Centrum officials field questions about redevelopment of mall

Crestwood Court ‘the classic example’of how TIF should be used, Barket says

By Kari Williams

Centrum Properties representatives fielded questions last week regarding the types of establishments, public assistance and spending of discretionary income for the proposed $102 million redevelopment of Crestwood Court.

Centrum Properties representatives Sol Barket and Vic Pildes, Rich Obertino of TRI Architects and Jim Mello of Armstrong Teasdale answered questions from Crestwood residents about the redevelopment at the Oct. 2 town-hall meeting sponsored by Mayor Jeff Schlink. Roughly 150 people attended the meeting in the gymnasium of the Community Center at Whitecliff Park.

Initial details regarding the entertainment center development, proposed to be completed in two phases, were presented to the Board of Aldermen in June.

More details were presented to the board last month, including the developers seeking nearly $27 million in economic assistance. Assistance for the first phase would include tax-increment financing, or TIF; 1-percent sales tax from a transportation development district, or TDD; and 1-percent sales tax from a community improvement district, or CID.

Mello said the amount of assistance required from TIF for phase one is about 15 percent.

Compared to other redevelopment projects, Mello said the assistance for Crestwood Court is “at or below” the level other projects have received.

He also noted the misconception with TIF assistance is the city is “somehow providing resources directly to the project,” which he said is not the case, and the city is not putting its credit or general fund revenue at risk.

Centrum’s representatives were asked to explain why a “cash-strapped city and school district should offer public assistance to a company that has real estate investments of $13-plus million and offices on Park Avenue in New York.”

Barket said the “quick and easy” response is the city does not have to approve the request for economic assistance. However, he said Centrum does not see the possibility of redevelopment without public assistance.

“I’m sure the city is going to have plenty of financial advisers that study this and will not recommend that you go forward and approve the TIF if it’s not warranted,” Barket said. “In my experience in 25 years, this is the classic example of how TIFs should be utilized …”

Resident Martha Duchild, wife of Ward 3 Alderman Paul Duchild, questioned how the redevelopment will be successful when that success is based on the spending of discretionary income.

“There isn’t a lot of discretionary income in this area,” Duchild said.

Barket said Centrum officials are “very conscious” of that fact, but people still enjoy eating out and going to the movies on occasion.

“We are not proposing high-end types of uses … We’re talking about affordable, family style restaurants,” he said.

Obertino told the crowd he believes the redevelopment — currently called The District at Crestwood — will become a “destination spot” again with the intention of drawing people not just from surrounding communities, but from 10 to 20 miles away.

Potential tenants include a cinema, an upscale bowling alley and a Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill with a concert stage.

Obertino said Centrum is not trying to create the “traditional St. Louis theater,” but rather an “outdoor environment” where a theater is surrounded by restaurants and shops. The space would be a “mixed-use” and feature an outdoor plaza that could contain farmers markets and craft fairs.

Some questions from residents focused on why the project potentially includes a grocery store when Crestwood already has Schnucks, Shop ‘n Save and Aldi.

Barket said consultants in the “retail arena feel that competition is good.”

“If you talk to people that are at the top of their game, if you talk to the best grocery store operator, if you talk to the best retail operator, the best restaurateur, and you ask them how they feel about competition, they will say, ‘Bring it on,'” he said.

However, Barket said the grocery store they may bring to Crestwood “would be entirely different than Schnucks” and the idea is to bring in businesses that complement what is already in the city.

Other questions raised concern about including a bowling alley when Crestwood Bowl is already in the city.

Barket said the last thing they want to do is hurt one of Crestwood’s establishments and the bowling alley at the District at Crestwood would be “something entirely different.”

“None of them are strictly bowling. They basically have great sports bars, restaurants, pool tables, a variety of different types of venues within the space so it’s not just bowling,” Barket said, “but the bowling component of it, again, is not meant to compete with leagues.”

Barket also said there has been “a lot of interest” from some former ArtSpace tenants to return to the mall.

Though he said it “wasn’t really viable” to bring them back permanently, it is viable to do so on a seasonal basis or for special weekend events.

“We do plan on doing a lot of concerts in the park, book fairs, farmers markets, lots of arts and crafts …,” Barket said. “We do want to bring back that ArtSpace component, just in a little bit different format.”

Barket also discussed the second phase of the project, which would include grading the Dillard’s wing on the east side of the project to make it level with the west side.

But he said it is “hard to speculate” what might be included the second phase of the development. Possibilities could include more entertainment, an indoor ice skating rink, a larger retailer or a hotel component, according to Barket, who said they are “keeping an open mind.”

Some residents who spoke at the meeting said they appreciated the developers looking to the future of Crestwood and that they are ready and prepared to spend their discretionary income at the establishment.

One benefit of the project being in phases, according to Pildes, is the cost will be reduced “substantially” because much of the Dillard’s building and the parking garage concrete will be used as fill to level off the site.

Centrum Properties and Angelo Gordon Co. purchased the property from Westfield in 2008. Redevelopment plans had been on hold due to the economy.