Crestwood officials confirm pending sale of shopping center

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood officials for the past several months have ex-pressed their desire to pump up business at the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood.

Now that those same city officials have confirmed the pending sale of the mall, they can only hope that its new owner will restore its profits.

Mayor Roy Robinson confirmed April 27 that the Westfield Corp. is on the verge of selling the mall at Watson and Sappington roads to Somera Capital Management, a real estate investment firm based in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Calif.

City officials believe that the deal is part of a two-tiered approach that also involves the company selling Westfield Northwest in St. Ann to Somera. Westfield spokesmen have informed Crestwood representatives that while the deal is expected to be finalized in the next six months, it could be much sooner.

Westfield representatives declined to comment to the Call about the pending sale, and Somera Regional Mall Division Vice President Michael Miller said that because both malls still are owned by Westfield, he cannot provide any details of the pending agreement.

Although there have been no dollar amounts released to the public concerning the pending deal, Somera’s Web site at www.someracapital.com indicates that company criteria require that a regional mall must be valued at more than $30 million for the company to buy it.

Westfield originally paid $106.4 million to acquire the 1.3-million-square-foot mall in 1998 from Crestwood Plaza Shopping Center, a subsidiary of Hycel Properties. Westfield purchased the property at that time under the name Westfield America.

Westfield is an Australian-based company with interests in 127 shopping centers in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

While no monetary figures or timeframe on the new contract’s completion are being shared yet, Robinson said a Westfield representative told him Friday that the deal will likely happen.

The mayor said from all indications that he and city staff members have studied, Somera appears to be a quality organization. City employees have learned that the company has a history of buying underperforming shopping centers like Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, restoring their revenue and then selling them to make an additional profit.

If such a chain of events were to happen with the mall in Crestwood, Robinson said he would have no objections.

“It appears where they have gone, they’ve built them up where if they’ve sold them, they’ve made a nice profit or they’ve kept them,” Robinson said about Somera. “That’s a good sign to me because that means in order to make an additional profit, they’re going to have to do some major things there to make that mall more profitable.”

Some of those “major things” that Westfield representatives have hinted in the past for the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood included a “redevelopment plan which will integrate fresh new lifestyle and entertainment elements with the existing quality retailers at the center,” according to a new release issued last summer. That same release included an announcement by Westfield and AMC Entertainment Inc. officials of plans for a new megaplex AMC Theater to be built at the front of the shopping center near Watson Road.

Robinson said he is optimistic that Somera will have similar solutions to make the mall more viable.

To become acquainted with the corporation that soon may purchase Crestwood’s major shopping center, Robinson will accompany City Administrator Frank Myers and Economic Development Specialist Ellen Dailey this month to the International Council of Shopping Centers convention, “Breaking New Ground,” in Las Vegas.

Miller said Friday that Somera representatives also will attend the convention, which is the site where Robinson said city representatives plan to meet with corporate officials from both Westfield and Somera.

“And also while I’m there, we plan on meeting as many retail people as we can to see if we can get any of them to come to Crestwood,” Robinson said. “It’s a new venture for us, but it’s something I’ve been told and I believe it gives us an opportunity to meet with these people. This is supposedly where they make their decisions. The only reason I’ve been told I’m going or that I should go — with the mayor there, it gives them more confidence that the city really wants them and they’ll know who they’re dealing with. I don’t know what’s going to come out of this. I’m just hoping it’s a worthwhile trip. I believe it is and I’m hoping we get some good results. It’s something we’ve never done before.”

Dailey also expressed the desire to attract more commercial retailers to the entire Watson Road area and hopes to accomplish that at the convention. She said the city currently is in the process of setting up appointments in Las Vegas with several businesses.

“The entire Watson corridor is important to us,” Dailey said. “And we’re looking closely. We want to be of assistance to existing property owners and people who are working full-time doing leasing and brokering deals for Watson Road. So we’re trying to coordinate our efforts with theirs.”

Robinson, Dailey and Myers are scheduled to fly to Las Vegas the night of Sunday, May 21, and talk with retail owners and distributors Monday, May 22, at the convention. They are then scheduled to fly out of Las Vegas the morning of Tuesday, May 23, to report their work at the convention during that evening’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

Myers previously said the total cost of the trip to Las Vegas would be roughly just less than $3,000 to the city. But he has reiterated that he and the rest of city staff still are mindful of spending by allowing the three to attend only one day of the four-day convention. He has also attended the annual group convention in years past and said the conference has been instrumental to cities he previously served to attract more retailers.

In the meantime, Robinson said he would pay attention to the pending sale of the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood and remains optimistic that it will help bring some extra cash into the city’s budget. Should the deal suddenly fall through before it’s finalized, the mayor said he would still be willing to work with Westfield.

“Based on what I was told, it might be better for the community,” Robinson said. “Because if somebody else is interested enough to purchase that mall, they most certainly want to make money. And by making money, you have to do something to bring the dollars in. I’m hopeful either way. If Westfield stays, I hope they do something as they promised to do. If they don’t, I hope the new people also help us.

“We’re not disappointed based on our review of what’s happening. I think you can tell that we’re willing to work with anybody. It doesn’t make any difference as long as they’re willing to make it a better place.”