Oak Ridge Pity Center

I have to admit, the name fits.

The story about impending "physical activity" at the former Oak Ridge Mall is not one to get excited about; they’re going to drill a geothermal test loop.  They want to find out it it’s possible to more efficiently heat and cool that empty shell?  What could be more efficient that having it locked up, as it is now?

The real story here is not the storyline, nor the editorial that follows.  The story is that people — whether the people commenting online, or the editorial staff themselves — are blaming the city leadership for the fact that our city center is empty, forcing many Oak Ridgers to Knoxville to shop. 

Folks, the mall is privately owned.  Every time our city leadership has attempted to do anything to bring in fresh retail opportunities, citizens fire up a petition and hold a referendum to quash any government involvement in potential progress. 

Don’t blame our City Council; they’ve tried, but been stopped by referendum every time.  If you signed one of those petitions, or voted "no" in a referendum, look in the mirror for the leader who failed to fix our city’s biggest problem.

Next in the blame line are the few remaining anchors on the site, who’ve exercised their rights to say NO to potential new businesses who might increase competition to their stores.  But, with no competition, there’s also nothing to draw traffic, nothing to entice those stores to carry better lines of merchandise (we tend to get the cast-offs that didn’t sell elsewhere), no synergy.

It would make just as much sense to blame the Oak Ridger.  After all, when the paper was locally owned, we had a vibrant shopping center.  The owner, publisher and editor lived here, shopped here, and helped set an example.  Today, none of those are true.  Therefore, it must be the newspaper’s fault, right?

No.  It’s our own fault.  The fault of the citizens who signed to govern by referendum.

If you’re going to throw someone out, that’s where you need to look.

10 thoughts on “Oak Ridge Pity Center

  1. Yep, that about nails it, NM. Good post.

    The reason you like OR and the reason so many Oak Ridgers retired there are because of it’s small-town character. Unfortunately, this comes with small-town vision and small-town attitudes. As I’ve said before, OR is at war with itself–wanting the retail choices that require larger markets but without the population density required to support them. I don’t see that changing in your lifetime.

  2. Yep, NM.

    To fix a problem, one must accurately diagnose the problem. IMO, blaming CC is not accurately diagnosing this particular problem.

    And, while it is not perfect, there is a lot to be said for representative government.

  3. Stop shopping at WONGMART and the little shops you want will spring up like flowers after a soft rain.

  4. Excellent post Netmom. For the Oak Ridger to blame the current city leadership is wrongheaded and appears a bit lazy.

    One thing that I disagree with you about. I disagree that those who signed the petition in 2003(?) are somehow at fault regarding the current “Pity Center” debacle.
    The city leadership at the time bundled all sorts of needed city and school spending together with dollars for city center infrastructure. I for one proudly voted NO in that instance and I believe history has proven the NO crowd right. (At least on that one occasion.)
    For the city leadership to bundle school spending with city investment in the mall property was dishonest and was a trick that the citizens saw through.

    It was that type of leadership that precipitated the need for that one referendum.

    I agree with punkhp. For a number of reasons I don’t shop at Walmart. Only one of which is the stranglehold that they have on the mall property.

  5. Great post, NM!

    Daco: I’m puzzled by the alleged “stranglehold” that Wal-Mart has — my understanding is that those terms (restricting “big box” retailers like Target from moving onto the Mall/City Center property) were signed with one of the previous owners (Crown, I believe). Can you say “Eminent Domain”? (Related topic: I think it would behoove our City Staff to show they’re NOT afraid to go to court — esp. with slumlords like Joe Levitt and the Applewood apostasy).

    Joel: Would that Grand Prix feature “Green” cars? 🙂

  6. It’s my understanding that walmart holds a 99 year lease that prevents a “competitor” from moving into the mall.
    And yes I can say “Eminent Domain,” but it’s the city attorney that needs to learn the phrase.

  7. @deichmans,

    I imagine pretty much any color of car would be allowed. From what I’ve read, racing (not the government or retail business) is *the* key to the future of Oak Ridge, and the race car business is apparently gung-ho to see it happen there. I’m sure Oak Ridgers will unite around this innovative proposal.


    You should submit that to be a “Letter to the Editor” of the deadwood news. Sure would make a lot of people think differently!!

  9. Walmart doesn’t have a lease but owns their property outright. When Crown American sold them the property they also sold them certain rights regarding the remainer of the mall property.

    Eminent Domain makes no sense in this situation. First, I suspect that the City would have a very weak legal basis for such an action. The state constitution is rather limiting. http://www.tennessee.gov/sos/acts/104/pub/pc0863.pdf
    Secondly, I suspect that that the legal battle would be long and would be damaging to the reputation of the City in the retail development community. Lastly, if the City was eventually successful then what? The property would still be encumbered by the same onerous lease requirements that have stymied the current mall owners/redevelopers (Oak Ridge City Center LLC, Hard Oak LLC, CORE Properties).

    The City of Oak Ridge has no business in the business of retail ownership. So then what? The City puts out RFPs for the redevelopment of the property. Not much of a historical record of success there. Meanwhile since the property would be in public ownership the property tax revenue would be zero.

    Any way you look at it, it’s in this communities best interest to support and encourage the current owners to the fullest extent possible. I’m going to celebrate the progress regardless of how small.

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