Crestwood commission updates plan for Watson Road Commercial District

Updated Watson Road plan removes Creston Center site

By BURKE WASSON

As Crestwood updates its Watson Road Commercial District Plan, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission recently agreed that certain properties be added to that plan and others dropped.

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Nov. 15 to drop Watson Plaza and the Creston Center from the city’s Watson Road Commercial District Plan.

The commission also identified the following areas as key properties for redevelopment on Watson Road — Jim Butler Chevrolet, the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, Crestwood Square, Value City and Sappington Square.

Economic Development Specialist Ellen Dailey told the commission that because Watson Plaza has been redeveloped and tax-increment financing was approved to repay developer G.J. Grewe Inc., that shopping center no longer has a need to be redeveloped.

“Watson Plaza was removed because that project is complete,” Dailey said to the commission. “The TIF is still in place, but the construction is complete, the bonds have been issued and it’s no longer an area that we expect development to occur on anytime soon.”

As for the Creston Center, Dailey told Planning and Zoning Commission members that the previously proposed residential development that was being studied near that area no longer is being considered.

Therefore, she recommended to the commission that the Creston Center be removed as a key property for redevelopment.

“The Value City and Creston Center together were two properties included in the previous 2005 amendment because of some anticipated redevelopment pressures,” she told the commission. “The city had an RFP (request for proposals) out at that time for a residential-redevelopment project. Those pressures and that redevelopment project is no longer being considered. It’s long since come and gone … We are recommending that the Creston Center be removed from the Watson Road Commercial District Plan as a key property area.”

Instead of studying the Creston Center and Watson Plaza for future redevelopment, the commercial district plan now designates new key properties, including land being vacated in 2007 by Jim Butler Chevrolet. That property previously was mentioned in the Watson Road Commercial District Plan, but had not been identified as a key property until now.

Brad Sowers of Jim Butler Chevrolet told the commission that leaving Crestwood is not the dealership’s preference, but rather one that has been handed down by General Motors and Chevrolet.

“Leaving Crestwood is not exciting to us,” Sowers said. “And I want to make sure everybody understands that we’re leaving because of General Motors and Chevrolet and their desire to get us out of the middle of two other dealerships — one in Kirkwood, one in south county. So they came to us and asked to move to Fenton. We’ve accepted that and we’ll make it formal actually in the next couple of weeks. Be that as it may, we want to work with the city of Crestwood and make sure that we provide the right tools and get this accomplished to bring retail development into the area and, of course, on the land that we own today. So we’re working with you and hope to do that in the future.”

“Would you anticipate that that property that you’re currently located on might in fact be acceptable as retail facility?” Ward 3 Alderman Gregg Roby asked Sowers.

“I do,” Sowers said. “I think it’s got excellent frontage. It’s a good location. The building itself, I just refurbished. I spent a half-million dollars two years ago. So it’s a good, solid structure if there is someone who wants to use that particular structure. But the land itself and the frontage that we have is also an opportunity for someone to tear down the infrastructure and build what they need to get that accomplished. So I think it’s an excellent location, and traffic has always been very good for us.”

Sowers added that Jim Butler Chevrolet hopes to have a new owner for its Crestwood site by the fall of 2007.

“We’ve had numerous people interested,” Sowers said. “But we haven’t brought a deal to the table. At that standpoint, and until we do, we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission also approved adding the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood as a key property.

The shopping center at Watson and Sappington roads previously had been included in the commercial district plan, but was not rated as a high priority.

The Westfield Corp. has not announced any future redevelopment projects at the mall since August 2005 — when plans for an AMC megaplex movie theater were revealed. No construction on that theater has begun since that announcement, and Westfield officials have declined to say when it might.

In May, Westfield corporate officials discussed selling the Crestwood mall to California-based Somera Capital Management, but those negotiations died.

Crestwood Square also has been added to the list of key properties in the Watson Road Commercial District plan. Gary Grewe, who owns Crestwood Square through his development firm G.J. Grewe Inc., recently asked the Board of Aldermen to approve a community-improvement district for the shopping center. The CID would include a one-cent sales tax for up to 20 years at Crestwood Square. The money from that additional sales tax would reimburse Grewe for up to $2 million in costs he will pay toward the proposed project, which includes an Ace Hardware.

Aldermen were scheduled to consider a first reading of that CID proposal Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Value City and and Sappington Square also were retained as key properties in the Watson Road Commercial District plan.

Other than key properties, the 2006 amendment for the plan calls for an expansion of the Watson Road Commercial District’s boundaries. The boundaries will now include the Crestwood Government Center, St. Elizabeth of Hungary Catholic Church, Crestwood Elementary School, the Sappington House National Park and Grant’s Trail.

Dailey told the commission that the reason for this expansion is to make the city eligible for more grant funding through the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council.

Because the city does not have a comprehensive land-use plan, the Watson Road Commercial District Plan will have to serve as a similar model, Dailey said.

“The purpose for including them in the plan is we hope to, in the future, apply for enhancement funds through East-West Gateway,” Dailey said. “And one of the requirements for meeting their criteria is that the property or the area that you’re looking to improve be included in the city’s comprehensive plan. And for now, this is what we have for our comprehensive plan. So if we can include basically institutional uses, the Government Center, churches, public schools, national historic sites and of course Grant’s Trail, that will add going to an application for enhancement funds.”