Library board rehires real-estate broker

By Gloria Lloyd

While opponents to the Gravois-Musick site for the new Tesson Ferry Library have suggested that the St. Louis County Library’s real-estate broker steered the library — and taxpayers — wrong when it led officials to the new library location, library trustees have shown their confidence in the broker by re-hiring it for their next phase of construction.

The Library Board of Trustees approved a contract with Colliers International, which is a nationwide company but has local offices in Richmond Heights, 4-1 last week, with board member Stephen Sachs dissenting. Sachs is a real-estate developer with Sachs Properties.

The library hired Colliers for a time frame beginning at the end of 2015, in an agreement that also modifies the library’s existing contract with Colliers to make it more favorable to the company.

Sachs outlined that argument in questions to Library Executive Director Kristen Sorth before the vote, questioning why Colliers did not give the library a lower rate if the library was modifying the agreement to require a lower amount of insurance and therefore, a lower cost to Colliers to provide the same services to the library.

The Call requested the agreement that the library board voted on last week, but library officials did not provide the documents or the cost of the new contract by the time the Call went to press.

Colliers’ work for the library is central to the contention that Mehlville Fire Protection District Board of Directors Secretary Ed Ryan and other organizers of the Save Tesson Ferry Library Committee have been making that the library did not properly conduct its site search for the new library.

County Executive Charlie Dooley told the Call last week that he is still conducting his review of the situation and will issue a written report “in the very near future” that will detail his findings on both the new Tesson Ferry Library and the new Lewis & Clark Library in Moline Acres, which has been opposed because the current building is seen by architectural historians as one of the finest examples of local architect Frederic Dunn’s work.

“We’re still in the review right now. But one of the things we did talk about that’s still the same is there have to be new buildings,” Dooley said. “There are some issues with the one in south county, and also the promise in north county that they have to have a new building — but maybe we can fold the stained glass into the new building. We’re working on a compromise and seeing what we can come up with.”

The need to hire a real estate broker for the second phase of the library’s construction plan arose because in December the Fenton Board of Aldermen rejected a special-use permit 5-2 for the new Meramec Valley Branch, one of the three new libraries planned for the first phase of the plan, along with Tesson Ferry and Lewis & Clark. Colliers selected the site.

At a series of public meetings, residents near the Tesson Ferry Library who want the library to remain at its current site have been critical of Colliers, which selected the Gravois-Musick site as one of 25 initial sites it listed for the library. In response to Sunshine Law requests for site requirements for the branch, library officials have said they had no written criteria for the new Tesson Ferry site.

Colliers has been paid for its work on behalf of the library based on an undisclosed percentage of the sale price for the property they find. The library paid $2.9 million for a 4.2-acre property at the intersection of Gravois and Musick roads that was brought to them by Colliers.

Initially, Colliers gave the library a list of 25 possible sites for the new Tesson Ferry Branch, including the Crestwood mall site and a property in downtown Kirkwood.

The information Colliers listed for each property, however, has been dismissed as not providing a complete picture of the costs associated with each site. As part of a requirement for zoning for the library, the county is going to pay an estimated $750,000 for improvements to Musick Road at the library site, in addition to $250,000 contributed by the library and $250,000 contributed by developer McBride Berra, which sold the library the property and is building two subdivisions next door.

“I find the comparison of sites for the relocation … to be substantially flawed, lacking in quality data that would allow the Board of Trustees to make an informed decision,” Ryan told the board in March. “There’s so much information missing that the site comparison table incorrectly identifies the Gravois-Musick site as the best site.”

In a letter that south county resident Mary Pitcher read to the board at the same meeting, a licensed engineer said that unless weighted criteria were established to balance the competing factors for and against a site — including location and the cost of the site and demolition — Colliers’ document could not give an accurate picture of the true cost or value of a site.

The engineer also pointed out that no negotiation was done with any of the property owners — the Gravois-Musick purchase price of $2.9 million is what the library paid. McBride Berra had bought the property a year earlier as part of a 67-acre parcel for $6.5 million. A real-estate assessment confirming the $2.9 million purchase price was conducted after the library signed the contract to buy the site.

The library and Colliers worked together to find the site, Sorth previously told the Call. She did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

“We went off of what’s listed in the facilities master plan, both the 2008 one and the 2007 one, and it just calls for a certain size building on a certain size of property,” Sorth said. “So we started at that and just said we’re open to options and show us what you’ve got, basically … Just present us with some options, and then we’d narrow down from there.”

The library board cut down to 16 the 25 sites Colliers presented it. Eventually, the board and Colliers selected four sites as finalists, including the Gravois-Musick corner, Concord Bowl on Tesson Ferry Road, Eckert’s on Gravois Road and Allen Transmission on Lindbergh Boulevard near the current library.

“These aren’t their recommendations — these are where they ended up based on all those times (of library officials) meeting with them and discussing options,” she said.