Crestwood TIF Commission starts meeting tonight on mall redevelopment

Developers are set to unveil redevelopment plan at meeting

The+empty+Crestwood+mall+site%2C+with+the+buildings+demolished+and+the+site+leveled%2C+as+seen+in+May+2019.+

Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer

The empty Crestwood mall site, with the buildings demolished and the site leveled, as seen in May 2019.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The new developers of the Crestwood mall site are wasting no time seeking new tax-increment financing for the 47-acre former Crestwood Plaza, with the latest version of the Crestwood TIF Commission kicking off what will be a series of meetings tonight.

The TIF Commission will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4 by videoconferencing. You can attend the meeting at the following link:

Attend the Crestwood TIF Commission

https://zoom.us/j/97976766351

 Meeting ID: 979 7676 6351 
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Two established St. Louis companies announced in December that they would be joining together to redevelop the site. Homebuilder McBride Homes plans to use roughly half the site for single-family homes and Dierbergs Market will use roughly half the site for a retail development anchored by one of its grocery stores.

City officials say they are confident that the latest plan will actually overcome the hurdles past projects couldn’t and be built at the site, and the speedy TIF Commission could be a sign that Dierbergs and McBride are wanting to move quickly.

The two companies have the land under contract from the current owner, Chicago-based UrbanStreet Group. In January, a McBride spokeswoman declined to say whether the companies have closed on the land but confirmed the project was moving forward.

After electing a chair and vice chair, the TIF Commission’s first order of business will be deciding how often to meet. The last TIF panel met weekly in person at the Crestwood Community Center, but this TIF panel will likely meet by videoconferencing. Crestwood is still holding its city meetings through Zoom.

The next step for the TIF Commission will be outlining the history of the mall site. Once an open-air mall that became the enclosed mall Crestwood Plaza that peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, the Crestwood mall site has had four developers in the seven years since its last store LensCrafters closed under then-owner Centrum in 2013. But the only one of those proposals that had a TIF Commission came two plans ago, under current owner UrbanStreet. In February 2016, the Crestwood TIF Commission voted, with some opposition from Lindbergh Schools’ two representatives on the panel, to grant the developer $25 million in tax-increment financing, a Community Improvement District sales tax and a Transportation Development District sales tax.

The Dierbergs/McBride plan has not yet been released publicly, but the developers will unveil the plan tonight to the TIF Commission, according to the agenda for the meeting.

“Recognizing that it’s the beating heart of Crestwood, we always wanted the mall site to have a certain energy,” said Simpson. “What that translated to from the city’s perspective was a mixed-use development — this project is going to have a place for people to shop, it’s going to have a place for people to dine and it’s going to have a place for people to live. Two developers working with one site to make this a vibrant project.”

Who is serving on the TIF Commission?

Members appointed by and representing Crestwood are former Mayor Gregg Roby, who was mayor when the previous 2016 TIF for UrbanStreet was approved; Mike Balles, who served on the last TIF panel; and Jim Zavist.

Lindbergh Schools will be represented by Superintendent Tony Lake and Chief Financial Officer Joël Cracchiolo.

St. Louis County will be represented by acting Planning Director Gail Choate, Stephanie Streeter, Andria Roberts, Paul Hampel, Kevin McKenna and Jay Nelson.

This will be the first TIF Commission that will meet from the beginning with appointees from St. Louis County Executive Sam Page. The other TIF Commission that has met under his tenure, the University City TIF Commission in 2019, was originally appointed by former County Executive Steve Stenger.

Stenger also appointed the county members to the 2016 Crestwood TIF Commission, some of whom like former Director of Planning Glenn Powers had sat on TIF panels around the county for decades. This time, some less familiar faces will be representing the county.

History of the site

Three plans to develop the site have been proposed and dropped in the last seven years. First, a plan from mall owner Centrum, based in Chicago, fell through when the city balked at tax-increment financing. UrbanStreet Group bought the former mall at auction and demolished it, while proposing a large mixed-use development for the newly leveled ground.

After UrbanStreet got a TIF but couldn’t sign up enough tenants, St. Louis-based Walpert tried a $300 million redevelopment called “Crestwood City Center” and signed up enough tenants to move to financing, but backed out earlier this year when financing fell through due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

TIF already exists at the site

The $25 million in existing tax incentives for UrbanStreet are attached to the property, not the owner, so the soon-to-be new owners already have subsidies in place.

However, Dierbergs and McBride will be seeking new tax incentives instead of keeping the current subsidies that include: $15 million in either a TIF or a Chapter 353 subsidy; $5 million in Community Improvement District funds; and $5 million in Transportation Development District funds.

“What we’re contemplating is a brand new set of incentives for the site that’s tailored for this project, we don’t have any specific details on the amount exactly or what the components are, that’s what we’ll be evaluating in the coming weeks and months, but we do know that the only incentives that are going to be TIF is going to apply to the grocery store and retail components, it’s not going to apply to the housing,” Simpson said.

Simpson points to two reasons for seeking a new TIF.

The TIF on the mall site was set for 23 years, with five years already ticked off the clock since the incentives went into effect in 2016, making them “less valuable, less useful,” the city administrator noted.

Second, the existing TIF covers the entire 47 acres, but both developers are on the same page with the city that a TIF should not apply to McBride’s subdivision, Simpson said: “Nobody wants the TIF to apply to the housing component of this. We all recognize that that would be taking money from the school district while adding a bunch of potential new students to the schools. And we don’t want that to happen. McBride didn’t want that to happen.”

Lindbergh welcomes new housing

The TIF became a major point of contention between Crestwood and Lindbergh Schools in 2016, when the school board unanimously approved a resolution against the TIF because it would apply to a 225-unit apartment complex that UrbanStreet wanted to build. The development would bring more children into the schools, which were overcrowded with surging enrollment at the time, while taking money away from the property taxes that would usually fund those schools, now-retired Superintendent Jim Simpson said. At that time, neither the city nor UrbanStreet talked with the school district or gave school officials the plan ahead of time, before it was released to the general public. The Crestwood TIF Commission approved the incentives despite the formal opposition of the school district.

This time, however, city officials and Mabie discussed the pending project with Lake before the announcement was made. Lindbergh is also less crowded since the opening of its seventh elementary school, Dressel Elementary, in August 2017.

In a statement to The Call, Lake said about the project, “We look forward to welcoming this new development to our school district, and especially the new families who will join our Lindbergh Schools community as a result. I also appreciate the ongoing conversations we’ve had with Mayor Mabie and Crestwood officials in recent years, which has allowed us to build a collaborative relationship that serves our community well.”