site still has strong sentimental appeal to many residents.
"If you talk with a lot of the senior citizens, they come out to the carnival, just kind of remembering their days of when they were kids going there," Cue said.
She said roughly 60 volunteers will help during the event, officially known as the Crystal City & Route 66 Carnival. During an interview, Cue briefly turned away to speak on the phone with a business, Lot Maintenance, which agreed to perform some drainage work to help the effort. She praised the efforts of several other businesses, including American Waste Control, who help with the event.
"It's been a great community event, and a great fundraiser for the Lights on the Hill at Chandler Park and for the Route 66 Village," Cue said, referring a Christmas-time display and an effort to promote Route 66 in southwest Tulsa. "We also donate some funding to Red Fork Main Street," another revitalization effort, Cue said, adding that last year the event raised $10,000.
"We're hoping this year, with all the publicity about Crystal City selling and maybe revitalizing, that will even bring more people out," Cue said.
The carnival event runs from 5-11pm April 3-5, then continues on Saturday, April 6 from 1-11pm. Admission is free, but wristbands are $20 to ride amusements, with a special $15 price April 3 and the afternoon of April 6.
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