Improvements are coming to mall, Crestwood mayor reassures board

By MIKE ANTHONY

Mayor Roy Robinson recently reassured the Board of Aldermen that while proposed improvements to the Westfield Shop-pingtown Crestwood may be slow in materializing, plans are in the works to revitalize the shopping center.

Robinson’s comments were made at the Jan. 24 Board of Aldermen meeting after some aldermen, including Richard Breeding of Ward 1, Joe O’Keefe of Ward 4 and Pat Duwe of Ward 4, expressed concerns about increased vacancies at the Crestwood mall.

City officials have been talking with Westfield Corp. representatives for roughly two years about the company’s plans to improve the shopping center. Westfield of-ficials announced last summer that plans for the shopping center include the construction of a new megaplex AMC Theatre at the front of the shopping center near Watson Road and other improvements at the Dillard’s end of the mall, including the expansion and relocation of the food court.

During the discussion, Robinson noted the city’s economic development specialist, Ellen Dailey, communicates with West-field officials on a regular basis, especially in response to any concerns that have been voiced to the city about the mall.

But Breeding expressed frustration at the lack of progress on the proposed improvements at the mall, saying, “I’ve never been more serious and more scared in my life for the city of Crestwood concerning Crest-wood mall. Every time I go up there, another store is closed, and I’m afraid … I swear we’re getting past the point beyond return. Gymboree is now closed. Express closed. The food court is not a food court. It’s two or three choices.

“I love the mall. Don’t get me wrong. I’m the one that said: ‘Don’t call your own baby ugly.’ So we have to do something — yesterday. And I know Ellen is working night and day on that, but I am so nervous because you go to the mall and it’s just — it’s very disheartening and it’s a very nice facility … We have to do something,” he added.

Robinson said, “Well, I get letters, I get telephone calls about the same concerns that you have, and every time I get those I’m running to Ellen to call them and see what’s going on. I can’t tell you a whole lot … I’d rather they come out and tell you what’s going on. They ran into a little problem, which delayed something.”

“But some of those empty stores are empty because they want them empty because it’s going to change in those areas, and some of them are just relocating to other areas in the mall. I don’t know about the stores you’re talking about. There’s just so much that we can find out. It is a private business facility, but we are concerned, too, and every time I get a letter, I have her on the phone calling the general manager and finding out what’s going on,” he said, noting that corporate officials of Westfield who “make the decisions” recently were in Crestwood.

“So all I can tell you is that all this stuff takes time and there’s no way — if I could get those things changed tomorrow, I would do it, but it just doesn’t work that way,” the mayor said.

Breeding said, “No, I agree … I just think that as a board maybe we should even talk more about it at these meetings because it’s ….”

Robinson interjected, “Well, I’m limited — I wish we could tell you everything. It’s just like — there’s a lot more they tell us, but some of this is — they don’t want it out in the public until it happens because they have a chance of losing the people that were talking about coming in and all that.”

Breeding said, “I agree with you and I respect that. I just think that some open discussion about it and knowing what you said is a good thing, but my wife had a birthday yesterday and I went to the mall over the weekend …”

Robinson interjected, “Bad.”

Breeding agreed, saying, “It’s bad.”

Every effort is being made to ensure the safety of the mall and the Watson Road commercial corridor, Robinson said.

“… It may be losing some stores and all that, but we’re going to maintain the safety of that mall. That’s our livelihood and as things do come back in there, we want those shoppers still coming in. So we’re not going to allow the thugs to take over our shopping mall. There’s no reason for us to do that, and the other thing is, they will do it if they can or if they think they can get away with it,” he said.

O’Keefe said, “… I agree 100 percent that we need to talk about it because you are aware in your position of what’s going on there with the idea of confidentiality. Everybody talks about it … Just perception-wise, even though we know or hope in our heart of hearts that this great plan’s coming, perception-wise, everybody that goes in the mall sees closed stores and they don’t see anything in the paper about a plan coming. That’s been frustrating for me and I think all of us probably in that I was under the impression we were going to have a plan pretty quick after we had our presentation here about the future possibilities of the mall.

“I understand there’s been hiccups, but I think it would be appropriate maybe to invite somebody from Westfield just to give us an update periodically. If we’re three or four weeks out and like most negotiations things continue to be continued, then don’t wait until the final deal to come tell us because it’s important to get out to the public that there are things in the works there and that empty stores may be part of a plan because everybody that goes there makes a comment …,” he said.

Robinson noted one improvement that can be discussed is Westfield’s plans to construct the new megaplex AMC Theatre.

“I worry about that now. It seems like some of these movie houses are not making a lot of money …,” he said.

But he noted that the proposed improvements call for the expansion and relocation of the food court along with new stores.

“… They are working on it and I think we were a little upset that they hadn’t moved faster, but there are reasons behind it. It’s not like they’re not planning on doing anything — at least that’s what they’ve told us,” Robinson said.

O’Keefe said, “And I appreciate that. I guess just my point follows what Alder-man Breeding was (saying). We don’t talk about it here a lot and maybe it would be appropriate while they’re continuing to plan just to have somebody come and tell us that they’re continuing to plan.”

Robinson said the city would contact Westfield officials about the possibility of providing an update to the Board of Al-dermen.

“There’s no reason why they can’t do that,” he said.

Duwe echoed the comments by O’Keefe, noting the previous day she had attended a movie at 2 p.m. at the mall.

“There wasn’t anybody in the mall. I mean it was deserted …,” she said.