Crestwood preparing redevelopment request for Westfield mall

Dillard’s will leave Crestwood mall in October; mall up for sale

By BURKE WASSON

As the Westfield Group continues attempts to sell the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, city officials are preparing a request for the mall’s redevelopment.

City officials also are coping with Monday morning’s announcement that Dillard’s — one of the Crestwood mall’s three anchor stores — will close by Oct. 20.

Representatives with the store’s customer-service department confirmed the closure and said that its employees will “certainly” be given opportunities to transfer to another local Dillard’s store.

As for the city’s efforts to redevelop the mall, Economic and Community Development Manager Tryla Brown said last week that the request for redevelopment should be made public soon.

Brown said while the administration has not ruled out any possibilities to redevelop the mall area, officials would consider an open-air, town-center style and are open to offering certain incentives to interested developers.

“Putting out the request for redevelopment is, I believe, a good step on the side of the city in helping to promote the mall and the sale of the mall and showing that the city is going to back a developer — and not just anyone, but the right developer — in redeveloping the mall by being open to offering certain incentives,” Brown said.

Westfield officials last week announced the sale of four malls in the St. Louis area to CBL & Associates Properties Inc.

While Westfield sold the Chesterfield Mall outright to CBL, the company agreed to start a joint venture managed and controlled by CBL for the West County Center in Des Peres, the Mid Rivers Mall in St. Peters and the South County Center.

Officials from Westfield and CBL confirmed that the West County Center would likely be the first to see any changes.

The companies plan to build an open-air restaurant and bookstore space in the space left empty by the closing of anchor store Lord & Taylor.

As for Crestwood, Brown said she and city officials also would consider an open-air approach with the right developer after a request for proposals is finalized.

“People, it seems, don’t want to have to go to a mall and walk through the whole mall to get to where they want,” Brown said. “Time is a commodity nowadays with people working and working extra hours and both members of a household working.

“They like to go where they want and walk in directly to that store and not have to waste the time of walking through the whole mall. So I know open-air centers and open-air lifestyle centers are a very popular growing trend in the country. And that would be something that we would entertain.”

At the same time, Brown said city officials are not necessarily attached to an open-air approach and would consider several alternatives.

“We’re leaving it pretty open,” Brown said. “And the developers that will submit proposals are going to be able to submit what they feel would fit nicely into the area. Of course, we don’t want growth just for the sake of growth. We want smart growth or intelligent development, but something that will sustain. That is what we are looking for — something that won’t just be a passing fad, but something that will sustain the city.”

Sales-tax revenue at the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood has suffered a steady decline over the past several years.

Annual sales-tax revenue at the mall has dropped by an average of 13 percent per year for the past few years, according to a July financial presentation from City Administrator Frank Myers.

This is not the first time he has attempted to redevelop a struggling mall. As city manager of Trotwood, Ohio, from 1998 to 2004, Myers helped lead an effort that resulted in the city acquiring a shopping center and making improvements to the mall.

Myers said last week that while the administration has been working on a strategy for the Crestwood mall, any final decision rests with aldermen.

“Ultimately, the Board of Aldermen will have to decide how to proceed with the mall,” Myers said. “And the administration has been working on a strategy regarding that property. But that is a decision that ultimately will have to be made by the board at a public meeting.”

The Westfield Group previously came close to selling the Crestwood mall in May 2006 to California-based Somera Capital Management, but the sale was not completed. As Westfield tries to sell the Crest-wood mall, Brown said the city still is finding ways to bring more shoppers to the center.

“We are trying to create more of a sense of community with the mall, getting foot traffic and promoting events there to get more foot traffic and people out there,” Brown said. “Just like the no sales-tax weekend that we just had. It was very well received.

“Kohl’s was so busy, they actually had to park in the overflow parking lot on the back side. So it was a very, very good weekend … We’re hoping to create more occasions like that where people come out.”

City officials have also tried to track down leasing information at the shopping center to determine when tenants might be leaving and new vacancies will appear.

As of July, the mall had an estimated 39 vacancies — roughly one-third of the shopping center’s total retail space.

City officials said during the Board of Aldermen’s July 10 meeting that they have been uncertain of the expiration dates on leases for the mall’s three anchor stores — Dillard’s, Macy’s and Sears. But with Dillard’s Monday announcement that the Crestwood anchor will leave the mall, city officials soon will face that uncertainty along with a loss of key revenue.

Compounding that problem is West-field’s infrequent contact with Crestwood officials. Mayor Roy Robinson indicated in July that city officials have been prevented from talking with mall management about its leasing information.

“It would be nice to have more open communication with the owner of the mall, whoever that might be,” Brown said.

But in the meantime, Brown said that after a bit of a delay, city officials are focusing on preparing a request for the mall’s redevelopment.

“It was suspended or detained, I would say, for a period of time,” she said. “And now that is back on track and we are working on that and hope to have that out soon.”

Whether that plan includes an open-air center or a more traditional mall approach, Brown said the key is finding the right fit for Crestwood.

“Right now, we’re not really ruling out anything,” she said. “It just needs to be something that will be sustainable and will create a nice revenue base for the city … We would be open to anything that would be sustainable and be good for the city, whether that be redeveloping the mall as it is, creating more of an open-air center or establishing more big-box establishment in there.

“The city is doing everything possible to do what’s best for the economic development of Crestwood in regards to the mall.”