Dust swirled at the site of the planned Shops at McAlester highway retail center project on Wednesday as an excavator filled dump trucks with load after load of topsoil.

Workers with Robinson Construction Co. said much of the topsoil will be used later on other parts of the construction site, after the dirt work portion of the project has been completed. Dump trucks were hauling the dirt up a hill on the property Wednesday as work continued on the Shops at McAlester project.

"They've been clearing the land," said city of McAlester Economic Development Director Kirk Ridenour. With much of the land already cleared, workers are expected to continue with the top soil removal and then turn their efforts to dirt work, which includes leveling and grading. 

Several pieces of heavy equipment have been in use at the site of the planned highway retail center, a parcel of land near the intersection of Fourteenth Street and U.S. Highway 69, also known as the George Nigh Expressway where it wends through McAlester.

Spring rains and storms hitting the area on a weekly basis have slowed the number of workdays, and even resulted in two bulldozers getting bogged down, but construction workers were making the best of sunny weather this week.

Ridenour said the ongoing use of heavy machinery at the location shows work is continuing on the Shops at McAlester project.

"It says they're continuing to move forward," he said.

Ridenour said the city of McAlester has received the Civil Plan to review for the project, a reference to a technical drawing that shows information regarding grading, draining, landscaping and other details related to the construction project.

The city needs a few additions from the developer's engineering firm for the plan to be complete and it's been returned to the developer's engineers for the additions, Ridenour said Wednesday.

"We're waiting to get the update," he said.

Developer Burk Collins has continuously maintained the Shops at McAlester project will move forward.

He, along with city, county and state officials, Chamber of Commerce personnel, Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma representatives, bankers, business owner and others gathered in McAlester for a groundbreaking ceremony in December 2019.

McAlester Mayor John Browne said the Shops at McAlester project represents an investment of from $20 million to $25 million for the city. It should result in approximately 312 full-time and part-time jobs when the shops, restaurants and other outlets expected at the site are completed. Browne said it's also expected to generate approximately $600,000 in use taxes.

When completed, plans call for the Shops at McAlester center to include a Hobby Lobby, TJ Maxx, Ross, FFO Home Furniture, Rack Room Shoes and other shops and businesses. The McAlester Regional Health Center has announced plans to place an Urgent Care facility at the site. From four-to-five restaurant pads are expected to be constructed.

Plans to construct the highway retail center resulted from a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, project agreed to by the McAlester City Councilors and Pittsburg County commissioners.

As called for in the TIF agreement, Collins is to pay upfront for the shopping center's construction. He also agreed to pay for construction of a new traffic signal at the intersection of Fourteenth Street and U.S.Highway 69.

Once construction is completed and the shops and other businesses at the site are opened, the TIF agreement calls on Collins to collect the city's and county's portions of sales taxes generated at the highway retail center for five years or until Collins collects $5.5 million, whichever occurs first.

Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.

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