Crestwood officials uncertain of Westfield mall’s condition

New economic-development manager hopes to ‘force’ response out of Westfield

By BURKE WASSON

While Crestwood officials realize that the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood is key to the city’s economic stability, they also are uncertain of the mall’s condition.

To get a better handle on the state of the mall, city officials hope to track down leasing information at the shopping center to determine when tenants might be leaving and new vacancies will appear. As of Friday morning, the mall had roughly 39 vacancies — roughly one-third of the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood’s total retail space.

City officials said during a Board of Aldermen meeting earlier this month that they are uncertain about the expiration dates on leases for the mall’s three anchor stores — Dillard’s, Macy’s and Sears.

While he said the city has been told through a third party that Macy’s is on a month-to-month lease at the mall, City Administrator Frank Myers informed aldermen that newly hired Economic and Community Development Manager Tryla Brown is trying to track down that leasing information.

But Brown said that because talks between the city and Westfield currently are on hold, she said she would not have much information on the mall for an estimated 30 days after the Board of Aldermen’s July 10 meeting.

“Since I started working here, I have made a few visits to the mall speaking with the tenants there, finding what all of their feelings are and what they would like to see happen and answering some questions for them,” Brown said. “I’ve also attempted to contact Westfield in hopes to set up some meetings with them to see if we could try to work on some … at least put out some mandates to put on there for short term until we can figure something out in the long term.

“They’ve told us, though, that they will not meet with me for 30 days and call me back in 30 days because they have things going on that they’re not privy, or we’re not privy to, right now.”

Attempts last week by the Call to contact Westfield officials also were unsuccessful.

Myers earlier this year indicated that city officials had planned to meet with Westfield representatives to discuss strategies to enhance the mall.

“We consulted with several individuals in the St. Louis area that had expertise in assisting cities with the development of such strategies,” Myers said at a March strategic-planning rally at the Crestwood Government Center. “After that consultation, the city has decided upon moving forward with one of those strategies. And city officials will be meeting with Westfield officials in the next several weeks to present that to them, get their reaction. Based upon their reaction, that strategy will either be modified or publicly announced.”

Four months later, neither city officials nor Westfield officials have announced any strategies to revitalize the mall.

But Brown said July 10 that she and city officials are trying to take a proactive approach with Westfield and hope to “force” a response out of the corporation.

“That will at least force Westfield to do something, to react in some way,” Brown said. “And also it will show that the city is supporting the efforts of doing something positive with the mall.”

Board President Gregg Roby of Ward 3 said in light of the administration’s recent projections that the city will lose $3.7 million in its three major funds between now and 2011, he also would like to develop a proactive plan for the mall as well as the city’s overall finances.

Being that the projected $3.7 million loss comes with the assumption that the mall will still be at its current operational condition by the end of 2011, Roby said such plans are even more imperative.

“I think that projections and numbers are great, but they’re just that,” Roby said. “They’re projecting that the mall’s going to be open and fully doing business for another two, three, four, five, 10, 20 years. That’s an assumption, and we can’t assume that.

“And I think any citizen here who’s walking through the mall with their eyes open has seen that there are businesses that have left. I think we just lost Bissinger’s Chocolate. And they were a mainstay, an anchor at that corner up at Dillard’s. So I think projections are great, but I think we need to be realistic. We need to be making plans and attempting to find potential solutions to potential problems.”

After previously coming close to selling the mall in May 2006, the Westfield Group again amped up those efforts this year.

Former Economic Development Specialist Ellen Dailey said in January that Westfield officials were in discussions with companies interested in either partnering with Westfield or purchasing the mall.

California-based Somera Capital Management was interested in purchasing the mall in May 2006, but the sale was never completed.

Mayor Roy Robinson previously said he was informed that Somera opted out of the purchase of the Crestwood mall last spring because of media coverage of the sale and letters concerning the proposed sale mailed to mall businesses by Westfield.

Dailey added that the nixed deal in May 2006 was at least partly caused by a miscommunication in Westfield’s corporate U.S. headquarters in Los Angeles, Calif.

The Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood’s assessed valuation is $31,012,190. Last year, it was $28,765,700.

But before the city can make any plans tailored to the mall or prepare for any potential sale, city officials are attempting to track down leasing information. Mayor Roy Robinson said July 10 that because city officials are prevented from talking with Westfield management about that information, the job is that much more difficult.

“We have what we refer to as three anchors — Dillard’s, Sears and Macy’s,” Ward 1 Alderman Mac McGee said. “Does anybody know when those three anchors’ leases expire? As I remember, they said Macy’s is month to month. Am I correct or misunderstood?”

“Well, that’s what we’re told,” Mayor Roy Robinson said. “We don’t know for sure.”

“I think one of the things that our economic-development manager hopes to get through the county when she looks at these properties, these vacancies, is also when leases are up,” Myers said. “So that through this county system … we have a much better tracking of not just vacant spaces, but who’s coming into our community, what types of retail and what types of retailers’ leases are coming up so we can approach them and talk to them about those leases coming up.”

“So we don’t know when the leases are up on Dillard’s or Sears?” McGee said.

“We know what we’ve been told,” Myers said. “And that has come from a third party. And I think it comes from a pretty reliable source, some of the information we have. But we have not been told by Westfield or Dillard’s or Macy’s.”

“In fact, we’re not allowed to talk to Dillard’s and Sears,” the mayor said. “That would be infringing on Westfield’s property.

“So it’s not something you can just go talk to people about. That’s the reason why we don’t do it,” the mayor added.

“You say that like it’s the law,” McGee said.

“It is,” Robinson said. “It’s infringing on their business … They are not allowed to state and we’re not allowed to ask them. So you’ve just got to realize you just don’t walk into somebody’s house and tell them: ‘I want to see your bathroom.'”

“But it’s true we know about Macy’s, don’t we?” McGee said. “We know about Macy’s is month to month.”

“Well, that’s what we’ve been told,” Robinson said. “We don’t know if that’s true or not.”

“What about their manager over there?” McGee said.

“The manager can’t tell you,” Robinson said.

“Well, he’ll tell you something,” McGee said. “Whether it’s true or not.”