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Metro Churches Help Revitalize Midwest City Businesses

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LifeChurch opened a new branch at a store in the old Heritage Park Mall. LifeChurch opened a new branch at a store in the old Heritage Park Mall.

Darren Brown, News 9

MIDWEST CITY, Oklahoma -- An abandoned shopping mall and its surrounding area are getting a new lease on life, but the help is coming from an unconventional source.

Jim Dolezel was certainly not happy to see Heritage Park Mall close.  His restaurant, Pelican's, sits at the northeast corner of the mall parking lot.  It's been there for 30 years.

"When you have a mall with 57 stores and it closes down, that's people that are not coming to the area," said Dolezel.  "That affects your business."

Dolezel claims his business has dropped off slowly over the past decade, mirroring the plight of Heritage Park Mall.  The biggest problem he says, is that potential customers are used to having a choice of restaurants in a given area, and right now, he's a little isolated.  Pelican's sits between Heritage Park Mall and Heritage Plaza, where there used to be a five-screen theater.

"It's not drive by as much," said Dolezel.  "Especially with the mall being closed and the theaters being gone."

However, a much-needed shot of potential customers is already starting to affect Dolezel's business in a positive way.

LifeChurch opened a Midwest City campus in the mall's old Dillard's building just three weeks ago, and saw attendance of more than 2,000.

LifeChurch's Midwest City pastor Trevor Williams expected large crowds, but even he was surprised.

"I was told this weekend by folks that were here that our parking lot, it looked like what Christmas used to look like here at the mall," said Williams.  "It's kinda blowin' our minds how many people have shown up."

Just around the corner, People's Church is a few weeks away from opening its own Midwest City campus at the old Heritage Plaza Cinema 5.

"Just looking at what's happening there at LifeChurch and the response they've received from the community has been very encouraging," said Brian Rush, Creative Arts Director at People's Church.  "We knew we had several hundred people already that lived here in the area that are attending our Oklahoma City campus."

There are at least six churches within a quarter-mile radius of Heritage Park Mall.  Jim Dolezel's restaurant now sits right between the two newest and largest ones.

"Sundays are already our best lunch day of the week," Dolezel said.  "And we expect it to probably almost double of what it has been with both these churches being here."

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