Crestwood board to hear Watson Plaza redevelopment proposal

By Mike Anthony

A preliminary redevelopment proposal for the Watson Plaza shopping center was scheduled to be presented to the Crestwood Board of Aldermen earlier this week.

Gary Grewe of G.J. Grewe Inc., principal property owner of Watson Plaza, was scheduled to present his preliminary redevelopment proposal to the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

In his Jan. 9 “Operations Report” to Mayor Jim Robertson and the Board of Aldermen, City Administrator Don Greer noted that city staff met last week with Grewe to discuss the redevelopment of Watson Plaza.

“Staff’s immediate reaction is positive with regard to the proposal and potential for redeveloping that location,” Greer stated in the report.

Watson Plaza is adjacent to the city’s Watson/Sappington Road Redevelopment Area where a Kohl’s Department Store opened last fall. The only piece of property not owned by G.J. Grewe in the Watson Plaza shopping center is the former Service Merchandise site. Service Merchandise filed for bankruptcy in 1999 and the rights to the Crestwood site are owned by Developers Diversified Realty, a real estate investment trust based in Cleveland, Ohio.

“Mr. Grewe has received a firm offer to acquire the Service Merchandise property from DDR and is asking for limited public assistance. He would like the opportunity to present his concept to the board,” Greer’s report stated.

G.J. Grewe previously had submitted a plan to redevelop Watson Plaza in response to a request for proposals issued by the city.

The Board of Aldermen had voted in December 2002 to issue a request for proposals to redevelop the plaza and one proposal was received by the Feb. 28 deadline — from G.J. Grewe. The proposal’s estimated cost of $12,527,025 included a request for $2.5 million in tax-increment financing assistance, but excluded the costs of bond issuance and the creation of a transportation development district to fund the actual costs of transportation improvements.

In June, the board voted to reopen for 60 days the request for proposals process to redevelop Watson Plaza after representatives of DDR told aldermen they had not received the request for proposals and asked that the process be reopened so DDR could submit a proposal.

However, at the end of the 60-day period, no additional proposals were received.

In September, the Board of Aldermen voted to establish a moratorium on redevelopment, ending consideration of G.J. Grewe’s redevelopment proposal for Watson Plaza.

“Consistent with the moratorium on aggressive redevelopment RFPs approved by the board, I have scheduled Mr. Grewe an opportunity to present his concept to the board under ‘Old Business,”’ Greer stated in his report. “As we have discussed relative to the defining (of) the RFP moratorium, the situation that presents itself is one of a property owner coming to the city with a proposal.”

After Grewe’s presentation, if aldermen decide they want to proceed with the redevelopment of Watson Plaza, they would have to vote to authorize the city administrator to issue a request for proposals to redevelop the shopping center.

In his report, Greer stated that the redevelopment concept proposed by G.J. Grewe would include “constructing a new Walgreens on the site of the former Tippin’s (restaurant), retenanting the Service Merchandise space, demolition and reconstruction of a 12,000-square-foot space for PETCO and the reconfiguration of the vacated former Walgreens’ space for Pier 1.

“Obviously, with the reduction in the property acquisition costs associated with the Service Merchandise property, the amount of any city participation can also be significantly reduced,” the city administrator stated in his report. “Additionally, Mr. Grewe has indicated that he is willing to structure any public/private partnership so that any risk resides with him and his ability to re-tenant the Service Merchandise space.

“Finally, Mr. Grewe has indicated that he would like to add his property into the existing Transportation Development District that encompasses Kohl’s and end the litigation associated with the cross-access issue with Kohl’s,” Greer stated.

The city and G.J. Grewe currently are involved in a legal dispute over the condemnation of a cross-access easement between Watson Plaza and the site of the new Kohl’s.

A July 2002 technical memorandum prepared for the city by the city’s planning consultant, John Brancaglione of Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets Inc., states that Watson Plaza, designated Redevelopment Project Area 1, would meet the criteria for designation as a TIF district.

“The center has become an economic liability given its outdated physical layout, excessive vacancies and declining contribution to the tax revenues of the city and ad valorem tax jurisdictions,” the memo stated, also noting, “In addition, our findings reveal that there are significant costs involved with the acquisition of property and the subsequent demolition of structures in RPA 1 …”

In a separate matter Tuesday, two representatives of the Missouri State Auditor’s Office were scheduled to give a brief presentation to the Board of Aldermen about the upcoming petition audit of the city’s finances.

Kelley Isherwood of Oakville, chairman of the Crestwood Smart Growth Alliance, told aldermen Oct. 28 that his organization had collected more than 1,100 signatures on a petition requesting a state audit.

In November, the city received a letter from the State Auditor’s Office that stated a petition containing 1,130 signatures had been submitted requesting a state audit, and 739 signatures were needed to trigger such an audit.

“The St. Louis County Election Board has certified that 1,020 signatures submitted are signatures of registered, resident voters,” Director of Local Government Audits Thomas J. Kremer stated in the letter. “These signatures meet the requirement for a petition audit of the city of Crestwood. We will be contacting you before we begin the audit to discuss our procedures for the audit and any questions you may have.”

In his Jan. 9 “Operations Report,” Greer noted that he had spoken with Debbie Lewis of the State Auditor’s Office last week.

“She and the ‘in-charge’ auditor, Mr. Carl Zilch, will be in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting for a brief presentation on the petition audit process and time frame. Their presentation has been added under ‘Communications’ and they will be addressing questions from the board.

“It appears from our discussion that the state petition audit will, in fact, cover the fiscal year ending June 30, 2003,” Greer continued. “Their field work is scheduled to begin prior to the close of our independent audit for the same period.”