Sale of Crestwood shopping center appears to be dead

By BURKE WASSON

Less than a week after announcing that the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood would be sold, it appears that the deal is dead.

Mayor Roy Robinson said he learned Friday that California-based Somera Capital Management has backed out of plans to buy the Crestwood mall from the Westfield Corp. The mayor said he was informed of the failed purchase in a conversation with a Westfield representative who facilitates mall development in the Midwest.

“You could have knocked me over with a pin,” Robinson said Saturday. “I thought: ‘What is going on here?’ It was fresh in the paper, and now all of a sudden …”

As for Somera’s reasons behind pulling out of the deal to buy the mall, Robinson said he was told that both Westfield and the local news media apparently are contributing factors.

He said the Westfield official told him that Somera opted out of the purchase because of letters concerning the sale mailed by Westfield to mall businesses and media coverage of the pending deal.

“Inadvertently, documents were sent to Crestwood from the (Westfield) Los Angeles office that shouldn’t have been sent that got it started,” Robinson said. “Somehow, they knew that Crestwood would consider being sold, but they weren’t supposed to send all the tenants these letters. Well, they got them, and that caused Somera to at least come down and look at the area. What seemed to be the crowning glory that disturbed the whole thing was the news media started hounding them on what they were going to do. And it turned them off and they said: ‘We only do one or two projects a year. We don’t need that.'”

Officials from both Westfield and Somera have declined to discuss any details of the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood with the Call.

With Somera apparently out of Crestwood’s economic picture, Robinson said he is making plans to meet with Westfield Corporation officials on May 22 at the International Council of Shopping Centers convention, “Breaking New Ground,” in Las Vegas. Robinson, City Administrator Frank Myers and Economic Development Specialist Ellen Dailey will attend this year’s conference to discuss plans for the mall and several business along Watson Road. Dailey has said that she is actively pursuing appointments with retailers who could provide additional support to the Watson Road corridor.

Robinson said that the Westfield spokesman he talked to Friday has promised to introduce Crestwood officials to Westfield corporate representatives in Las Vegas.

“I have been told that they will make every attempt to get these introductions,” Robinson said. “It’s important that they know who you are and how committed you are to improving the community.

“I want to talk to somebody besides just the lower-level people. If we work with you as a partnership, you have a commitment to upgrade our (mall). I don’t care how we do it. If we’re going to work as a team to upgrade that, I want to make sure their commitment is coming from somebody who has the authority to do it.”

Westfield representatives said last summer in a news release that the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood would benefit from a “redevelopment plan which will integrate fresh new lifestyle and entertainment elements with the existing quality retailers at the center.” That same release included an announcement by Westfield and AMC Entertainment Inc. officials of plans for a new megaplex AMC Theater to be built at the front of the shopping center near Watson Road.

Robinson said even with last week’s pending sale, these mall improvements still are on the table with Westfield and that he would be pushing corporate officials to follow through on them.

“I take people at their word,” Robinson said. “And I told (Westfield officials) we want to work with them, but we’re going to be very protective of what the city gets involved in. There has to be a commitment on both sides.”

Amid the uncertainty of the mall’s future and the pending sale apparently gone bad, Robinson said he is aware of criticism from Crestwood residents who believe the trip to the Las Vegas retailers convention is not a serious venture.

With that in mind, the mayor said he was informed by regional Westfield spokesmen that he needs to attend the convention to let corporate Westfield officials know that the city truly is interested.

“(The regional Westfield official) also said that it is important that the mayor be there because the big developers and the big retail people like to know that they have community support before they’re going to invest any money,” Robinson said. “Some people in the community think this is entertainment time. I don’t, but some people do, and I can understand why they do it. He said it is important. He said for the small chains and stuff, you can send anybody. But if you’re actually wanting to get some rapport between the bigger companies, they want to talk to people who can help them get something done and they want to see how interested they are.”

Robinson, Dailey and Myers are scheduled to fly to Las Vegas on the night of Sunday, May 21, and talk with retail owners and distributors on Monday, May 22, at the convention. They are then scheduled to fly out of Las Vegas on the morning of Tuesday, May 23, to report their work at the convention during that evening’s Board of Aldermen meeting.

The total cost of the trip to Las Vegas is estimated to be roughly just less than $3,000 to the city.

While the sale of the Westfield Shop-pingtown Crestwood appears to be nixed, the sale of Westfield Northwest in St. Ann to Somera is believed to still be in the works.

No discussed dollar amounts on the proposed sale of either mall have been released to the public, but Somera’s Web site at www.someracapital.com indicates that the company’s criteria require a regional mall must be valued at more than $30 million in order for the company to buy it.

The Westfield Corp. originally paid $106.4 million to acquire the mall in 1998 from Crestwood Plaza Shopping Center, a subsidiary of Hycel Properties.

Westfield purchased the property at that time under the name Westfield America.

Westfield is an Australian-based company with interests in 127 shopping centers in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Now that Westfield has apparently failed in its attempt to sell its Crestwood interests, Robinson said he remains willing to work with the corporation to restore the shopping center to a more prosperous state.

“We are moving forward,” Robinson said. “We’re still looking to do what’s best for Crestwood, and hopefully when we do this trip, we will be successful in encouraging retail to check our area and know that we’re hungry. We want to rebuild our business community and we’re willing to work with people to do that.”