Recent growth of many retail businesses along Kickapoo Street — especially the Marketplace and just south — has been a boost to the community, but in the frenzy of filling sites on the north and northwest side of town, some lots and buildings along Harrison are becoming noticeably empty.

THE ISSUE: Kickapoo Street has seen much growth lately, making several empty lots now on Harrison appear stark, in comparison.

LOCAL IMPACT: City officials do not see an issue with recent vacancies, citing balanced traffic data.

Recent growth of many retail businesses along Kickapoo Street — especially the Marketplace and just south — has been a boost to the community, but in the frenzy of filling sites on the north and northwest side of town, some lots and buildings along Harrison are becoming noticeably empty.

As residents drive by vacant lots along one of the major arterial streets in town, Shawnee Economic Development Foundation Director Tim Burg and City Planner Justin DeBruin assure the trend is temporary, and not a cause for concern.

The perceived problem has started gaining some attention as questions loom about what will fill the gaps.

In August Planning Commissioner Craig Walker noted publicly what is becoming obvious to many — that retail projects appear to be tipping more to one side of town lately, with many recent construction sites focused along Kickapoo. He voiced concern about the recent exodus from a typically full stretch of retail space — several large vacant (or soon-to-be vacant) structures along Harrison Street.

“With the Joe Cooper dealerships and the former Cazadorez site (both recently moved to other locations in Shawnee), and the Kmart building (about to be empty), should we be worried (about too many empty sites on Harrison)?” Walker said.

City Planner Justin DeBruin was unfazed.

“With Domino Plaza in the works and a business (which remains unnamed for now) making plans at the intersection of MacArthur and Harrison,” DeBruin said, “there's no cause for alarm.”

Burg said, from the SEDF’s perspective, there's a great deal of balance between Kickapoo and Harrison.

“We don’t necessarily see a lopsidedness of businesses in one spot over another,” he said. “Today the traffic counts on those two major arterial city streets are almost the same, with annual average daily traffic counts of around 20,000.”

He said five years ago the traffic counts on Kickapoo were around 18,000 per day, and on Harrison it was 22,000.

“To us that shows it is now balancing out,” he said. ”While there are more individual retailers on Kickapoo, we are cognizant that Harrison has seen growth and will see more projects in the not so distance future.”

Burg said, in a larger perspective, what has been developed first in the past eight and a half years has been Harrison.

“The first projects were things like the Fred’s Tire, Sehorn Yamaha and Central Disposal,” he said. “Likewise, the Austin Brothers built their new strip center on Harrison south of Golden Corral a couple of years before there was much activity on Kickapoo.”

Starting in 2011 or so, Kickapoo’s growth started with the Qdoba, Chick-fil-A, the Life Style Center, and then the Shawnee Marketplace — which of course gains a lot of attention because they offered larger stores that we did not have in the community, Burg said. “Subsequently, that larger project has attracted a lot of other development in that immediate area — that includes the Communication Federal Credit Union, O’Reilly Auto Parts, Scholtszky's, the Bison Crossing and other sites currently underway or pending,” he said.

At the same time, Burg said, there has been growth at the Shawnee Mall, both inside the building — Dunham’s Sports and Victoria’s Secret — and outside around the perimeter of the property, which includes Panda Express, The Garage, the new Joe Cooper Automotive Dealerships and the Factory Furniture Outlet.

“Today, while we can continue to visibly see what is taking place on Kickapoo, we can also see what is going on along Harrison with the Domino Plaza and the work taking place behind Sonic, N-Stock and Vision Bank,” he said. “Also we have seen more projects north of I-40, with the new apartments, the Life.Church and a new hotel slated for that same area. Moving north along Highway 18 is taking place because of available land, with utilities, visibility, larger roadways and larger traffic count numbers.”

Burg said without question there are going to be some empty spaces on Harrison as Joe Cooper finalizes its move to Mall Drive.

Though it remains unnamed for now, Burg confirmed one of those car dealership sites has already been purchased and work in that area should begin within the next few months.

There's a lot of retail property along Harrison that actually has experienced recent growth.

“Lets also not overlook the work on Harrison that Berkshire Hathaway has undertaken at the former veterinarian offices or the remodeling that the 3-D Restaurant Group has done on the former Bill Austin site — plus what Salazar Roofing is doing just north of the 3-D group,” Burg said. “Those redevelopment projects often get overlooked because the business is already here, or isn’t something as new and exciting as a new retailer, but they are vital to the ongoing growth in the community.”

Even though Cazadorez Restaurant was already located in Shawnee, its reinvestment and expansion in the former DeGraff’s site is a positive sign that area along Harrison has continued to prosper and flourish, Burg said.

“And unless they are on the campus, most residents don’t realize that upgrades are continually taking place at Gordon Cooper Technology Center — which is technically along the Harrison corridor,” he said.

Burg said the long and short of it is both streets — Harrison and Kickapoo — are seeing growth, but we don’t believe that one area will create adverse conditions for the other.

The longtime business site of Kmart is about to leave an unusual and large vacancy once it shutters its doors in October.

“We are well aware of the closing, and based upon what we were seeing from Sears on a national level we knew it was only a matter of time before that took place,” Burg said. “Finding a tenant or tenants for an 84,000 square foot building isn’t the easiest thing to do, but we have had some inquiries about that site from some out-of-state investors.”

Those conversations are ongoing and may or may not pan out, but SEDF is eager to continue that dialog with those who want to see what fits in that location, he said.

Read about how SEDF approaches retail recruitment in a future edition of The Shawnee News-Star.