By Kari Williams
Officials anticipate proposal from Centrum early this year
Three requests for proposals, two regarding Crestwood Court and one concerning employee benefits, were approved last week by the Crestwood Board of Aldermen.
The planning services and underwriting services proposals for Crestwood Court were approved with the stipulation that RFPs will not be issued until the mall’s owners present a redevelopment proposal for the shopping center. Crestwood Court’s owners recently announced they anticipate redevelopment of the shopping center at Watson and Sappington roads will begin sometime this year.
Centrum Properties and Angelo, Gordon & Co. bought the mall from the Westfield Group in March 2008 with the goal of redeveloping it, but plans have been on hold due to the economy.
At the board’s Dec. 13 meeting, City Administrator Petree Eastman recommended the Board of Aldermen consider appointing Gilmore & Bell as special and bond counsel to represent the city and direct City Attorney Rob Golterman to 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 an RFP she issued.
Aldermen voted last month to reissue the request. As a result, Eastman presented the proposed RFPs for planning services and underwriting services to the board Jan. 10.
Eastman said the planning services proposal allows for a planner to help navigate the redevelopment process and provide expertise in compliance issues that would occur if public subsidies are involved.
The city does not necessarily have to have a redevelopment proposal from Centrum Properties before engaging a firm, according to Eastman, though she said she has met with representatives of Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets, or PGAV, and would like to meet with Development Strategies.
However, Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel said the Crestwood Court Sears closing and the city’s budget are larger concerns than RFPs.
“In my opinion, there is no slack in the revenue budget this year,” Miguel said. “And it seems to me that … the issue of sales tax revenue and how we’re going to run the city and what we need to do should be the priority here.”
The closing of Crestwood Court’s Sears could affect the redevelopment process, but Eastman said it does not hurt to be prepared when a redevelopment proposal is presented. As of last week’s meeting, the city administrator had not received a response from Centrum Properties about the status of redevelopment plans.
“If we’re looking at another month just to get RFPs in and then a process by which you all approve them, now we’re talking about the end of February, possibly, before they’re even on board,” Eastman said.
Eastman said she asked city managers throughout the area which firms they have used, and two emerged because of being well-versed in Missouri law, PGAV and Development Strategies. She was told about other out-of-state planners, which she said makes their knowledge of Missouri redevelopment law “probably not as good as those found in state,” though she said she would send proposals to them.
Representatives of Centrum Properties have informally indicated they were open to discussing a preliminary funding agreement with the city to cover some of the city’s costs for legal and planning services.
Whether using an outside attorney or Golterman, the services would still need to be paid.
“We pay either way and whether or not those costs can be recouped in the preliminary funding agreement would be part of the negotiation,” Eastman said.
Ward 2 Alderman Steve Knarr’s motion stipulating the RFPs not be released until receiving a proposal from Centrum Properties was unanimously approved.
The RFP involving underwriting services states the city is seeking services “for public infrastructure revenue bonds, which are expected to be issued by the Crestwood Court special taxing districts in early 2012.”
The city anticipates using such tax tools as tax-increment financing, a community improvement district and/or a transportation development district “to pay for certain public improvements in and around the development,” according to the RFP.
“The special taxing districts will be authorized to issue notes to the developer in an amount to be determined to fund a portion of the public improvement costs associated with the project,” the RFP stated.
Eastman said other city managers and planners recommended three firms in the area that have done underwriting services.
Miguel said he was confused about the rush to issue RFPs, especially with Sears closing.
“To me, (the underwriting services RFP) is way down the line. That is not even close,” he said. “… To make reference here to issue an RFP or to even consider sending out an RFP for underwriting services at this time, it just doesn’t make sense to me,” Miguel said.
To a certain extent, Knarr said he agreed with Miguel, but the RFP work that has been done is worthwhile.
“I think if we want the city attorney to review these so that they’re ready to go when we’re ready to pull the trigger, I don’t think that’s time lost,” Knarr said, “but I don’t feel comfortable issuing these right now either.”
Golterman said the underwriting services proposal is based on Eastman’s belief that a proposal would come from Centrum Properties in the first quarter of 2012.
“If that belief still stands true, then I think that this a good time to begin this process,” Golterman said.
If the city does not receive a proposal in 2012, Golterman said the only risk is the RFP process will have to start over due to timeliness issues.
“There’s no real legal issue,” Golterman said. “I don’t see any downside legally in terms of putting the city in any kind of at-risk position.”
Knarr, who proposed the motion to hold off on releasing the RFPs until Centrum Properties proposes a development plan, said he thinks waiting to “pull the trigger” could generate interest from other firms.
“I think it might even stimulate more interest from some of these firms who may have experience in this area because they know we have a proposal being made instead of right now, where we don’t,” he said.
The motion passed unanimously.
Eastman proposed the RFP for employee benefits, brokerage and consulting services because she said there has been concern that bids have not been sent out for brokerage services for an extended length of time. The current health plan expires July 1, though the RFP would be for all employee benefits.
“Obviously, the medical is the big ticket item in this, and that’s the one that has us most concerned, but it’s a review of everything,” Eastman said.
Eastman said she could not find any documentation about the last time such an RFP had been issued by the city.
When Knarr asked if now would be the time to bring a broker on board, Eastman said there needs to be enough time to allow the employee benefits committee to review different policies and costs.
“There needs to be a fair amount of lead time. I’m nervous about it even as it is that we only have six months to get this accomplished,” Eastman said.
Knarr voiced concern about not being able to determine the date of the last negotiation and seeking proposals from various insurance companies.
“I would think this broker would want to know that,” Knarr said.
In response, Eastman said the RFP also would be sent to the current broker.
Knarr made the motion to perfect the RFP for employee benefits, brokerage and consulting services, which passed unanimously.