The Changing Face of MooreFeb 07, 2020
Photos Courtesy of Jason Fritts
1950 was the year that Alton and Evelyn Fritts bought 160 acres just southwest of Moore. They moved in with their son, Terry, and built two small houses, a garage, barn, and chicken house. An oil well was also quickly drilled. Terry Fritts remembers well that very rural start to life on 19th Street and Telephone Road.
"I'm pretty sure it was even called Telephone Road at that point," said Terry. "Moore itself stopped around 4th Street."
1951 TRAFFIC PROBLEMS
Terry laughs when he thinks about driving along 19th Street back then. Long before 19th Street grew to become one of the busiest stretches of roads in the metro Oklahoma City area, it had traffic problems of its own.
"I remember hauling hay across what's now I-35," said Terry. "It wasn't an interstate at that point, just some stop signs on a four-lane highway. If you tried to get across on an OU game day, you could sit there for hours waiting on the traffic to clear."
These days the 19th Street corridor handles 37,000-to-40,000 cars per day. And while it may take motorists a few extra minutes to navigate that impressive flow of vehicles, no one ever sits for hours anymore, waiting for traffic to clear. Terry and his son, Jason, have been a big part of the growth of 19th Street and Moore. But even with their close-up vantage point of so much commercial development, Terry is still stunned by the changes.
"It's amazing to me just how many people live and shop here now," said Fritts. "Sometimes, I find myself wondering where all these people came from."
THE ROOTS OF GROWTH
Mayor Glenn Lewis says Moore's remarkable growth over the past 20 years has its roots in the way Moore has recovered from three devastating tornado strikes on October 4, 1998, May 3, 1999, and May 20, 2013.
"FEMA tells me that we're on the only city in the world that has been hit by more than one EF-5 tornado," said Lewis. "It could have devastated us, but the people of Moore, along with the city government and workers, rallied in a way that is remarkable."
Lewis said one of the keys to the City's initial recovery was convincing FEMA to help tear out the slabs of homes destroyed in the 1998 and 1999 storms. That allowed homeowners to use their insurance money to rebuild back in Moore.
"You can't really rebuild a home on those slabs once a tornado wipes out a house," said Lewis. "Because we were able to get those slabs torn out, the majority of our residents built new homes in the City and stayed. It also attracted new residents to town."
According to Lewis, the second piece of the puzzle has been the fact that residents impacted by the storms used local builders and stores as they repaired and rebuilt.
"It has been such a blessing to have such a great community of local builders," said Lewis. "We did our best to encourage residents to use those builders. And of course, the addition of stores like Walmart, Lowe's, and Home Depot to the City gave people a place to go buy two-by-fours and other necessary items."
WALMART AND SONIC
Pat Broadfoot also has vivid memories of the early days of development in the 19th Street area. Her father, Max Morgan, had purchased a significant piece of property on the northwest corner of 19th Street and Telephone Road. Morgan was hoping that the I-240 bypass would come through the area. When he didn't, Morgan built a mobile home park and waited.
"I remember when Walmart moved from the east side of I-35 to where it is now," said Broadfoot. "My dad went out to watch construction, and he came back and told us that development was going to follow."
Morgan died in 1996, and Broadfoot took over the management of the property. Shortly after that, she received her first offer.
"Sonic called and wanted to talk about opening a restaurant across from Walmart on Telephone Road," said Broadfoot. "From there, things just took off with Dollar Tree, the cleaners, and a few others. All of them were just one right after the other."
Broadfoot says her family's first development on 19th Street was the Aldi's grocery store.
"I wasn't using a real estate broker at the time," said Broadfoot. "Randy Vallencourt was a friend, and he would take me out to lunch and advise me. But as time went out, Randy convinced me that we needed a master plan, and so we did that and moved forward with the other developments."
FRITTS FARM TAKES OFF
In the meantime, Terry and Jason Fritts were making their own moves on the south side of 19th Street. Terry remembers a representative from Lowe's coming around to talk about buying the property on the southwest corner of 19th and Telephone Road. The family turned down that offer because his father didn't want to sell anything until after he had passed.
"Stan Drake had come by and talked Dad into allowing the city to widen Telephone Road and 19th Street," said Terry. "The city didn't have enough money to pay for the project, so Dad traded the right-of-way for resurfacing the old driveway of our farmhouse."
It was in 2004, his parents had both passed, that the Fritts family agreed to a deal with Home Depot.
"We were actually a little surprised in the interest," said Terry, "But that's when we started thinking seriously about development. It's funny because a few years earlier, we had been talking about what our land might be good for, and we thought it might be good for a cemetery."
Instead, the Fritts began working with Starbucks and Chili's to open stores along 19th Street, even as Home Depot was under construction.
"All three of those opened in 2006," said Terry. "It was January for Home Depot, and then I believe September or October for Starbucks and Chili's."
Jason Fritts also remembers the first inquiry the family received from a then little-known restaurant chain.
"Pop and my grandpa were sitting on the back porch that looks out over where Chick-Fil-A is now," said Jason, "And I said, 'Hey, I got this inquiry from a guy who wants to open a chicken place.' We really didn't know much about Chick-Fil-A other than they were in a lot of malls."
Jason said they weren't initially interested in putting a "chicken place" on that corner, but it wasn't too long before they relented and sold the land to Chick-Fil-A. It was another in a long line of development deals that ultimately transformed the 19th Street corridor into a shopping mecca.
"I think our entire family is really proud of how we've developed the land," said Jason. We tried to do our best with the opportunities that were presented to us and kept a high standard of quality and to be sensitive to the things that would benefit both the Moore community and our family."
Terry Fritts adds that he and Jason have had to learn as they went, but have relied on their faith in Christ to help them act as good stewards of the land they own.
"It's a complex business, and there's a lot that we didn't really know," said Terry, "But everything we do is predicated on the values of a relationship with Christ. I think that has helped us to be better at waiting for the right opportunities to present themselves."
Jason added, "We've always had a dream and a vision for providing something really nice for those who live and shop in Moore, and I think we're still pursuing that today."
One of the things the Fritts family is most proud of is Fire Station 1, located right behind the Home Depot.
"My parents made a gift of that land to the city," said Terry. "The city was good enough to put a plaque inside the building honoring my father, and we take a lot of pride in that."
As the Fritts and Morgan families developed along 19th Street, Mayor Lewis remembers another earth-shaking development landing in the laps of Moore's city government.
"Bill Warren and his entourage stopped by our offices to talk about building a theater in Moore," said Lewis, "But it wasn't just a theater. It was something really extraordinary."
Lewis said Warren wanted to build a "world class" venue with more than 20 luxury theaters. He told Lewis the Norman city government couldn't get him a construction permit for 6-months, which was just too long to wait.
"I told him to come downstairs with me, and we'd get him one right then," said Lewis. "Stan Drake was going down with us when (then-City Manager) Steve Eddy came running out asking if Warren had plans. Well, Bill had this full set of plans, and we were off and running."
The Warren Theatre opened its doors in 2008, perhaps becoming the tipping point as Moore moved from a sleepy, drive-through town on the road from Oklahoma City to Norman. Moore Chamber of Commerce President and CEO remembers the change well.
"What I remember about Moore as a teenager was sneaking through the city to get to Norman before I had a driver's license," said Gillette. "I remember when the Home Depot and the Lowe's opened up how excited the homebuilders were to have a place where they could get things."
Gillette says it has been exciting watching the various developments and seeing the positive impact on the City and its residents.
"Well, the Warren Theatre was a top of the line venue," said Gillette, "Everybody wanted to be there, and the parking lot was filled night after night. Just like that Moore became a destination instead of a sign you passed on the interstate. And all the development in the area around 19th Street and Telephone Road helped cement that."
A DESTINATION FOR THE FUTURE
City Manager Brooks Mitchell says that while Moore is landlocked and doesn't have a ton of acreage left in which to expand, the universal belief is that the City has all the ingredients needed for continued healthy expansion.
"The 34th Street bridge was in the planning stages when I arrived here," said Mitchell. "Now that it's open, I believe we're going to have even more development that will make Moore a destination for shopping, dining, and entertainment."
But there's more to Moore than all that incredible retail development.
"Our parks system is second to none," said Mitchell. "Our citizens have trusted us with some key bond issues, and we've been able to expand, update, and beautifully maintain our parks. And it's not just Central Park and the Station, which are amazing assets. We've done great things with Buck Thomas, Little River, Parmele, and the newly-redone Westmoore Park."
While space is becoming increasingly hard-to-find in the 19th Street and Telephone Road area, Mitchell points to other areas of the City that hold plenty of potential and opportunity.
"On the east side of the city, we're in the process of widening 34th from I-35 to Eastern," said Mitchell. "From there, we'll go up Broadway to 19th Street. And of course we have several other projects, including 12th Street from I-35 to the east. And of course, we're working on the 4th Street railroad underpass, so I think we're going to see more residential and retail development east of I-35 in the future."
At the top of the City's list on future development in Old Town. Elizabeth Weitman, Moore's Community Development Director, says city leaders are investing a lot of time and energy coming up with a comprehensive plan for the area.
"We've seen some really big changes recently," said Weitman. "The school district has built the new gym and saferoom, Howard Avenue has been redone. When we did our last comprehensive plan, we saw that people were really interested in seeing Old Town become better than where it currently is."
Weitman says that Old Town is very much a priority for the future.
"People recognize that Old Town is important to Moore, and it gives the community an anchor in our past," said Weitman. "I think it gives us the opportunity for some new housing and niche businesses that fit well off the interstate."
The Moore Chamber's Gillette agrees with a focus on Old Town and the east side of Moore.
"I think it's time to focus on the Broadway and Main area," said Gillette. "There's so much more we can do to help make that area, and the area along Eastern, more vital and more of a destination."
Mayor Lewis says he believes Moore's best days are still ahead, especially when it comes to more residential and retail growth.
"With the 34th Street bridge now open, we're working on getting on, and off-ramps added," said Lewis, "We believe that's going to happen and then we'll have more development in those areas. And there's room for some great development along 27th east of I-35 as well as along Eastern. These are exciting times."
Times that are a long way removed from Terry Fritts sitting at a stop sign on 19th Street, waiting for OU game day traffic to clear.
"I'm not a prophet, so I can't tell you the future," said Fritts. "But I can tell you that we're not done. We have exciting hopes and plans for the future, and we believe the best is yet to come for Moore."