Crestwood board rejects RFP for planner to assist with mall

Alderman urges board to discuss issuing an RFP seeking new developer for mall

By Kari Williams

Forward motion on the proposed redevelopment of Crestwood Court stalled last week when the city’s Board of Aldermen voted 5-3 against issuing a request for proposals for a planning services consultant.

The board’s vote came after some residents expressed caution about proceeding with Centrum Properties’ current redevelopment proposal for the mall.

Ward 1 Alderman Darryl Wallach made a motion Sept. 27 to issue the request for proposals, or RFP, with a Nov. 8 deadline.

Ward 1 Aldermen Richard Breeding and Wallach and Ward 2 Alderman Mary Stadter voted in favor of the motion.

Opposed were board President Tim Trueblood of Ward 2, Ward 3 Aldermen Paul Duchild and Bill Boston and Ward 4 Aldermen Dan Tennessen and Mike Tsichlis.

The board voted 5-3 to have City Administrator Mark Sime draft the revised RFP at its previous meeting.

In September 2012, aldermen voted to select Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets, or PGAV, as the city’s planning consultant for the mall redevelopment. PGAV completed a preliminary analysis of the mall property, but withdrew its proposal in July after an ordinance approving a more comprehensive study was rejected for a third time by the board.

Wallach told the board last week that he believes the city needs a planning consultant “on board.”

“I think Centrum gets where the initial proposal that was provided to us — to the board — was not going to be successful,” he said. “I think they’re going to have to come back, refine their proposal and I’m just saying to (the) board here, let’s be proactive. Let’s go ahead and retain a planner/consultant and be ready for them when they do come back …”

The failed motion occurred after Mayor Jeff Schlink expressed agreement with people who spoke in opposition to Centrum’s current redevelopment plan. Centrum, the mall’s owner along with Angelo, Gordon & Co., has proposed an open-air entertainment and retail complex with restaurants, a movie theater, an upscale bowling venue and retail shops.

As proposed, Centrum’s 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.

Schlink said his support of issuing an RFP for planning services “by no means is an endorsement for the current plan that’s on the table.”

“The bottom line to me is that whether we agree with the plan or we don’t agree with the plan, it’s best to have a complete analysis of the plan done,” he said.

Resident Virginia Ashpole told the board she does not believe proceeding with planning will help if Centrum has not submitted a new proposal. She also questioned if Centrum “has made any indication” they would bring a new redevelopment proposal to the board.

“(The) original plan to put in another grocery store and another bowling alley just, to me, is not something that our community is crying out for and is not likely to be a long term viable solution,” Ashpole said.

Additionally, the approval of a Super Wal-Mart in Shrewsbury, according to Schlink, is a “very significant factor” that has emerged since Centrum initially submitted its proposal. Schlink said he would support a planner looking at the impact of that development.

“If the primary revenue driver of the District at Crestwood, if that was going to be grocery — that grocery, somehow, in my opinion, would have to be impacted by a Super Wal-Mart going in down the street …,” he said.

Schlink said Centrum has not “officially modified” its proposal, despite “conversation of it being modified.”

The only suggestion from the city that Centrum has moved on, according to Schlink, is conducting an environmental study on the mall property. However, Schlink said suggestions given to Centrum did not have the board’s unanimous support.

“By no means was it our version of a plan or a way to modify the current proposal that’s out there,” Schlink said.

But Trueblood said he has not seen in writing that Centrum’s proposal is “back on the table.”

“I have in writing that they withdrew it. I understand that the idea is to have this (planning services) company in our ammo belt ready to pull out and use …,” he said. “There’s been no change … We’ve already told them what the issues were with the original proposal and they’ve ignored it. So I’m confused as to why they’re saying we’ve got to have a planner to do that when we’ve told them face to face. Why do we need a third party involved in that?”

Lemay Township Republican Committeewoman Teresa Douglas told the board she found an article from the Chicago Real Estate Daily that discussed a wrongful termination suit against Centrum in which a former employee was awarded $11.5 million in 2008.

The newspaper also reported that a new lawsuit filed by the former employee alleges the owners of Centrum Properties shifted their assets to Centrum Partners to avoid paying the settlement.

Douglas said that information “begs to the question the integrity of the company” and its financial stability.

But Tennessen said if people are going to “compare Centrum in terms of their integrity and quality of their business,” its competitors should be reviewed as well.

“I think you need to look at what’s happened since 2008. The real estate industry is a mess,” he said. “There’ve been many bankruptcies and there will probably be many lawsuits in the future, much less in the past …”

Tsichlis questioned whether vetting for the financial wherewithal of a company is included in an RFP. Sime said to his knowledge it is “typically not included.” However, Schlink said he would “support that 100 percent.”

Resident Jennifer Bird, who serves as the Gravois Township Republican committeewoman, told the board that based on feedback from PGAV, she does not believe a new planner “at this juncture is going to make any difference whatsoever.”

“If Centrum is not willing to adjust their concept in response to the issues, then what guarantee does the city have that Centrum is going to suddenly realize that it needs to submit a revised plan, so what would be the point of having a planner?” Bird said.

Trueblood also recommended the board discuss issuing an RFP for a new developer at its next meeting. Schlink said City Attorney Lisa Stump will check to make sure there are no legal issues with doing that.

Centrum spokesperson Rebecca Hawkinson declined to comment on statements made at last week’s meeting.