Mayor Robinson ‘smiling’ over sale of Crestwood mall

Focus of mall redevelopment will be retail, developer says

By BURKE WASSON

Two commercial-property companies — Centrum Properties of Chicago and New York-based Angelo, Gordon & Co. — last week purchased the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood.

The sale signals an end to the Westfield Group’s efforts since 2006 to sell the mall property and a beginning to what Crestwood officials hope is a resurgence of the mall and sales-tax revenue through redevelopment.

“I’m pleased that progress has been made and that they’ve come to terms to make some kind of a movement on that property,” Mayor Roy Robinson said. “The city is anxiously awaiting to meet with the new owners and get this thing under way.”

Andrew Jacobs, a director with Angelo, Gordon & Co., declined to reveal the sale price of the mall, but did say that the two companies now are working to redevelop the mall property after the sale “closed Wednesday.”

“It’s us with Centrum,” Jacobs said. “They’re our operating partner. So it’s the same team. We got it done.

“The strategy is to manage it as best we can and to hopefully make the current tenants as happy as we can be. We believe very strongly in the location and the area and the demographics and with the St. Louis retail market. And the next step is a redevelopment of some sort. And that’s what we’re going to start working on.”

Jacobs said Centrum and Angelo, Gordon are keeping their options open in terms of redeveloping the mall property and would prefer to keep the property as a retail center.

“We really don’t know what we’re going to do yet,” Jacobs said. “We do have some ideas. But I will say the focus will certainly be retail.”

Jacobs did say that a mixed-use redevelopment that incorporates a residential aspect is “one of a number of scenarios we’re looking at. As you can imagine, this business is very tenant-driven. And a lot of it is going to be us having ideas and sitting down with the tenants and seeing what floats their boat.”

“There have been conversations with the city,” Jacobs said. “The city has been great and very, very supportive.”

Previously discussed plans for the mall, which has sustained annual declines in sales-tax revenue and a deteriorating structure, have included converting the mall into a mixed-use development as part of a project valued more than $200 million.

Crestwood officials speculated last year that the mall’s redevelopment likely would be done in three phases at a cost of more than $250 million.

Robinson has said that he has told prospective developers that the mall “will” be redeveloped in phases to allow the city to continue collecting revenue from existing stores.

The sale and future development of the struggling Crestwood mall — which last year had a reported 55-percent occupancy rate — have been a concern for city officials. While city officials reported last year that 53 percent of Crestwood’s sales-tax revenue comes from the mall, that percentage has dropped in recent months.

Before plans are even drawn for redevelopment, developers and city officials alike face a number of challenges, including a freeze on the issuance of bonds through tax-increment financing.

While all cities in St. Louis County are for the time being restricted from utilizing tax-increment financing to assist companies in developments, Robinson said that city officials still could weigh other tax incentives, including transportation-development districts and community-improvement districts.

“There’s many options we can do,” Robinson said. “And we’ll evaluate all those as it comes down. But like I said, I’ve met with a lot of economic people. There’s options. We’re just going to have to wait and see how long that’s going to take and see whether or not we have the ability to get this thing underway and redevelop it even if the TIF isn’t changed. But those are things I’m not up on right at the moment.

“I’m not sure what the developer wants to do. And then as soon as we meet with them, we will get down to business.”

A group of St. Louis County municipalities, including Crestwood, filed a lawsuit in February challenging changes to the state’s tax-increment financing law adopted last year by the Legislature.

Robinson broke a 3-3 tie among aldermen in a Feb. 12 closed session to vote “yes” to authorize Crestwood’s participation in the lawsuit at a cost not to exceed $10,000.

Board President Gregg Roby of Ward 3, Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland and Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel voted to participate in the suit. Ward 1 Alderman Mac McGee, Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel and Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder voted “no.” Ward 2 Alderman Steve Knarr and Ward 4 Alderman John Foote were excused from the meeting.

Because the Legislature mandated the establishment of new 12-member TIF commissions in St. Louis County, Jefferson County and St. Charles County, the powers of already-existing TIF commissions in various municipalities has been questioned.

Bond-counsel firms in Missouri will not issue bonds for any TIF district until legal questions relating to the newly formed TIF commissions have been settled.

With plans to redevelop the former Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood property through the use of such tax tools as TIF, city officials joined with the St. Louis County Municipal League as well as the cities of Ellisville, St. Ann, University City, Olivette and Maplewood in filing the suit.

While still waiting an outcome of that legal challenge, Robinson is “overjoyed” with news of the mall’s sale and hinted at last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting that the mall “will be sold tomorrow.”

The day after that March 25 meeting, Robinson’s prediction came true as Centrum and Angelo, Gordon closed the sale with Westfield.

“Tomorrow will be a great time for the city of Crestwood because it is my belief — nothing official — that the mall will be sold tomorrow,” Robinson said March 25. “And if that happens, then we can only see great things happen. And if I wasn’t so sure that it’s going to happen, I wouldn’t tell you anything.

“But I was asked last week am I smiling? I wasn’t too much two weeks ago. Today, I’m smiling. I’m pretty sure it’s going to happen tomorrow. And there’s been nothing official come out on it. We’ve just got our people who are snooping. And just like the press, they’re trying to find out whether we can. But we honestly believe that something is in the mill and hopefully we’ll find out some time tomorrow. I don’t know if we will. It’s all up to Westfield and when they want to release it. But it sure looks good.”

Reflecting later on that prediction come true, Robinson realizes that the property’s sale is the first of many steps in the mall’s redevelopment.

But with the first stage now complete, the mayor’s demeanor is no doubt cheerful.

“Nobody’s more excited than I am,” he said. “Overall, I’m very excited and overjoyed that this one step has taken place. And I’m still smiling.”