OKC VeloCity | Catching up with Tammy Fate on OKC Retail

Catching up with Tammy Fate on OKC Retail

By Marcus Elwell / Development / November 27, 2019

With the Holidays quickly approaching we thought it would be a great time to look at the retail scene in Oklahoma City. When talking about all things retail in Oklahoma City there is no better person to talk to than Tammy Fate, sr. manager of retail development and recruitment for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. Fate was recently selected by ICSC as a Centerbuild Leaders Under 40. We sat down with Fate to take a look back at 2019 while also looking forward to 2020 and beyond.

VeloCityOKC: There have been a lot of great openings and announcement in Oklahoma City this year but let’s start with one of the more recent ones, REI opened their first Oklahoma location in Oklahoma City. Talk about that process and what that means for our community.

Tammy Fate: We have been chasing them for a long time. When we first started approaching them, REI did not feel we had enough recreational-outdoorsy folks to justify a big presence here. When people think of Oklahoma City they don’t typical think of mountains or climbing. We pitched them on the fact that Oklahoma City does have a massive outdoor community. We hold the Olympic trials for kayaking and rowing, the Wichita Mountains are a quick drive away, many beautiful lakes, a stellar biking community that is vibrant and weather that allows for recreational activity all year round. REI is a CO-OP  so they sell memberships and track where their members live and Oklahoma City met their expectations. When the opportunity came available at Bell Isle shopping center, it allowed REI to enter our market at a relatively low cost for build out and feed off the success of Penn Square Mall where they have great complimentary tenants. The highway visibility and access were also important factors in this location.

What were some other retail developments that excited you in 2019?

The opening of our two food halls was really exciting because it shows our food and beverage scene is continuing to rise. They were able to open smaller incubator-type spaces and allow some of our local chef-driven concepts to really elevate. Both food halls are unique and different in their own ways. They both strive to curate and create an experience for the customer. Whether it is having live music or playing trivia games they are looking at how to engage the consumer and get them involved.

Another exciting development is The Half. It is a new development that is half way between Edmond and Oklahoma City. It is anchored by American Fidelity headquarters. Flix Brewhouse is slated to open in March 2020, Dolese is under construction now and one of my favorite Kansas City-based concepts, Chicken N Pickle, will be opening next summer. It’s nice to see the entire development come to fruition, which is really cool.

Razoo’s Cajun Café and Uncle Julios were both delicious additions to the Chisholm Creek Development. This area continues to be an entertainment hub with new to market concepts.   

While national retailers like REI are obviously important and get a lot of the headlines, how important is local retail to a community?

Local retail is really what makes up the fabric of our community. When you go to a different market, it is the first thing you are going to remember. It is what is unique and cultivates the community. Everybody can go to a chain because they have amazing products and reputable brands, but if you want something special and out of the ordinary, give our local retailers a chance to woo you with the flavor of the city.

Can you talk a little more about creating an experience and why that is so important for brick-and-mortar retail?

All of our different districts do a great job with this. Whether it is Automobile Alley, the Plaza District, the Paseo district or Midtown, you are seeing a lot of people flocking to those areas because they provide an experience. Another example is Chisholm Creek. You are seeing people go to areas and not a specific retailer. Retailers are clustering together based on what they offer. So Chisholm Creek having the water features, parks, fire pits and music creates that entire experience and that is really important.

It really does seem like these retail “hubs” and districts are thriving and helping bring in shoppers from all over.

Yeah, a city like Edmond is a thriving, growing suburb. We have a lot of young families that live there, and it has a great school system. Chisholm Creek is an easy way for them to kind of experience a really cool, urban development.

Another example is Classen Curve. It has a lot of your high-end luxury tenants and regardless if you live in Norman or you live in Edmond, it is easy to drive there, park your car all day and be in a very centrally-located area of the city and have the access to those tenants. OKC Outlets is also a good example. They are the only outlet in the state right now and the owners have done a really good job trying to change that tenant mix and keep it fresh and alive.

Nowadays one retailer probably is not going to be as successful on their own. It is really the synergy of having everybody in bringing that entire element together. Even with some of the districts, they operate as an entire organization. They are kind of their own major shopping development. I think that is how local retailers have to position themselves. With local retail, our goal is to help figure out what the trends are, what we are seeing that is changing and bringing that back to some of those different groups.

In a couple of weeks you are headed to New York City to promote Oklahoma City at the ICSC New York Deal Making show. Traveling the country to the different retail shows is a big part of your job. Can you talk a little about why it is so important?

It is about exposure and it shows that we are serious about retail and that we are pro-business. When I go to these conferences I try to sit on every panel that I can and make appointments with developers or investment partners who are looking at Oklahoma City. It is all about making them feel comfortable reaching out to us and getting to know our market. It is a gateway that opens a door versus me just cold calling somebody. You can really start to dig deeper into why our market should be very appealing to retailers.

I like how you said it shows Oklahoma City is serious about retail development.

I really think it does. People all go to shows and they will say, "Tammy are you at every show?" and I say, "Hey, if you're here, I'm going to be here." The consistency is very important and we always follow up with them after the show. Creating that personal relationship lets them know that when you are in Oklahoma City, we will provide you a concierge-type approach.

The citizens of Oklahoma City will be voting on MAPS 4 in a couple weeks. Can you talk about the role the previous MAPS projects have meant for our retail development?

They always say that something that causes you great pain can also cause you great success if you play on it. The story of MAPS and how it came about because we tried to recruit United Airlines and they told us our employees would not be happy here. It was a very painful thing for somebody to say nobody wants to live there. But that is when we said we are going to take your advice and we are going to transform this city. MAPS is an extremely compelling story to tell to people from outside of our market. There are so many other communities who have tried to do this, but they cannot get the community behind it.

It really allowed us to reevaluate ourselves and it has been so successful. We would not have an NBA team if it was not for MAPS. We would not hold Olympic trials for kayaking and rowing or have been able to renovate every school in the district. Those are all amazing things but what makes Oklahoma City different is it took the entire community, all coming together, and that shows a lot of synergy and a lot of unity in our market that you do not see in other places. It was not one or two people donating a ton of money to do a project.  It is every single person that is really getting their hands dirty and contributing to that overall success.

Before I let you go, what are some developments or trends that you are excited for in 2020?

I’ll go back to what I talked about earlier and how retailers are coming up with exciting ways to create and experience. You are seeing a lot of mom-and-pop local retailers figuring out how to make that happen and it creates repeat customers. They do not have the corporate rules and regulations in place and they are able to come in and do some really edgy, cool stuff. It is all about thinking outside the box. I think the retailers are getting more and more creative on how they partner with other entities. "You are over here doing this and it's totally different and it doesn't relate to my business, but we can play off of each other and make it successful."

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