Local company eyes buying, developing Crestwood mall site

By Gloria Lloyd
News Editor
glorialloyd@callnewspapers.com

A St. Louis-based developer is interested in buying the former Crestwood mall site and taking over its redevelopment.

Walpert Properties, a company headquartered in Creve Coeur, hopes to redevelop the mall into a mixed-use redevelopment called “Crestwood City Center” if the company can get other tenants lined up this fall.

The project is modeled after streetscape-like developments like Kirkwood Station, The Streets at St. Charles and The Boulevard in Richmond Heights. The plan is “near-final” and could be unveiled on the city website by October.

Walpert has the property under contract from Chicago-based UrbanStreet Group, pending a number of contingencies including signing up more tenants.

The city announced the partnership Monday, and 

City Administrator Kris Simpson believes that it could be the most positive step for the mall in years.

He’s “cautiously optimistic,” he told the Crestwood-Sunset Hills Kiwanis last week while giving the club a preview of what’s to come at the mall site.

“Whatever was being done before clearly wasn’t working, so we’re optimistic, and they’re working hard with it,” he said.

Walpert has been working on the project for the last three months.

The $25 million in tax incentives that UrbanStreet received for its proposed $104 million mixed-use project includes $15 million in tax-increment financing, or TIF, that could be transferrable to Walpert if the plans are similar. That means the company wouldn’t have to go through the expense of appearing before another Crestwood TIF Commission to receive subsidies.

“I think honestly the concept that Walpert has devised and they’re still tweaking is more exciting” than UrbanStreet’s concept of the site, Simpson said.

Walpert’s plan is also mixed-use and is best described as similar to developments like The Streets or The Boulevard, which feature apartments and retail built around a central downtown-like “Main Street” pedestrian street that encourages people to get out and walk the stores and restaurants.

“You park, get out and walk on the street,” Simpson said. “I think it’s a very exciting concept.”

As part of the new plan, Walpert would build a 225-unit apartment complex. UrbanStreet announced a similar plan that riled up officials at Lindbergh Schools before later agreeing that the apartments would be aimed at senior citizens.

Simpson had lunch with new Lindbergh Superintendent Tony Lake a few weeks ago and gave him a heads up on the plan. And so far, he hasn’t heard about any opposition from Lindbergh, he said.

Under its plan for Crestwood, Walpert could have apartments on a second floor above first-floor retail along a “Celebration Street” lined with stores and restaurants.

With “renters by choice” and young families living in the apartments, the stores and restaurants would have built-in customers at breakfast, and with a few offices in the space, a reliable lunch crowd.

“You’ve got a development that’s going to be vibrant basically 24/7/365, which I think is really what everyone wants that project to be,” Simpson said.

The development would also have built-in access to Grant’s Trail. The architect is the same as the one for the CityArchRiver project at the Mississippi riverfront along the Arch.

Walpert specializes in luxury apartment buildings. It is also currently proposing one at Interstate 55 and Lindbergh Boulevard that is opposed by neighbors.

Walpert first got interested in Crestwood while looking to redevelop another site in town that fell through. But since Walpert would be redeveloping part of the mall site itself, the company might have an easier time filling the space than UrbanStreet, which wasn’t going to develop anything on the site itself, Simpson said.

Walpert plans to hold a broker open house in early October to show off the land to real-estate brokers who will physically visit the site.

The company will also physically wrap the “Crestwood Court” mall signs with banners asking anyone interested in locating at the site to call them. And the construction trailer is going to be moved next to Watson Road and wrapped in a banner asking for tenants to sign up.

If action doesn’t happen soon after, the deal will likely be off, Simpson said. If other tenants aren’t lined up by December or January, he expects Walpert to back away from the deal. The city could then either extend UrbanStreet’s redevelopment agreement or pressure the company to sell.

That agreement expires in April, the deadline by which UrbanStreet was required to have a development substantially built.

The delays in redevelopment have been frustrating, Simpson recounted to the Kiwanis. So far, Walpert has called him once a week to update its progress, while UrbanStreet called about twice a year.

UrbanStreet needed two or three major anchor tenants to fill such a large redevelopment, and repeatedly it would line up one anchor and work on getting a second one, and the first one would drop out in the meantime. The company didn’t have any problem getting small shops interested, but smaller retail could not sustain such a large development, Simpson said.

“They could never get that three-anchor grouping together to actually justify financing,” Simpson said. “Restaurants, small shops, there’s plenty of interest there, but you can’t build a $115 million development based on 15 small shops. You have to have the two or three big boys that are going to be there for 10 to 15 years paying high rents.”

But with Walpert itself as one of the three major anchors, it only has to find two other major anchors, one of which might be a movie theater.

At one point, UrbanStreet had Wehrenberg Theatres lined up as a major anchor tenant, but then that local company was sold to Wisconsin-based Marcus Theatres, which scuttled that deal, Simpson said.

But mall owners have had four or five other theater companies express interest.

Developers are also trying to attract a hotel, but that is probably less likely given the site’s lack of interstate visibility, Simpson noted.

No matter what happens at the mall, Simpson said he wants it to be an experience rather than just another place to shop.

“The one thing I’ve hammered home to the developer repeatedly is that I don’t really care about the names on the buildings – at the end of the day, the project has to be a place for residents to go and make good experiences,” Simpson said. “That’s what the mall was, when you boiled it down, to this community. And a strip mall or Walmart isn’t really that. Nobody really remembers the checkout line at the grocery store or stuff like that, but people grew up going to Crestwood mall. They worked there and met their friends there.”

And from what he’s seen so far, the Walpert plan fulfills that vision more than UrbanStreet’s concept.