Clock ticking on mall plans, Centrum official tells citizens

‘Shelf life’ of Centrum’s plan ‘over,’ Barket tells residents

By Mike Anthony

Time is running out for Crestwood officials to make a decision about Centrum Properties’ proposal to redevelop Crestwood Court, a Centrum representative said last week.

Unless the mall’s owners see serious progress within the next few months, the current proposal likely will be taken off the table and the redevelopment could be placed on hold for as long as 10 years, Centrum Properties partner Sol Barket said at a March 20 town-hall meeting that drew more than 100 residents to the Community Center.

Centrum’s plans remain unchanged from the proposal it unveiled last June. Centrum, the mall’s owner along with Angelo Gordon Co., proposed an open-air entertainment and retail venue that would include restaurants, a movie theater and an upscale bowling venue.

As proposed, the total redevelopment cost is roughly $121 million, with economic assistance in the form of tax-increment financing, or TIF, a transportation development district, or TDD, and a community improvement district, or CID, reaching roughly $34 million, according to revised numbers presented to the city.

After a presentation from Vic Pildes, of Centrum Properties, Mayor Jeff Schlink said the comment has been made that he and some aldermen are not in favor of the redevelopment, but that’s not the case.

“… Where the issue comes down to is … the actual use of TIF. We have some people that oppose the use of TIF,” he said. “We have some people that are in favor of the project as is, and then we have some folks that are in the middle — the majority of the people that’d like to see some different flavor of what we have today, whether it’s dollar amount. Whether it’s type of development. Whether it’s duration of anything. It’s those types of things, and in no small part the types of businesses that would be moved in as well.

“One of the things to keep in mind about the current development that we have — and I agree with Centrum’s analysis that the area is saturated with retail and to put another strong retail component into the Crestwood area would probably be very challenging. But keep in mind, the planner that the city hired also said that this development would be challenging as well, in part, because of its location. In part, also, because of the mix that it is,” Schlink said.

Centrum and Angelo Gordon purchased the mall property from the Westfield Group in 2008 for more than $17 million. Resident Jan Herrmann said what Centrum paid in 2008 for the mall “was what it was worth at the time, and that’s the cost of doing business for you … That’s one of the risks that you take and (it) should all be on your shoulders and not the citizens of Crestwood …”

Barket said, “… Your first comment was, it’s my problem. We bought the mall. We’re big boys. We’ve lost a lot of money before. We’ve made a lot of money. You’re a hundred percent right about that. It’s also your problem, in that what if I just say, “You know what, let’s just — Vic (Pildes), let’s just put this in our back pocket. Ten years from now, the environment’s going to be different. Ten years from now, I think it’s going to be a different world …’

“The mall’s being shut down in a couple of months … We would love to keep it open, but it doesn’t make sense. So our option is — listen, I’ve bought plenty of land and properties in the past and sat on (them) for 10 years … At the end of the day, you as a community through your council members may say, ‘We’re better off. It’s their problem. Let them sit with an empty mall for 10 years …'”

Not everyone would agree with that course of action, he said, “But we’re willing to face that option. I mean, we know we don’t have to do anything. Nobody is obligated to do anything for us. We bought this with the expectation that there was a TIF available. That’s how the brokers marketed it …”

TIFs are abused “in a notorious way,” Barket acknowledged. But of Centrum’s proposal, he said, “This is a classic, classic example of where it’s needed and Northwest Plaza is another classic example …”

Barket later said, “… If the decision-makers that are in power really think that you guys as a community are better off with an empty mall for 10 years, that may happen.

“And if they have other ideas, bring me somebody to pay me — put a check in front of me for half of what I have invested in it, ready to close tomorrow. I might take it …”

Jackie Willey said her business, Sound Stone Massage Spa, formerly was in Crestwood Court, but now is in Watson Plaza.

Her clients come from all over the metropolitan area, including Illinois. Many of her clients are younger, she said, and they are looking for entertainment opportunities.

“… I was fortunate enough to spend much of my life traveling around the world with large groups. I’ve been to Europe and I can tell you this concept is golden. Do not miss this …,” Willey said. “So I think everyone should not worry about the TIF this, that, the taxes, what’s going to happen. Don’t vote this on the negative. Build it and they will come …”

Former Mayor Roy Robinson also voiced his support for Centrum’s proposal.

“… This is a fine development and I think what we need in this community is somebody to — and I’m not criticizing — I just think somebody to grab the bull by the horns and bring these people together, sit down and get this thing going. And stop messing around playing politics and playing ‘I think this is better or that’s better,'” he said.

“You run into that in small cities. Everybody thinks they know what’s best for everybody else. What you’ve got to do is bring them together and work with these people. They’ll give you a good project and they’ll make the city again grow over the next 20 or 30 years. I don’t know whether it will go 40 years, but I’ll guarantee it will be around for 20 years, and if we can do that, this city will come back, and my grandkids will be able to enjoy the things that their fathers and mothers did …,” Robinson said.

Former Ward 1 Alderman Rich Bland asked Barket about the “shelf life” of Centrum’s proposal.

“… The shelf life is over,” Barket responded, adding the shelf life really ended when city officials decided “even though you’re paying for the independent studies that we need, we’re not going to allow you to spend your money — extremely frustrating. The reverberation that that had with all the retailers, with our financial partner … who’s sitting in New York. They’ve got 200 partners all over the world, why are we wasting our time … in Crestwood?

“This is a real thing that happened. And because of the fact that they know I grew up here and my father calls one of the head guys at Angelo Gordon when he thinks he’s going to do something that’s not going to support his son and his vision for Crestwood and says, ‘You’ve got to give my boy a little bit more time.’

“I begged for the time that I’m getting now with many other people — (otherwise) this town-hall meeting wouldn’t be occurring. I want to see this happen. If we don’t see positive, major, serious, real movement forward, literally within the next couple of months, that’s the shelf life.

“That’s it. We’re at the end …”