Crestwood’s mall holds memories for developer

Old-style mall concept just not a viable option, Barket says

By Mike Anthony

Crestwood Plaza was the mall of choice for Sol Barket and his family when he was growing up in the Kirkwood-Ladue area.

Barket, of Centrum Properties, unveiled his company’s preliminary plans to redevelop the mall, now called Crestwood Court, during last week’s Crestwood Board of Aldermen meeting.

“… This was the mall of choice for my family, not just because of what was in the mall, but because of the convenience and the fact that … on a regular basis, at least once, if not twice a week, we would go from the Kirkwood-Ladue area over to visit grandparents and whatnot and frequent this mall. So it was always our mall,” Barket told aldermen June 12.

“When I think back to my roots and my time in St. Louis, the memories in terms of any shopping experience was always the Crestwood mall. So just over about four years ago, my brother Keith called me and said, ‘Hey, are you guys looking at the Crestwood offering? We just have to buy it and we have to redevelop it into something very special,”‘ Barket said.

Barket’s late brother, Keith, served as the global head of Angelo, Gordon & Co., a New York City-based real-estate group.

Centrum Properties and Angelo, Gordon & Co. bought the mall from the Westfield Group in March 2008 with the goal of redeveloping it, but plans to do so have been on hold due to the economy.

When Crestwood Plaza opened in 1957 as an open-air mall, it was the first major mall in the metro area and the only one to feature more than one department store.

The mall was enclosed in 1984.

In its heyday, the Crestwood mall had more than 1 million square feet of retail space with three anchor stores — Dillard’s, Macy’s and Sears. With Sears’ decision in late December to close its Crestwood location, none of the anchors remain.

Macy’s closed its doors in April 2009 and Dillard’s closed in 2007.

Barket noted that retail trends have changed and the concept of the old Crestwood mall no longer is viable.

That is why Centrum is proposing to redevelop Crestwood Court into an open-air venue focusing on entertainment, dining, retail and the arts.

“… The concept of a million-square-foot retail mall, similar to what we had, is simply not viable and so for us to try to do something with entertainment, with the art community, it’s really not viable for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “What we’re trying to do really does not dictate recreating a million square feet …

“Originally, we did look at reusing the mall. We looked at taking off the roof and keeping both sides of it and bringing in all kinds of creative uses and keeping a similar format, but converting it to an open-air center. We would struggle. I think the city would struggle with the project half leased. You want synergy. You want hype, and you want people to be successful …”

The downturn of the Crestwood shopping center had nothing to with Crestwood as a community, Barket said.

“… In fact, the strength of this community and your surrounding neighbors was the only thing that kept the mall alive for as long as it was alive,” he said. “Crestwood was simply the victim of mass transportation and a shift in the environment of retail thinking and development. Most major malls sit at the crossroads of major expressways, which make them more visible and more accessible to the masses.

“Although South County and West County, those malls held this advantage for so long, Crestwood still held its own for many, many years only because of the strength and the loyalty of this community …,” Barket added.

A shift in retail thinking and the expansion of the West County and South County malls ultimately secured the fate of the Crestwood mall, he said.

At one point, Barket thanked former Mayor Roy Robinson and current Mayor Jeff Schlink for inspiring “us to keep our focus and to stay true to this project …”

“… The only reason why we’re here today is because we unveiled this at the ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers) convention … The response was not lukewarm. It was not average. It was better than average,” he said. “And so because of that, we felt like, ‘OK, you people have been patiently waiting to see what’s going on here.’ You don’t know me from Adam, and why should you trust that our intentions are good or that our planning is appropriate? … Both Mr. Robinson and Schlink have sort of encouraged us to do something like this on a preliminary basis to get some feedback and let people know what’s happening.

“Nobody’s pushed us, which is really nice, but when the timing was right, encouraged us to share our ideas on a preliminary basis with the community, and that’s what we’re doing. This is not typical at all …”

But Barket noted that residents are concerned and frustrated about plans to redevelop the mall.

“… This all comes at a time when we realize people are concerned, people are frustrated and they’re nervous about the fate of the centerpiece of their community,” he said. “And I want everybody, especially in the audience, to remember that the core of this community was never the mall. It was and always will be the people, and we are not here to create your core. We’re only here to provide a unique experience for that core. And in that context, create jobs, opportunities, excitement for the residents and the surrounding communities …”