Mall’s redevelopment to take two to three years, board told

Owners will pitch ideas to retailers at national event.

By EVAN YOUNG

Crestwood Court’s owners are “actively” working on a plan to revitalize the mall but expect it will take a “full two to three years” to redevelop the property, the vice president of the mall’s management firm told the Crestwood Board of Aldermen last week.

Speaking on behalf of Crestwood Court’s owner, Centrum Properties, Jones Lang LaSalle Vice President and General Manager Tony Stephens told aldermen that the company is “engaged in conversation with potential tenants for the redevelopment, including retaining existing tenants.”

Some of those prospective tenants have visited the mall, Stephens added.

Centrum Properties and Angelo, Gordon & Co. bought the mall from the Westfield Group in March 2008 for $17.5 million, according to St. Louis County records.

That summer, Jones Lang LaSalle marketing manager Leisa Son told the Crestwood Economic Development Commission that the mall could be redeveloped into an open-air, lifestyle center similar to the Promenade in Brentwood. This would open such possibilities as retail and restaurants and also an entertainment center that could be used for activities and possibly outdoor concerts.

Stephens confirmed in January 2009 that the mall’s owners would unveil plans to redevelop Crestwood Court within six months. However, the economic recession has made it difficult for retailers to expand, Stephens said last week.

“We believe in the market and the location, just as we did when we purchased the mall in 2008,” he said, reading a prepared statement from Centrum officials. “The recession has reduced retailers’ expansion plans and increased the amount of space available in the market, so we expect it will take a full two to three years to redevelop the property.”

But the opportunity still exists, Stephens added, to transform Crestwood Court into a “unique” center in the St. Louis area by combining retail space with entertainment, dining, educational and cultural venues.

Centrum is working with outside brokers, architects, engineers and demolition experts to “ensure the best uses of this center are targeted,” Stephens said.

“And targeting is a key part of this, as we move into the redevelopment,” he said. “We just don’t want to throw retailers in; we want to target specific uses that work well in this community.”

City officials previously have indicated that they would consider offering such economic-development tax incentives as tax-increment financing, or TIF, to ease the owners’ costs of the mall’s redevelopment.

That cost would be eased through the collection of an additional sales tax imposed on the mall property. In a TIF district, tax receipts for school districts, fire districts and other taxing entities are frozen at existing levels for the length of the TIF — up to 23 years. As land within the TIF district increases in value, the incremental tax revenue — 100 percent of property taxes and 50 percent of sales and utility taxes — is used to retire the TIF obligation.

Urban consultant John Brancaglione of Peckham Guyton Albers & Viets recently told the city’s EDC the mall likely would need to be redeveloped for “mixed use,” and estimated that demolition costs alone could reach $8 million.

The mall’s owners will pitch redevelopment ideas to retailers at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual retail real estate convention later this month in Las Vegas, Stephens said last week.

In the meantime, Crestwood’s prime sales-tax revenue source has continued to lose business. Many of the mall’s retail spaces are vacant, and only one anchor store, Sears, remains open after Macy’s closed its doors in April 2009, taking with it hundreds of thousands of dollars in expected sales-tax revenues for the city. Another anchor store, Dillard’s, closed in 2007.

In late 2008, Crestwood Court teamed up with the Regional Arts Commission and began leasing some of the mall’s empty spaces as part of ArtSpace, a community for local artists, musicians and performing artists.

The program won a MAXI award from the ICSC this year for public relations.

“ArtSpace is a critical part of the redevelopment going forward,” Stephens told aldermen. “In the meantime we understand we have to keep activity going. We have to create as much awareness and as much consumer friendliness as we can at the center.

“We’d like for the time frame to be a little different on the redevelopment … But I’m here tonight to assure you that we’re working diligently to make it happen.”

Of ArtSpace, Stephens added, “We’re very proud of the project, and I think the citizens of Crestwood are very proud of the project … It has received international attention. Certainly it’s received a lot of attention in St. Louis. We’re very proud to have done that. A different set of owners or a different management group might have just let that mall fall into disrepair, and we refuse to do that. We’re going to keep that place humming as long as we can keep it humming until the bulldozers move in.”