Morris Still Looks to Future with Northpark Mall / Northpark, Quail Plaza Emerge as Monuments to His Innovation Ahead of Crowd

By Nichols, Max | THE JOURNAL RECORD, July 3, 1986 | Go to article overview

Morris Still Looks to Future with Northpark Mall / Northpark, Quail Plaza Emerge as Monuments to His Innovation Ahead of Crowd


Nichols, Max, THE JOURNAL RECORD


Designing and building a home in Stillwater with his own hands was a matter of necessity for Thomas S. Morris in 1946, when he was a student at what is now Oklahoma State University.

He was one of thousands of World War II veterans in college as a former U.S. Marine master sergeant with a family. He declined to use the G.I. Bill, because he didn't think it was right, so he soldpopcorn near the campus for income.

"I needed a place to live, and I needed income," he said simply. "So I designed a home and built it while I ran the popcorn business on the side. No one taught me how to build the home. I just did what had to be done."

That same need could be seen by Morris for other veterans. So, in 1948, he teamed with Everett Dale, an engineer, to design and build homes in Oklahoma City. They did part of the hammer-and-saw work themselves at first.

That basic combination - of seeing a potential market and just plain doing something about it - led Morris to develop some of the most far reaching projects in Oklahoma City over the last 35 years.

He was often well ahead of the crowd.

Today, Northpark Mall and Quail Plaza are monuments of the ability of Morris to design and develop projects ahead of their time. There are numerous others, including The Greens, Edgewater, North Waverly, Camelot and Stonegate additions to Oklahoma City.

However, the 246,069-square-foot Northpark Mall is a special case as an exclusive shopping center with elegance. It was designed by Morris to show off specialty shops that appeal to shoppers from nearby affluent neighborhoods.

Today, Northpark Mall is in the forefront of specialized shopping centers now becoming fashionable across the nation, so it's easy to forget how far ahead of its time it was back in 1971.

Morris invested $1.25 million in the 61,950-square-foot first phase at NW 122nd St. and May Ave. It was a bold move for two reasons:

- Geographically, the mall was on the northern edge of Oklahoma City at that time.

- It was a new marketing approach to retail centers, with no major department store for an anchor. Instead of being dominated by anchors, Northpark Mall presents a sort of "main street" appearance for all stores.

"Our goal was to seek one-of-a-kind merchants, to create the best upscale mall available," said Morris, in reflecting back to a decision that was often questioned by contemporary builders. "We had a special market developing around us (young professionals, now called Yuppies).

"We wanted an elegant shopping center that would appeal to that market. So we developed a center that would feature specialty shops, instead of building around an anchor store."

His courage of that conviction was displayed in 1977, when he tripled the size with a 140,000-square-foot addition in the midst of a down real estate market that was causing a financial crunch for him as well as other developers.

"It was shakey for a while," admits Morris. "I've had trouble sleeping a time or two. But my main approach to difficulty has been to work harder. I felt the time was right, with construction costs low, and I was certain the market would grow."

You can see what he means by "elegance" as you walk the polished brick tile floors amid water fountains and planters accented by natural light. The blend of color and light presents a comfortable yet exlcusive setting - a feeling that each store is a special place.

There is still room for considerable development on the 22-acre tract, and Morris even has pondered going to a second story. Quail Plaza, which also was ahead of its time at Hefner Rd. and May Ave., also has room for more expansion.

While this may not be the time to expand, with shopping centers generally overbuilt, it is not unusual for Morris to look ahead. …

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