By Erin Achenbach
Developers of the former Crestwood mall say that plans to redevelop the vacant site as “Crestwood City Center” have tripled in size to $300 million from the previous estimated $105 million, which would make it one of the largest developments St. Louis County has seen in decades.
And site plans for the new Crestwood City Center may be submitted to the Crestwood Planning and Zoning Commission by the end of the year, Creve Coeur-based Walpert Properties partner Kent Evans told the Crestwood Board of Aldermen Oct. 22 in the first significant update since the plans were unveiled last October.
The goal is to break ground on the site in 2020, Evans told the board. But he did not elaborate when asked when construction would start and how long it would last.
“We know everyone is very eager to know what is going on… We occasionally hear whispers through social media, people we talk to or in talking with the city administrator, mayor and aldermen and alderwomen about concerns your constituents have voiced that nothing is happening. This is not the case,” said Evans in prepared remarks to the board. “Substantial sums of money and time have been spent revising the plans and designs and testing out ideas to accommodate specific requirements of end users. Tremendous efforts have gone into creating the financial model to ensure the project is viable, properly funded and makes financial sense for all involved.”
Evans added that the redevelopment was not easy due to topographical challenges of the 47-acre former mall site at Watson and Sappington roads as well as economic challenges, making it “the most difficult project any of us have worked on, ever.”
“Taking a year to market and explore different options is not a very long period of time for any commercial real-estate development, much less developing a city center of this magnitude,” said Evans. “When completed, it will become one of the largest developments in St. Louis County in decades. Working the year, many opportunities have been explored… There have also been some unexpected delays, but unexpected delays are to be expected and are part of the process.”
Evans told the board that his company has current signed deals with multiple high-end, quality users and that there were many others with interest. But he stopped there, reasoning that releasing names could give competitors too much information.
Walpert has the property under contract from owner UrbanStreet Group, pending the signing of an anchor tenant. Like UrbanStreet, Walpart is primarily a residential apartment developer and hopes to incorporate living space onto the property.
“There’s a large pool of people looking for a lifestyle where the car can be left behind and life can be lived in modern homes without the responsibility of upkeep and maintenance,” said Evans. “A lot of what we’ve discovered is that there are many people who want to change their home and lifestyle and remain in the community but cannot because those housing options currently do not exist… An example of this is we kept hearing there was a very large demand for town homes and villas, however these are not high enough density to be feasible. We started exploring the possibility of condos.”
In a survey posted on the City Center’s Facebook page, 170 of the 500 recorded responses, mostly from Crestwood, said that they would be willing to put a deposit on a condo at the location.
Ward 4 Alderman Ismaine Ayouaz asked Evans if Walpert was going to seek additional tax incentives, since UrbanStreet had asked for $25 million in tax incentives. The tax-increment financing and other incentives already approved go along with the site.
“It’s going to be dependent on the type of users. It’s going to go up proportionally,” said Evans. “However, I think that the percentage to the overall cost should go down. We don’t have the exact answers for that…”
When asked by Mayor Grant Mabie and other members of the board if there was anything the city could help with to speed up the process, Evans said no.
“It’s all on us right now. We’re trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together so that they work,” Evans said, noting that the plan remained essentially the same as the one first unveiled last October: a high-density mixed-use development similar to the 28-acre boulevard-style development at “The Streets of St. Charles.” But now it will be larger.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, Kathryn Brandt, who lives on Greenview Drive behind the former mall site, requested more regular project updates and more transparency about what was going on with the development.
“I live directly behind the dirt pile… We were told we should be patient because they are working on it and I respect that but… right now there has been no progress and no information,” said Brandt, adding that the bulldozers moving dirt on the site behind her property cause her house to shake. “Honestly at this point, after a year of silence, I assumed they walked out like everyone else has. I think it would be in the best interest of this board and of the developer to do quarterly updates… Patience is great, but we’ve gone a long time now and we’re not getting regular updates… More information, a little more transparency would create a lot more patience from the public… The lack of communication just instills fear and confusion in the residents.”
The former Crestwood Plaza, later known as Crestwood Court, was the first regional mall in St. Louis when it opened in 1957. It transformed from an open-air to enclosed mall “where the big stores are” in the 1980s. It closed in 2013, and the building was demolished in 2017.