Economic panel inactive since 2012 in Crestwood

Not first stretch of inactivity for commission

By Kari Williams

Crestwood’s Economic Development Commission, which has been inactive since 2012, could begin meeting again at the request of the Board of Aldermen.

Resident Mike Balles told the board last week he found it “disturbing” that the commission has not convened since March 2012 and its strategy for developing Crestwood, formulated in November 2005, has not been updated.

“This is an 8-year-old document. I think it’s time that the city take a look at this, get this commission back together, review the comments that are in there, look at what has been achieved … what hasn’t been achieved …,” Balles said. “This would be the perfect forum to discuss the development of Crestwood Plaza and the other empty properties that are on Watson Road.”

The 2005 document — obtained by the Call — calls for Crestwood to “capitalize on the city’s low commercial tax burden, location and the demographic profile — buying power — of the trade area to attract high-quality retail uses to the district and thus fully realize the district’s potential as a major retail hub for near-southwest St. Louis County.”

Objectives from the document include, among other focal points, improving communication with the business community, encouraging and supporting “Westfield’s redevelopment and rehabilitation” of Crestwood Court and creating a “comprehensive marketing plan” for the city.

Westfield America previously owned Crestwood Court, then called Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood. Westfield sold the mall to Angelo, Gordon & Co. and Centrum Partners LLC in 2008.

Schlink said the commission should meet “at the direction of the board,” rather than the board “simply making a motion to have them get together.”

“I think that falls way short of being productive. What my suggestion to (Economic Development Commission Chair Forrest) Miller was is that if we are going to convene that group to get together, then this board should decide what it is that they’re going to talk about. Because if their first objective is to just go out and knock on the doors of existing businesses, that may not be what this board wants everybody to do,” he said.

Ward 2 Alderman Mary Stadter, the aldermanic representative for the commission, said she agrees with Schlink.

“It’ll be great for the board to look through and try to get some ideas together to help direct (the commission),” she said. “I’ve also had several members of the community reach out and voice an interest in getting involved in that board as well.”

Ward 4 Alderman Mike Tsichlis said he would like to organize an “informal gathering” for his ward to discuss redevelopment along Watson Road, though a date has not yet been set.

However, Schlink reminded the board that Centrum Partners representatives cautioned the city from allowing the public to decide what will happen to the mall property.

“Centrum was very clear at the beginning of the process that that’s not how it works. It’s really the developer’s property, what they’re looking at doing,” Schlink said. “So we can’t mismanage expectations that that is the answer to our problems that we have.”

In 2012, Centrum proposed the District at Crestwood, an open-air entertainment and retail venue with restaurants, a movie theater and an upscale bowling venue.

The total redevelopment cost would be roughly $121 million, including roughly $34 million of economic assistance in the form of tax-increment financing, a transportation development district and a community improvement district.

But Schlink announced in November that the mall site would be put up for sale.

Reviving the commission, according to Schlink, could be an opportunity for the city to bring in some of its “biggest critics” to discuss redevelopment within the city.

This is not the first stretch of inactivity for the Economic Development Commission.

In 2009, the commission met Aug. 18, its first official meeting since Aug. 19, 2008. At that 2009 meeting, commissioners seemed to agree they would hold meetings only as needed or as requested by aldermen or city staff.

Per ordinance, the panel is required to meet at least quarterly to develop and implement “strategies in order to achieve the city’s economic goals.”

Resident John Bell, a landscape architect, also approached the board to refer to a letter regarding the redevelopment of Crestwood Court that he submitted both to the board and to local media outlets. He states in the letter — obtained by the Call — that, “The District at Crestwood must be developed on a solid market floor; not the current hyperbolic rhetoric dominating the current negotiations.”

In a separate matter Jan. 14, the board unanimously approved a lease for Friends of Animal Control and Rescue to operate the site of the former Crestwood Animal Control building.

City Administrator Mark Sime eliminated the animal-control position from the city’s 2014 budget, opening up the building.

Tsichlis said he commends the group for its willingness to “take on this task.”

“I know it’s one that is beloved by many obviously who love animals, and I’m excited that you guys can continue this,” Tsichlis said.