Crestwood mayor gave Westfield officials until end of summer to improve shopping center

Vote to hire mall consultant PGAV taken in closed session, Myers says

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson told Westfield officials that if the shopping-center giant did not form a strategy by this summer to improve the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, the city would take that responsibility.

Last week, Crestwood aldermen unanimously went forward with a move to seek requests from 82 developers to redevelop the struggling mall.

While the city’s administration has not ruled out any possibilities to redevelop the mall property, officials would consider an open-air, town-center style and are open to offering certain incentives to interested developers.

Within the request for development proposals, or RDP, sent to developers, city officials are open to using such economic-development tools as tax-increment financing, or TIF; a transportation-development district, or TDD; and a community-improvement district, or CID. The RDP also indicates that the city is open to using eminent domain to acquire the mall property from Westfield.

But Crestwood Economic and Community Development Manager Tryla Brown has said that while Westfield officials recognize the city’s need to issue an RDP, they would challenge condemnation of the mall property.

City Administrator Frank Myers said last week that aldermen voted in February during closed session to authorize the consulting firm of Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets to issue an RDP for the mall. While John Brancaglione of PGAV has said his services to develop the RDP will cost from $5,000 to $7,000, Myers has indicated that the city will likely have to pay $10,000 to $20,000 in upfront costs for a redevelopment plan of aldermen’s choosing.

Brancaglione has estimated that the mall’s redevelopment — which would be done in phases — will be a roughly $250 million project.

The Crestwood mall is the only shopping center in the St. Louis area that the Westfield Group still fully owns, and Westfield officials have indicated they are still trying to sell the Crestwood mall.

Robinson said during an Aug. 28 Board of Aldermen meeting that while he hopes that the RDP will motivate Westfield to develop a strategy of their own for the mall, it was clearly time for city officials to do the same.

“What we’re doing tonight is trying to encourage Westfield, who still owns the property, that the city is serious about moving forward,” Robinson said. “We have been told they’re going to do this. We have been told they’re going to do that. And they never come through with anything. And I will be honest with you. I gave them until the end of the summer to make sure they found or came to us or we were going to move forward to try to use what the city can do to be able to try to get someone in to redevelop that plaza. They said nothing.

“We had no contact other than our economic-development manager met with them and it was a lot of small talk, nothing of any importance. Because we are going to take action, or we are scheduled to take action tonight and as you people are going to be here to listen to it, we get a letter today at about four o’clock saying: ‘Could you delay this for two weeks?'”

As soon as Robinson mentioned Westfield’s request for delaying the RDP, the crowd groaned and some yelled, “No!”

“You are echoing what I said,” Robinson said. “I don’t know what the board’s going to do, but my advice to them is let’s move forward. We’re willing to work with Westfield if they’re still the owner. Or whoever they bring in wants to partner, we’re still with them. What we want to do is see some action and some movement going forward … The city can no longer appease those that want to delay, delay, delay. We have to move forward.”

In response to some residents’ concerns that the city would be more effective by using its own economic-development manager instead of PGAV to field proposals for redevelopment, Robinson said because PGAV is nationally known by developers, he believes the city would be wise to employ its services.

“When we discussed potential going out in our behind-the-door meetings that we have to try to see what legally we can do, PGAV is the one that has been involved in the city the longest,” he said. “… We need somebody that when the people get the document, whoever it is or the developer or whoever’s involved in it, they just don’t throw it in the trash can. They see it’s coming from corporate or people they know that really know what they’re doing. That makes a difference.”

Residents also expressed concerns about the conditions of not only the Crestwood mall, but the city’s entire business corridor.

“My question is do we have any say in the tenants and what these people put in?” Karen Rainey said. “… Right now, the bus-iness developments seem rather hodgepodge. We have three Mexican restaurants with the new little square that’s opened up and a fourth in Sunset Hills on Watson. We have four department stores, three in a failing mall. We have three grocery stores. I mean, why are these kind of developments stuck in the same spot? If Crestwood is going to improve, we need to decide who we would like to bring here …

“If we want new families to move into Crestwood, then where are all these services for families? Where’s the local day-care center? There’s not a day-care center in Crestwood … If you want to have empty nesters or give senior citizens in this area a place to downsize, where are the condos? Where are the villas? If you want to invite young professionals to live here, which I doubt is going to happen, where are the bars and the nightclubs? Crestwood really doesn’t want that. But all I want from the board is a plan, a direction. Something that can tell me this is where we want to go, this is the kind of place Crestwood’s going to be in five to 10 years. Because that’s going to tell me do I need to move elsewhere? … I just want a plan or some direction that Crestwood wants to have.”

“Hopefully, you will have a plan, and that’s what I’m trying to say tonight,” Robinson said. “The way we get the plan is to do exactly what this board’s been asked to do tonight to go out … You’ve got to realize we don’t have any say in what stores go into Westfield. We have no say on anything.”

“You have a say on a conditional-use permit,” Rainey said. “Just tonight …”

“We can’t deny it,” Robinson said. “We don’t deny a general business coming in this community unless it meets certain factors … I can just tell you, honestly, we are very limited in what we can direct … I think a lot of people believe this mayor and this board can go out there and tell these people what they’re going to do. We can’t do that.

“This is America. Not China, where the government tells you what you’re going to do. What we’ve tried to do is we look for people who are willing to invest in our community. They determine. And if they’re asking for your (taxing) tools to want to be able to come in, then, yes, we do have a little say. We can ask for different things. You can ask for different things. But unless that happens, we have no say in it.”

Resident Dan Barnidge said that besides pushing for redevelopment of the mall, city officials should focus on the entire Watson Road corridor.

“I realize you’ve done what you can to get more stores in,” Barnidge said. “I’m just saying that it’s, you know, the whole Watson corridor needs a lot of help. Pier One Imports is a big retailer and they were in a spot where nobody could get into the store. You could see it, but you couldn’t get there. Then, like (Rainey) was saying earlier, I would suggest or hope that Crestwood has a plan or somebody is trying to develop some kind of vision for the city.”

“Our vision is to stabilize our revenue sources so we maintain low taxes,” Robinson said. “I don’t think people in Crestwood really appreciate as much as they should — and I’m a taxpayer, too, and I hate to pay taxes. I guarantee you. I really don’t like to pay any of them. But we’ve got a heck of a deal here in the city of Crest-wood. Even our surrounding communities, they may say they’ve got a 6-cent sales tax or a residential tax over in Sunset Hills. But they’re not telling you that you have to pay, at the end, 96 cents per $100 (of assessed valuation) because you have to pay the fire district. We provide everything for 24 cents (per $100). After tonight, it’s 20 cents a $100. So you’re getting a heck of deal here.

“And what I’m trying to do and what the board’s trying to do is bring this city back together where we have decent, good retail outlets. And if we can redevelop that mall and stabilize it, you will see a 20-year period where this city will never have to worry about finances again. But we’ve got to move forward in order to get there. And I guarantee you that we can get there.”