Barket says entertainment complex successful in Chicago, will work here

Big-box stores, retail won’t work at mall site

By Gloria Lloyd

Centrum Properties partner Sol Barket returned to the Crestwood Board of Aldermen to say that the entertainment district he plans for the city is proven in Chicago and will succeed here if city officials get behind the concept.

Barket spoke for close to an hour during the public comment period of the Board of Aldermen’s July 9 work session, detailing the effort he has put into the proposed $121 million “District at Crestwood” redevelopment of the Crestwood Court mall site and his disappointment that the board has not moved forward with tax-increment financing, or TIF, for the open-air entertainment complex.

“We cannot sit here for another year,” he said. “There’s been no productive discussions other than today … I see a change of tide in this meeting, I think.”

During their work session, some aldermen expressed doubts whether Centrum’s plan will work and agreed they wanted more housing in the development as well as a keystone attraction, possibly a Great Wolf Lodge hotel and indoor water park or something focused around Crestwood’s location on historic Route 66.

As they mentioned in past meetings, Mayor Jeff Schlink and some of the aldermen want more retail stores in the development. Barket agreed to look at their ideas and see if they could work, but he also described his confidence in the current plan to the board.

“We are developers. This is all we do, day in and day out … If I came to your workplace and said, ‘You can’t talk, (but) I’m going to sit with five of my people and tell you everything you’re doing wrong and what you should be doing,’ you wouldn’t allow me in the place,” Barket said of the board’s critiques of Centrum’s plan. “You have every right to do that … But do you ever think that I might have spent five years meeting with every single person that I could uncover, looking at every single option?”

Barket has met with some of the world’s leading experts on retail, office and entertainment development, he said, and they all firmly believe retail and big-box stores will not work at the mall site because too much nearby competition has sprung up since the heyday of Crestwood Plaza. But an open-air entertainment complex unique to St. Louis will succeed in Crestwood, and unlike retail and big-box stores, lifestyle developers have lined up to get into this development, he said.

The District at Crestwood is modeled after the already successful Park at Rosemont in suburban Chicago, which has been an “overwhelming success,” Barket said, adding, “This is not a made-up concept. You can’t go (to Rosemont) on a Friday or Saturday night without seeing thousands of families, ice skating in the winter and enjoying the variety of food. And this goes on every night of the week and at lunchtime.”

Centrum conducted a demographic study for a potential IKEA store several years ago, which showed that Crestwood and the surrounding areas have the most desirable demographics in the region for a Rosemont-like entertainment district, he added.

“This is the perfect place to do this,” Barket said. “This is the most dense and most appropriately populated community anywhere in St. Louis for this type of development.”

The lack of direct interstate access is a negative, but Crestwood has such a long history as a destination for area shoppers that they believe Crestwood is easy to travel to, and they know where it is, he added.

“They just know it,” Barket said. “They’ve been coming here their entire lives.”

Some of Rosemont’s tenants, including German restaurant Hofbrauhaus and Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, are also lined up for Crestwood, he said. In November, Barket told the board Centrum had lost Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill as a potential tenant. The comedy club could be a location of Levity Live, which is in the Palisades mall in West Nyack, New York, Barket told the Call.

The second phase of the plan allows for big-box retailers like Cabela’s or a grocery store to come in, he said, but the first phase with the upscale movie theater and bowling alley, the comedy club and live entertainment will be key to the development’s success, not the retail, he noted. All of those tenants are required for critical mass, so he could not just arbitrarily cut the entertainment options in half and still be successful, he added.

In response to Ward 4 Alderman Dan Tennessen’s previous request to look into bringing a Great Wolf Lodge-like hotel and water park attraction to the development, Barket said the idea is “phenomenal,” and he has begun the process.

Centrum’s requested TIF is $15 million for the first phase and just under $7 million for the second phase, Barket clarified, with the rest of the total $34 million in requested subsidies coming from special sales-tax districts. The city would still receive some tax revenue from the project, a projected $1.35 million or more a year, Barket said.

If the city does not move forward with the TIF, Barket could start to parcel off the property, he noted. The day after he spoke, Centrum moved forward with plans to shut down the mall concourse to walkers, leaving its last tenant, LensCrafters, as the only part of the mall open until it leaves in September.

Once the mall is vacant, Centrum has options: CVS wants to build a store on the property, and Centrum and co-owner Angelo, Gordon & Co. could take tax write-offs by donating parcels of the property to churches or schools, Barket said.