Board votes to reissue RFP for counsel for mall project

By MIKE ANTHONY

Executive Editor

The Crestwood Board of Aldermen voted last week to reissue a request for special and bond counsel to represent the city in connection with the proposed redevelopment of Crestwood Court.

City Administrator Petree Eastman had recommended the Board of Aldermen consider appointing Gilmore & Bell as special and bond counsel to represent the city and direct City Attorney Rob Golterman prepare and negotiate the terms of an engagement letter with the firm. In her recommendation, Eastman noted that Gilmore & Bell was one of three firms to respond to a request for proposals, or RFP, that she had issued.

With the goal of attracting responses from more firms, proposals now will be due Jan. 18 — before the Board of Aldermen meets Tuesday, Jan. 24.

Owners of Crestwood Court recently announced that they anticipate the long-awaited redevelopment of the shopping center at Watson and Sappington roads will begin sometime next year.

Centrum Properties and Angelo, Gordon & Co. bought the mall from the Westfield Group in March 2008 with the goal of redeveloping it, but their plans have been on hold due to the economy.

During the Dec. 13 meeting, Eastman said she wanted to have the special and bond counsel on board as soon as possible as she expected the mall’s owners to request “substantial public subsidies” in conjunction with the redevelopment project.

But Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild said he was surprised to learn that Eastman had issued the RFP. He also voiced concerns about the short time period in which firms had to respond to the request and noted that only five law firms had been contacted by Eastman.

“… At this time because we are anticipating that the Crestwood Court redevelopment project will begin sometime later in this year or early next year, I thought it was important that we get an attorney on board to help us navigate the process that I expect to be quite complex. I recommend that we hire Gilmore & Bell for that service,” Eastman said.

Duchild said to Eastman, “… So could you fill us in on what you know about the mall redevelopment? This board has not been presented with a redevelopment proposal nor have the residents. So it was a little bit of a surprise to me to see this in my packet …”

Duchild also cited the “short notice” for the RFP, which had been issued after the last board meeting on Nov. 22.

Eastman said, “… We did meet with the owners and developers of the mall project. We have an outline, sort of, of their plans. We don’t have a formal proposal. It would be my expectation that before a formal proposal is brought to the board that the board actually get to preview it in a presentation sort of way rather than to vote on it first time you see it. I would also encourage the board to hold some town-hall meetings so that the community can see the proposal and then ultimately we would prepare a preliminary funding agreement.

“This is fairly standard in redevelopment projects … This is why I wanted to get the attorneys on board right away. A preliminary funding agreement is basically an agreement where the developer puts a pool of money together into an account and lets us draw on it for our expenses for attorneys and for planners and any other professional services that we might engage, essentially making this not a costly option to go through this process …

“It’s our understanding that the mall project — it’s not going to be a mall, first of all. It’s going to be a series of entertainment-based ventures, some of which are not yet confirmed and so I can’t elaborate further on that, but it will have some retail component,” she said. “But that will not be the primary focus of the mall. I understand that they intend to phase this in two phases — the first phase from the Sears building westward and the second phase would be from the Dillard’s side … and that would include demolition of the Dillard’s building because there are issues in the garage below.

“Sears, they hope will stay. Hopefully, they will stay during construction. There will be quite a bit of construction done to the mall, as I understand it …,” Eastman said. “But we have not received a proposal. I think the developer is trying to get something to us, but they want to have I think more lease commitments so that it’s not in the abstract. And hopefully we’ll get something from them in — at least in early January …”

Duchild asked whether Centrum would request tax tools, including tax-increment financing, a transportation development district or a community-improvement district.

Eastman said, “Right now, we do not have their specific request. The only thing that they said is they will be asking for substantial public subsidies. How that is defined, I don’t know.”

The city administrator said a similar RFP had been issued in 2009 or 2010.

Noting that he was unaware of any RFP being issued in 2009 or 2010, Duchild said, “It’s my opinion that we table this and put this off for a little bit, at least until this board and the residents get to hear what the proposal is. Maybe open up the RFP now for a three-month period or a two-month period or something like that. Send it to more firms. I think five firms is not a whole lot …”

Eastman said, “… Virtually there are three firms that do this on a regular basis in the St. Louis area and pursuant to our procurement policy, we don’t ordinarily send RFPs out to the general public and expect people to respond.

“We do go straight to the folks that have been recommended to us so that we can cut through a lot of work on behalf of those people submitting proposals and the fact of the matter is unless we go to probably another city there wouldn’t be any other law firms in the area that I would recommend given the experience level of Gilmore & Bell … I don’t think that that gets us anything. I am concerned about the timing and not having counsel on board for this very complex project before the proposal is submitted to us.”

Duchild said, “… This Crestwood Court redevelopment project is going to be probably the biggest thing that’s happened in Crestwood for a long time. I think the process needs to be as open as possible.

“We need to get the best deal for the residents as possible since they are going to be paying this fee for the special and bond counsel …,” he said.

Duncan later asked Duchild, “… Could you tell me what you would like to do at this point? Could you give us a scenario that gets us further along in the process within — by the end of next month? I mean I might disagree with you on some of your — how quickly the RFP and things went along, but could you tell us what you would propose to do to get us to the point where we have engaged professional bond counsel and special counsel … So tell me what you would recommend to do rather than just say no, let’s get a plan …”

Duchild said, “My thought and my motion was going to be to essentially table this until such time that the mall developers had at least a date of a presentation in mind to this board and to the community. I assume if it’s a presentation to this board, the community will be invited to that to see what they had in mind. We’re not going to get the mall back. We know that. It’s going to be an entertainment district. But that’s all we know right now. I think it probably wouldn’t take too much time to get up to speed and I wouldn’t want to incur any costs to the residents that couldn’t be prefunded or refunded in case this whole thing fell through … I say let’s just wait and see what Centrum Properties, what their timeline is …”

Duncan said, “… I’m uncomfortable with tabling it indefinitely, quite frankly. I would like a date certain that we could say we are engaging this special counsel and I would have liked to have done it in fiscal year 2011, but I understand we only have this meeting for the end of this year. I would really like to put it on the agenda for real consideration the second meeting in January and I would like to say this is where we want to be …”

After further discussion, the board voted to reissue the RFP with a Jan. 18 deadline.