Crestwood mall plans may not be unveiled before Aug. 5 tax vote

Mayor remains optimistic voters will back tax hike

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson now is uncertain if plans to redevelop the city’s mall will be made public by Aug. 5 when voters will consider a proposed tax-rate increase that would provide additional revenue during the mall’s redevelopment.

Additionally, Crestwood Court’s new owners have in-formed city officials that they won’t attend the June 24 Board of Aldermen meeting and have yet to decide a date to unveil their plans.

Robinson said last week while he hopes the redevelopment plans soon will be released to the public, he also is excited about the new owners’ proposal, which he has privately seen.

“I have now seen the plans,” Robinson said at last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting. “I can only tell you this. Only one word describes it — phenomenal. It is unbelievable. Words could never describe it. And I can’t describe it because they told me not to divulge what it was. But I can tell you that it is unbelievable what’s going to happen for Crestwood …

“The guy said to me: ‘I think this is going to knock your socks off.’ And when they called me about what date was firm, I said to them: ‘You can tell him it did knock my socks off and I’m still barefooted.’ It is absolutely unbelievable.”

But three days after that board meeting, during which Robinson said the mall’s new owners would attend the board’s June 24 meeting, the mayor said that due to the owners’ “ongoing negotiations” with prospective tenants, they have been advised to keep those plans private.

“The negotiations are still going and they’ve been told not to go,” Robinson said. “They are supposedly coming to see me, and we may have a couple aldermen there to get an idea of what’s going on.”

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.

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 components 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 redeveloped shopping center will be 500,000 to 1 million square feet.

Because of the hit that the city will see in property-tax revenue from the mall’s $88.5 million drop in sales price from 1998 to 2008 as well as a 12-percent drop in sales-tax revenue from early 2007 to early 2008 that city officials believe will only increase during the mall redevelopment’s phases, city officials have asked voters to approve a tax-rate increase on Aug. 5.

Aldermen voted 7-1 in May to place a tax-rate increase of 35 cents per $100 of assessed value on the Aug. 5 ballot.

Coupled with sinking revenues and rising expenses, city officials believe a property-tax increase is needed. The measure would generate an estimated $1,130,528 per year.

For an owner of a $200,000 home, the tax-rate increase would cost $133 per year, or roughly $11 per month.

A presentation of city finances at an April 30 town-hall meeting showed that while officials had budgeted $12,676,109 for city services in 2008, they believe that “the city may not have enough revenue to cover those expenditures.”

Officials have not projected the city’s overall revenues and expenses for 2009 and beyond, but fear that continued drops in revenue as well as rising costs for services will hurt the city’s finances.

Robinson has estimated that the city currently has from $3.5 million to $4 million in cash on hand, which he has said is “$2 million less in cash on hand” than the city had at the end of 2007 due to some one-time expenditures as well as a decline in revenue.

If the mall’s new owners allow their redevelopment plans to be public, Robinson said at last week’s board meeting that he believes those plans would further persuade residents to support the 35-cent tax-rate increase.

“If they can turn down this city when we have told them what this is for is to help us through the redevelopment phase, I would be astounded that they would turn that down,” Robinson said. “… I cannot even surmise that anyone when they see what’s coming that’s going to help the city for the next 20 to 25 years, they’d have to have to rocks in their heads to turn it down. Just hang in there with us. I think your jaw will be open when you see it.”

But after hearing later that week that the mall’s owners might not be able to release those plans, the mayor is “hopeful” that he perhaps might be able to report his impressions on the redevelopment without releasing specific details.

The mayor added that part of the reason why Centrum managing partner Sol Barket pulled out of a public meeting is because his company simply can’t release many details until their negotiations with prospective tenants are done.

“He was a little worried about it when we told him we want to introduce him to the public,” Robinson said. “… You know how people are. They’ll start asking all the specific questions about everything. Then it becomes a ‘They won’t tell us about what’s going on’ and all this stuff. Until they cross all the T’s and dot all the I’s, he doesn’t want to be personally giving out any of that information.

“The thing about it is we’ve got a couple aldermen — who even if they were told that — would continue to press … We’ve probably got a couple of them who would just keep on talking about anything that would try to screw it up.”

And even if the redevelopment plans are not made public by Aug. 5, the mayor still is optimistic that voters will support the proposed tax-rate increase because it will help keep the city’s finances “stable.”

“None of us, including me, are overjoyed to pay any additional tax,” Robinson said. “But the thing about it is it is for the right reasons … We’re just trying to make sure we stay stable while this economy is shifting and then also stay stable while (the mall) is in its redevelopment phase and not knowing how many stores or whatever’s leaving that area.

“Some won’t want to stay because of dirt and dust and all that, which there will probably be some. But I think as long as they have that shielded off so people can get there conveniently, the people will still enjoy shopping at the present mall,” the mayor added.