JENKS — Slightly more than a year ago, officials pitched a temporary media tent and gushed about plans for Tulsa Premium Outlets, a long-awaited retail center.
Today, that wait continues. Steel and concrete are collecting rust and dust on the site, where construction has been stalled for months.
“At that time, nobody knew what we were really in for,” Jenks City Manager Christopher Shrout said of the Feb. 27, 2020, launch event and the impending COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been a crazy year.”
New Jersey-based Simon Premium Outlets, a division of Simon Property Group, actually began construction on the site near the Creek Turnpike back in December 2019, working on a Wilmot Creek channel that flows through old town Jenks and into Veterans Park pond on the north side of the turnpike, Shrout said.
Simon workers, while clearing out the channel, were “pushing earth onto their property because some of their property was in the flood plain,” Shrout said. “They were raising the elevation of their property to be out of the flood plain.”
Soon afterward, “they started to pour the footings for their buildings and even started getting some of the walls erected in February,” he said. “In mid-March, basically when the pandemic took over the country, they paused construction. They still are in that pause.”
As have all businesses, Simon Property Group has struggled to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus. With its retailers dealing COVID restrictions and dramatically less foot traffic, Simon watched its earnings drop from $2 billion in 2019 to $1.1 billion in 2020.
Occupancy for the company’s U.S. malls and premium outlets was 91.3% through Dec. 31.
“2020 was a difficult year for all those affected by COVID-19, including our company,” Simon CEO David Simon said in a statement. “We feel confident we have turned the corner, and we expect growth in earnings and cash flow in 2021.”
The 340,000-square-foot outlet mall in Jenks is expected to generate 400 construction jobs and 800 part-time and permanent jobs. A sign advertising the center’s spring 2021 opening still stands at the site.
Shrout said he talks with a Simon representative at least once a month and did again this past week. He received no timetable on when construction might resume.
A Tulsa World effort to reach a company official was unsuccessful.
“The thing that we have to understand here is that in different parts of the country, this has been a lot worse than it has been in Oklahoma,” Shrout said. “They are an international company.
“It’s difficult to plan when you are dealing with all of those retailers from across the country in the middle of a pandemic. But we’re optimistic that they will move forward.”
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