- Associated Press - Monday, March 10, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - When CBRE Oklahoma Senior Vice President Mark Inman has a big-box space available for lease, one of the first clients he calls doesn’t have a product to sell. The client offers religious services rather than goods.

That client, LifeChurch.tv, has taken some of the Oklahoma City metro’s large retail spaces off the market by leasing them as campuses.

“They want to be convenient, visible, and appeal to people,” Inman told The Journal Record (http://bit.ly/1gRoEcE). “That leads them to retail areas.”

LifeChurch.tv occupies three spaces that were once home to large retailers, with locations varying in size from 25,000 to 35,000 square feet. LifeChurch.tv is in an old Wal-Mart building on Northwest Expressway, a former Builders Square at 74th Street and S. Walker Avenue, and the former Dillard’s space at Heritage Park Mall in Midwest City.

It has also opened a campus in a former call center in Yukon, but that space was not originally retail.

LifeChurch.tv Vice President of Operations Kevin Penry said the church moved into its first former retail space in south Oklahoma City in 2005. He said such a space brings the church back to a community’s epicenter.

“It is our passion to meet people where they are,” he said. “We find ourselves drawn to opportunities to be in those places where people might be traveling with their families, spending time, or eating out. That was the case when the church was at the town center of the community. We feel like there’s an opportunity for us to demonstrate that the church can have a relevant role of contribution.”

Part of that role has been putting life back into large empty buildings. When LifeChurch.tv acquires a property, the church goes through the city approval process and then makes the site its own. The rebuild takes about six months, Penry said. He has an architectural background, so he is interested in repurposing old buildings.

As to what will be the next former big-box space for a LifeChurch.tv, Penry said, the improving economy has narrowed its options, but he’s always looking.

“Our eyes are open for opportunity,” he said. “We’re continually scouring the areas we’re looking into. Our first question is, ‘Are there any empty boxes out there?’ It’s certainly easier to go into an existing building than to build from scratch. That’s where we find ourselves drawn sooner to an area.”

He said some of the elements to examine when considering a former large retail space are parking and traffic flow.

“We don’t want to create a negative experience for any of the neighboring tenants,” he said. “We undercut ourselves significantly if our presence is anything but a positive experience for our neighbors and those surrounding our campus.”

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Information from: The Journal Record, http://www.journalrecord.com