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Resurgence on the river

New tenants breathe life back into RiverWalk Crossing

RiverWalk Crossing in Jenks welcomes midtown classics to shopping and dining strip

Greg Bollinger

In 2005, well before the Gathering Place began taking shape, another bold development opened, west of the Arkansas River in Jenks. The RiverWalk Crossing—a sprawling outdoor entertainment, retail, and restaurant outlet—was received with great fanfare, but the popularity of the area of was short-lived. The failure of several fledgling businesses was hastened by the economic downturn of 2008, leaving the property a 150,000-square-foot skeleton.

In 2012, Muscogee (Creek) Nation purchased the property through a sheriff’s auction for $11.5 million. It stayed relatively empty, save for the business spaces that have remained almost fully occupied over the years. The retail and restaurant tenants—the lifeblood of the entertainment attraction—were few with just a handful weathering the long storm. 

Now, RiverWalk Crossing is finally experiencing its rebirth, thanks in large part to the efforts of OneFire Holding Co., an investment holding company and business operator funded by the Nation. OneFire operates as an independent entity with its own board and runs a large portfolio of manufacturing, distribution, and construction projects. In 2014, RiverWalk Crossing became its first commercial real estate asset.

“There was a ton of deferred maintenance and capital improvements that had to be addressed,” said Mike Payne, chief executive officer of OneFire. “It was a disaster. Everything from lighting to landscaping to irrigation systems had not been maintained.”

The property manager, Bill Faber, agrees.

“It was sitting at about 38 percent occupancy and it just hadn’t been well taken care of,” Faber said. “Plumbing needed attention and some roofing needed to be done. None of water features worked, all the flowerbeds were bare. Some of the restaurants looked like the proprietors just locked the place up and left everything behind. It was a ghost town.” 

The mixed-use RiverWalk Crossing features winding paths with a million-dollar view of the river on one side, and space for restaurants, shops, and businesses on the other. A splash pad is just a stone’s throw from the modest amphitheater where live music is played (including RiverWalk’s Summer Concert Series, running Saturdays from 6 – 9 p.m.).
Inhabiting roughly two acres, RiverWalk Crossing dovetails into the heavily populated path of Riverside Drive, where casinos thrive, river trails bustle, and, soon, where the Gathering Place—a dynamic, fully loaded park and recreational behemoth—will reside.

“If you look at the Gathering Place, River Spirit Casino, the outlet mall project, and us, there is well over a billion dollars of development going on along the Arkansas River. That’s not by chance,” Payne said. “People want to spend time at the river. We want businesses that will fit with the lifestyle of the families and active people who are drawn to this area.”

To revive RiverWalk, OneFire devised a four-phase plan. Phase I was focused on deferred maintenance, which took a good portion of money and time to complete. Much of the project was repurposing the RiverWalk Movie Theater, which lacked the equipment for digital format and amenities movie-goers demand now, like reclining seats and online reservations. 

Though the demolition of the movie theater was controversial to some, it opened the path for Phase II—filling office space, enhancing current tenant relationships and space, and, most importantly, securing an anchor tenant.

Strategic foresight  

The river is a magnet for activity, but OneFire understood that a major attraction would be necessary to entice people to the Riverside market. The attraction answer came in the form of an innovative, technology-forward golfing concept, FlyingTee. The $22 million entertainment venue, built where the movie theater once stood, is the glossy three-level, 53,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art attraction the RiverWalk team envisioned.

Golf pros and amateurs alike fill the 60 climate-controlled golf bays equipped with proprietary golf ball tracking technology that gives players instant feedback. Different game modes, like darts, HORSE, or blackjack can be played, and avid golfers can virtually play famous courses from around the world. The sprawling space has a full-service bar and restaurant, so visitors can eat and drink in their private bays while hitting a few balls.

Celebrating its first year in June, anchor tenant FlyingTee has gained a steady following and shows no sign of slowing down. 

Restaurant revolution

Since the beginning, RiverWalk has been a revolving door for restaurants. Much of the rapid turnover can be attributed to the untenable traits of first-time owners and unproven concepts. OneFire’s strategy was to avoid filling the valuable restaurant space haphazardly or hastily. Thus, Phase III—wooing established, popular eateries to fill the restaurant spaces.

“We had the opportunity to be full two years ago, but it would’ve been first-time operators. And maybe they would’ve done a wonderful job, but it was an unknown,” said Payne. “Our strategy was to choose local, unique, and only the best of the best.”

OneFire made good on this strategy, recently announcing the addition of two significant local restaurants to RiverWalk. Legacy pizzeria Andolini’s—which has already opened its massive new space—and the supernaturally popular Burn Co Barbecue (expected to open in July) are sure to attract a serious cadre of fans. Maryn’s Taphouse and Raw Bar is a new concept by long-time restaurateur Corey Crandall, featuring executive chef Josh McClure’s menu. Maryn’s expects to open May 22. These newcomers will
join forces with the restaurants that have remained, like Marble Slab and Los Cabos. 

Payne said that only one restaurant space currently remains unfilled, and that their goal is to fill these spaces only once, implementing long-term leases that benefit the tenant and allow them to grow their business. 

Future flow

Just three years ago, RiverWalk Crossing was almost 60 percent empty. Today, it is on track to hit 90 percent occupancy by the end of the year, a great way for OneFire to begin Phase IV—keeping tenants happy and their businesses filled with customers year-round. 

“I think we are able to accomplish that because we’re a large area that’s operated by one group, not individual store fronts owned by different people fighting against each other,” Faber said. “We’re trying to build a community of retailers and tenants that help each other and we help them, so it’s this big circle of support for the long-term.”

Despite the ebb and flow of RiverWalk Crossing’s success story, Payne hopes most of all that the people will enjoy the space OneFire and the Muscogee (Creek) Nation have shaped.

“People want to come to RiverWalk and create memories. They love walking up and down the river, which is evident all down the river,” said Payne. “When all the dams hit and we have water permanently out here, it’ll be amazing for the property. It’s hard to beat the view when there’s water flowing.” 

Payne said he’d like to see some unique gift shops or candy shops fill the remaining spaces, but overall, the slow-and-steady strategy seems to be showing promise.

“Some of the stuff that is opening now, two and half years ago we had on our road map at the very beginning. It’s great seeing it all come together.”

The Digest

News bites from Tulsa’s food scene 

The grass is Greener
Mr. Nice Guys began their journey in a humble food truck, churning out their signature street tacos (and mac and cheese!) at events and bars. As of April 15, they’ve scored the sweet restaurant space at Guthrie Green, formerly inhabited by Lucky’s on the Green. Their menu is chock-full of Nice Guy favorites, like carnitas, spicy pork, and black bean dip. The Nice Guys do Taco Tuesdays right with $1 street tacos, but for a next-level taco experience, order a taco flight: 10 regular street tacos for $19, available every day. 

Mixed companies
Announced on May 1, MixCo, an upscale cocktail lounge and restaurant in downtown, joined the ranks of Justin Thompson Restaurant Group (JTR Group). While Jared Jordan retains ownership, day-to-day operation will be managed by JTR Group—owner of Juniper, Prhyme, Tavolo, and 624 Catering. MixCo will experience minor tweaks, but will still feature craft cocktails and Nico Albert’s polished menu. 

Lucky legacy
Since 2007, Lucky’s Restaurant has been a Cherry Street mainstay with a cozy, off-beat interior and creative American fare. And that’s the way it will stay, even though owners Matt and Brooke Kelley have decided to bid the biz adieu to relax a little and pursue projects. The Kelleys passed the torch on May 2, selling both Lucky’s and neighboring Oklahoma Kolache Company to Steve Jeffrey, owner of The Spudder.

Torero bows out 
Torero Bar & Kitchen opened its doors in July 2016 only to close them two months shy of their first anniversary. Despite popularity among Tulsa tastemakers, Torero’s last dinner service was May 6, a mere four days after the official announcement was made. Torero was owned by restaurateurs Chip Gaberino and Noah Bush, with Executive Chef Ian Van Anglen at the kitchen’s helm.

For more from Angela, read her article on Rub Food Truck’s project to help feed Tulsa’s homeless population.

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