Crestwood planner tells panel he’s puzzled by lack of development at mall location

By Mike Anthony
Executive Editor
news1@callnewspapers.com

A planning consultant for the city of Crestwood said that he’s puzzled about the lack of activity at the former Crestwood Plaza location, as the owner had all the right ingredients in place for the site’s redevelopment.
Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets Vice President John Brancaglione served as the city’s planning consultant to evaluate the mall owner’s request for economic assistance to redevelop the 47-acre site at Watson and Sappington Roads.
Brancaglione told the city’s Economic Development Commission last week that UrbanStreet Group of Chicago’s plan to redevelop the former Crestwood Plaza site had all the right pieces — high-density residential, some entertainment, some retail and office space. And he predicted that activity soon would be underway there.
Brancaglione’s remarks about the former mall site were made during a presentation outlining his vision of the future of the retail industry.
UrbanStreet purchased the 47-acre mall site at Watson and Sappington roads for $2.265 million in May 2014.
The Board of Aldermen’s approval of the project in March 2016 included $25 million in tax incentives for UrbanStreet: $15 million in tax-increment financing assistance or a Chapter 353 tax abatement; $5 million in Community Improvement District funds; and $5 million in Transportation Development District funds.
Bob Burk, UrbanStreet managing partner, told the city’s Tax-Increment Financing Commission in December 2015 that no commitments from potential retail tenants for the proposed redevelopment could be secured until economic assistance was granted for the project.
The agreement with UrbanStreet included a concept site plan that calls for the developer to construct “at least 200,000 gross leasable square feet of space accommodating retail tenants …”
UrbanStreet also proposes a 225-unit apartment complex currently envisioned as senior housing and 11 to 13 acres of open space and community gardens for the site.
Of UrbanStreet, Brancaglione said, “In your case, you had somebody come who had a plan that the components of which made sense. I can’t tell you why it hasn’t happened or it’s taken way longer than it should have, but I suppose we’ll see where that goes. And the markets and the people who finance this stuff are looking way more carefully than they ever have in the past in terms of considering financing for any kind of development that has a significant retail component.”
In response to a question from commission member Greg Hall about why UrbanStreet’s redevelopment of the mall is moving so slowly, he said, “… They are a very successful Chicago-area developer. That’s how I know about them because Chicago’s been a longtime client. I think No. 1, they jumped into something with a Chicago mentality and you can’t think Chicago in St. Louis. That doesn’t work. It’s maybe a function of what they think they can get for the property or rent or whatever, as opposed to what this market will support. I don’t know. Everyone who’s said anything to me about them (said), ‘Boy, they’re difficult.’ Now, I don’t know whether that’s true or not.
“… I can’t speak for Mr. Burk or his company, but I can’t imagine you can sit on the investment that they have in that at this point, assuming they’ve paid the contractors. You can’t sit on that investment and not be trying to do something and do it fairly quickly. Now, they had a big challenge in demolition there — big, really big.”
Regarding the piles of dirt there, he said, “The more they can get that site closer to the elevation of Watson Road, the more attractive it becomes.”
Crestwood City Planner Adam Jones said, “I would wager an educated guess that UrbanStreet has about $18 million in liability at the site, a little bit more than that — money that they’ve invested in the site. I would think that they have an interest in wanting to work with Crestwood, but given the site plan that we’ve seen in the past, again, using statements that this commission’s made in the past and what we’ve all seen, they’re adapting a 1990s, 1980s philosophy to a 2010-2020 world, where they’re waiting for a big-box anchor that will settle approximately 30 percent of the site, bring along secondary and tertiary uses, which they probably have.
“They probably have those sitting in the woods right now, ready to sign, but they can’t get their main anchor signed, OK? So what I hear from Mr. Brancaglione … if you apply that to a corridor and not just an epicenter any more, you’ve got these old towns or you’ve got these epicenters of activity that when they fail, these big-box stores around them no longer have the ADT, or average daily trips, to rely on the traffic uses that they once had. And so those retail uses also begin to fail.”
Brancaglione said, “ADT comes with development. It’s almost like chicken or egg. The original components of their plan, UrbanStreet’s plan, were the right pieces. You had high-density residential. You had some entertainment uses. You had some retail.
“And the original site plan included an office building that was a very real prospect. Because of a merger scenario, that’s probably why that building didn’t happen … It was a legitimate scenario …,” he said, citing office space at Northwest Plaza as one factor contributing to the rebirth of that shopping center.
But Brancaglione predicted something will happen soon at the mall site.
“… That company cannot sit on that very much longer. I think you’re going to start to see some activity,” he said.
Resident John O’Fallon Bell told the commission that as time goes by, he’s not really convinced that UrbanStreet is a developer.
“I think they’re land speculators and I really think the analogy is not unlike being a house flipper, in that they’re looking to take a smaller margin on a transaction rather than making a bona fide, good-faith commitment in coming up with a comprehensive, well-integrated plan for this site …,” he said.
He also contended that UrbanStreet’s plan is not viable.
“It’s just not going to work, and it remains to be seen what they come up with. It’s not even the spatial relationships, but it’s the mixed use that they’re proposing,” he said. “And I think it’s going to be very, very fascinating to see what they finally come up with because to one extent I think they’re really of two minds in that they’re saying they want to do something there, but then they have Sansone (Group) that’s got the property up for sale …”