No story about Claremore’s growth would be complete without NeMar Center. NeMar was and is a big deal for Claremore. Millions in construction costs, millions in sales, millions in taxes generated.
We would expect a story of corporate feasibility studies and at least back room deals by the “City Fathers”. Turns out that if, indeed, there were “city fathers,” they had all been sleeping. It was, instead, two young guys with vision and guts that made NeMar happen.
Here’s the real story according to Paul Neely:
It just happened back in 1967 that Marlar and Neely as young Claremore boosters, were at a Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycee) meeting one evening. After the meeting, there was talk that nine acres of low land just west of downtown was likely to go to foreclosure.
Neely said, “Neither of us had a lot of money back then, but we both had businesses with good incomes and believed we could handle it.”
The partners ended up buying the land for the center at a cost of $25,000. That seems really cheap now. Kind of a no-brainer. But we must remember that gas was selling at that time for 29 cents per gallon.
In today’s dollars then, the land cost would have been about $200,000.
Neely and Marlar paid today’s equivalent of $20,000 per acre for swampland!
ACES IN THE HOLE
Paul Neely and Jack Marlar, these unlikely partners, had three aces in the hole. First of these, of course, would be the very diversity of the pair. Both were well-educated businessmen, but Marlar brought a never-ending flow of ideas to the project and Neely brought his skills as a businessman.
But according to Paul Neely, their real ace in the hole was Jack’s dad, Brycee Marlar.
Brycee was a guy with a dump truck who wasn’t afraid of any job. He had gained experience and contacts in the fifties moving dirt around in preparation for the Will Rogers Turnpike.
After looking it over, Brycee had determined that dirt could be brought from the back of that nine acres to the front, along Will Rogers, thereby making sellable commercial lots, maybe a strip center temporarily named “West Will Rogers Center”
The town’s reaction was not all positive. Neely said they ran into a lot of complaints, particularly from downtown merchants. “We couldn’t understand that,” said Neely, “since we weren’t moving business away from downtown, but rather were providing room for downtown to grow west.”
Neely said the guys had their ear to the ground looking for prospects to bring in. It happened that one of the rumors was about Humpty Dumpty. Talk was that Humpty Dumpty had been looking for a spot to put a grocery store in Claremore.
According to Neely, while Jack was having lunch one day at the Linger Longer Bar-be-Que, he noticed an out-of-towner there wearing a suit. After the mystery man had left, Jack asked around to see if anybody in the place knew who it was. “Oh,” said Emory Conrow, “that guy was in town looking to build a Humpty Dumpty.”
As Neely tells it, Jack ran out, got in his car and engaged in hot pursuit.
“He chased the Humpty guy nearly to Catoosa before finally got him stopped!
And so it goes.
Editor’s note: I was recently able to have a nice long interview with Paul, Jonnie and Steve Neely. They shared memories of the days when NeMar was being built and were gracious enough to share with me their family’s photos and memorabilia of that period. Since NeMar was such an integral part of Claremore’s history, I will be sharing a series of stories, photographs, and memories over the next few weeks.