Area turning for the better, Crestwood commission told

Grewe representative updates panel about new businesses coming to city

By BURKE WASSON

As Crestwood officials continue to strive for economic development and improvements in the city, the city’s Economic Development Commission last week picked the brain of a local developer to hear additional ideas.

Bill Appelbaum of G.J. Grewe Inc. told commission members Jan. 15 that despite the city’s trend of declining sales-tax revenue over the past few years, the Crestwood area is “not turning for the worse, but for the better.”

Appelbaum also advised the commission that city officials should take their time in working with a prospective developer for the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, which currently is for sale and being analyzed by an interested development company, to find the right retail mix.

“As for what this group and what this city can do to make this the most attractive possible area for someone to locate, what would you advise?” asked Lindbergh School District Chief Financial Officer Pat Lanane, who also serves on the commission.

“To keep my ears open,” Appelbaum said. “To listen to the various proposals that may come in with the largest retail asset in the city of Crestwood with the mall. There’s a lot of things that can happen with that project. And throwing money at a project isn’t always the right thing.

“But to listen and make sure you find the right developer, find the right use, find the right tenant mix to come in there, I think that’s what I would suggest. It’s at the corner of Sappington and Watson (roads). And it’s going to be there for a long time and it’s been there a long time …

“So I would just say telling a developer you want this particular retail doesn’t necessarily work. The retailers understand their target markets, the demographic they’re looking for. So many communities say they want new urban and they want two-story and they want retail concepts that don’t work in a lot of markets. Two-story retail might work in Chicago. It might work in Naperville (Ill.) It’s not working on Watson Road. It doesn’t work on Manchester Road. We don’t have the density of the populations that those areas do.”

Appelbaum also updated the commission on new businesses coming to Crestwood like close-out retailer Tues-day Morning Inc. opening by February at Watson Plaza and liquor store Friar Tuck’s opening by March at Crestwood Square. He also told the commission that with in-creased business at Crestwood Square with the recent additions of Ace Hardware and Monkey Joe’s, Applebee’s restaurant “isn’t going anywhere.”

City officials did acknowledge, however, that the tax-incentive tools used to attract some of those developments will be on hold for much of 2008 as legal challenges are expected to take place over new tax-increment financing, or TIF, laws that were effective Jan. 1. Because of the uncertainty over the powers of existing TIF commissions, Lanane and Crestwood City Administrator Frank Myers said they have heard that no bond counsel in the state will approve the bonding of any TIF agreements.

“I was in the TIF Commission in Sunset Hills, and they just stopped,” Lanane said. “And they gave a lot of reasons, but I think they kind of ran out of time and it’s like: ‘Well, we don’t know what this really means.’ And I don’t know what it means either. I have no idea how to even interpret some of that.”

“We have been told by the prominent municipal bond counsel in the St. Louis region that if you attempt to create a TIF district under the new statute that went into effect Jan. 1, you will not be able to bond your TIF deal,” City Administrator Frank Myers said. “So in essence, there is no TIF. There is no capacity right now in St. Louis bonds to create TIFs … Bond counsel claims you’re not going to be able to get a clean bond deal. So nobody’s going to lend that TIF money because it’s going to be challenged or it’s going to be not sound, financially sound in terms of the sustainability of getting that revenue stream … So until the law is cleaned up, from what we’re hearing and what we understand, you’re not going to be able to get a TIF deal.”

“They (bond counsel) tell me it will probably be six, seven, eight months …,” Lanane said.

Lanane also asked Appelbaum to consider the possibility of developing condominium-style homes in the Crestwood area to create an influx of “spendable income.”

“How important would you say it is to look at these developments that bring in these $400,000 condos on up and the people that come with them that have some spendable income?” Lanane said. “Is there a need? It’s always a good thing, I assume. But is there a need currently in your estimation for an infusion of people with good incomes?”

“I would love it,” Appelbaum said. “I think there’s always a need to look at those projects … I think that Crestwood has a demographic that’s aged … I think that in the right area, any time you can bring in disposable income is fantastic.

“I’d like to see more young people come back to Crestwood. I know that that’s tough for Lindbergh School District.”

“No, we’d like that, too … They’re coming from somewhere,” Lanane said. “We’ve lost like 800 students that we used to get from the city and we’ve got about a net gain now of about 200 or 250 students in five years. So they’re coming from somewhere. And I don’t know if those are new or there’s families making other decisions on how they’re going to spend their education dollars.”