Crestwood aldermen impressed by mall’s redevelopment plans

Macy’s may be only anchor that will remain, McGee says

By BURKE WASSON

While no timetable has been set for the public to see redevelopment plans for the Crestwood mall, half the city’s aldermen viewed the proposal last week and shared one word to describe it — impressed.

Centrum Properties managing partner Sol Barket and associates met June 24 with Mayor Roy Robinson and four aldermen — President Chris Pickel of Ward 2, Ward 1 Alderman Mac McGee, Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland and Ward 2 Alderman Mike Kelsch — to discuss the company’s plans to redevelop the mall property.

At the June 24 Board of Aldermen meeting, those aldermen said they are convinced the new owners of Crestwood Court have a stake in future redevelopment as well as trying to draw shoppers in the present.

“One of the things that really impressed me was not just their commitment to the community and their long-term plans, but they have committed to this community deep enough that they are concerned about the current tenants,” Kelsch said. “… There are people that make their living there and that without that tenant spot there, would not be employed and would not have a viable means of sustenance for their families.

“And their commitment level to me was impressive. It ran that deep, and they have long-term plans.”

Chicago-based Centrum Properties and Angelo, Gordon & Co. of New York purchased the former Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood in March for $17.5 million, according to St. Louis County records.

The Westfield Group originally acquired the property in 1998 for $106 million.

The two companies merged on the sale as brothers Sol and Keith Barket, originally from the Affton area, represent both. While Sol Barket is Centrum’s managing partner of retail development, Keith Barket is senior managing director of Angelo, Gordon.

As previously reported, the property is expected to be redesigned as a “town center” with a square or fountain serving as a centerpiece. Its focus will remain retail, but some residential pieces are being considered. In addition, Centrum and Angelo, Gordon are planning a larger movie theater, restaurants and a facility to house outdoor concerts.

While the mall today is roughly 1 million square feet, the new owners have indicated that the new redevelopment would be 500,000 to 1 million square feet.

Additionally, McGee said last week that mall owners have proposed raising the mall property’s parking lot to street level along Watson Road.

McGee also shared that Macy’s perhaps is the only anchor building on the current mall property that might remain after redevelopment.

“He (Barket) did say it may be a possibility that one anchor building will remain, and that’s Macy’s,” McGee said. “But the rest of it is redeveloped and it’s all new.”

Aldermen shared last week that the mall property will be less of a shopping center and more of a “destination spot” with shopping as well as other attractions.

“Some of the stumbling blocks they have with the current situation there is it’s not real easy for them to go out and get high-end tenants like they want to get,” Kelsch said. “They want to put together a premier facility, which they consider is going to be a destination spot. It’s not going to be like any other mall where people just come in and shop. This is going to be a place where you can go spend time.”

At the same time, Bland said he shared with Barket that residents will demand action on the mall property as former owner Westfield’s plans to redevelop the property or add attractions often fell through.

“We were promised a bunch of things over the last several years, and none of those things ever came true,” Bland said. “We went from getting a new movie theater to getting the parking lot realigned — underwhelming to say the least. And I told them straight up that the citizens of this community, they have to see action.”

But Bland also said that he is comforted by the fact that the new mall owners have conveyed a stronger sense of commitment than that of Westfield and that they have so far taken a more “hands-on” approach to managing the property.

“That mall over the years has really been run in absentia,” Bland said. “It’s almost done what it’s done in spite of itself and probably should have just collapsed and fell on itself. But what really impressed me is that they’re not just looking to kind of leave that there until they can get everything in order to make this long-term plan come through. They’ve got a short-term commitment. And with the short-term commitment, they don’t want to manage that absentee. They’ve got some folks in place that are very hands on and very committed to get involved in the community.

“They want to make some things available to the community. They’re looking at bringing in temporary tenants. They’re looking at possibly having a community room for non-profit organizations. What they’re trying to do in the short term is bring people together. And I think if they see what the long term is going to be, they’ll invest in what’s there now. They’re making every effort to try to keep people there. They’re looking at all kinds of different options to draw people to that space. I think in the long term, that space will be-come a destination point.”

Pickel also indicated that while the new owners would like to publicly present their redevelopment plans, they have been ad-vised not to do so at this point because of ongoing negotiations to fill and redevelop that property.

“I shared some comments that I’d heard from residents in Ward 2 … a little bit of concern maybe that they had a couple of opportunities for them to come to the board and make some comments and they haven’t been able to do that,” he said. “He (Barket) explained a lot of the intricacies and sensitivities that are involved in a project of this scope. And there are so many variables that they have to take into ac-count. And those variables all have to fall into place. I understand why they’re not able to come public at this point.

“What I also got a strong indication from them, though, is that they really have two parallel projects running. Obviously, the biggest one is what’s going to happen with the mall overall. And they are working every angle to accomplish that. They also invited and included a couple of people who are local here now managing the mall.

“And they have a short-term plan. And that is to generate additional traffic into the mall as it stands right now, and they have a lot of things on the books.”

But Bland also believes that those plans will be released in the near future.

“If and when that does come to fruition, I think everybody will be impressed,” he said. “And I think what will probably happen in the not-too-distant future is those plans will start coming out and people will be able to start seeing it.”