As Westfield signs recently were removed from the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, Mayor Roy Robinson said a pending sale of the mall property could be closed as soon as this week.
“We were told (the sale) will be closed on (Feb.) 12th,” Robinson said. “This is the reason why it sometimes shifts. We don’t have any control over it. I’m sure that there’s due diligence and things going on in that process and expectations from the new owners on what has to be done by the present owners. And until they get all these things worked out, nothing closes. So we’re hopeful that by the 12th or in the next couple of weeks, that deal will be done. And then we can start talking about what we hope to see there.”
City Administrator Frank Myers disputed a recent report published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the mall had been sold. The newspaper reported Jan. 24 that “according to knowledgeable sources,” Chicago’s Centrum Properties and New York-based Angelo, Gordon & Co. had entered into a contract to purchase the Crestwood mall from the Westfield Group.
Representatives from Angelo, Gordon & Co. told the Call last week that they still cannot comment on the possibility of any purchase.
Tentative plans for the mall property, which has sustained annual declines in sales-tax revenue and a deteriorating structure, have included converting the Crest-wood mall into a mixed-use development as part of a project valued more than $200 million. City 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 said last week that he has told the mall’s prospective new owners that any redevelopment should be done in phases to keep sales-tax revenue coming into the city.
“It will be done in phases,” Robinson said. “I’ve already made that clear to them. And it’s not only to the city’s benefit, it’s to the new owners’ benefit to do it in phases also. It not only gives them an opportunity to keep what they have, they can add to it in the meantime while they’re doing it. In addition, it gives them revenue to help them with their process. I think it’s just beneficial to both the city and them to do this.”
While not at liberty to reveal what the mall’s prospective new owners have in mind for redevelopment, Robinson is confident that the area “will not look anything like it does today” and will be similar to “a community within a community.”
“One of the new owners, or people I’ve talked to, said this will be a focal point of the whole region when they’re finished,” Robinson said. “That’s what we want to see. And not that we’ll be any better than any other community that has a shopping area. But what we’re hoping is this will present something that will draw people in from all the other communities to enjoy the experience.
“… Based on what I’ve been told they’re willing to present, it may have parts of it like a shopping mall. It will have retail. It will have a lot of other things. I like to say it could be like a community within a community. Based on what I’ve heard, I’d say it should be a more open-type situation. I can visualize that it will not look anything like it does today.”
Above all, Robinson believes there is great potential for the mall property.
“What we could get out of this redevelopment — and this is a projection of mine, nobody else’s — I believe that if they accomplish what they have indicated they will do for us over here, I never believed that the Crestwood mall could ever regain its stature that it had back in the ’70s and ’80s and early ’90s. I say now it can probably do double what that has done.”
The mayor added that any new redevelopment on the property likely will be ac-companied by an additional sales tax at its stores as the city plans to use economic tools like tax-increment financing to repay the developer for upfront costs.
“We’re going to have to have economic tools to help them,” Robinson said. “And anybody that thinks it can be done without that doesn’t know anything about how this process works. One of the things I hear is: ‘Well, they’re the investors.’ They’re the investors, yes. And when they buy that property, they will have invested a whole lot of money into that property. And it’s to our benefit and to the citizens in the community to support it. We’re not going to be an open book. The checkbook is not going to be wide open to do it. But as they can show us and the citizens of this community what they plan on doing and how they’re going to make this shopping experience better, we can evaluate. That’s when the board can evaluate to see what we can do as a city to help that process along.”
The city’s request for development proposals for the mall states that officials would be open to approving TIF, a community-improvement district or transportation-development district as an incentive for a developer to take on the mall project and be reimbursed for project costs through a sales tax on that property.
But Crestwood, as well as every city in St. Louis County, also will face an uncertain timetable this year concerning the use of tax-incentive tools to develop the project.
Because of action taken last year by the state Legislature to establish new tax-increment-finance commissions in St. Louis County, the authority of already-existing TIF commissions in various municipalities has been questioned.
As a result, bond-counsel firms in Missouri will not issue bonds for any TIF district until the legality of the newly formed TIF commissions has been settled.
Those firms have speculated that a decision on those TIF commissions could come as late as August.
Robinson said he is concerned about that delay and already has spoken with County Executive Charlie Dooley to see what options cities like Crestwood may have.
“I don’t know how long it will take because they’ve changed the process on the TIF,” Robinson said. “The TIF will have to be used in order to make this work.”
Looking ahead to the completion of any project at the mall property, the mayor reiterated that it cannot be successful without the support of Crestwood residents.
“I think what’s most important to the citizens of Crestwood are what’s going to happen to the mall and, if we are going to redevelop it, what’s going to be there,” Robinson said. “And I think we’re going to find that out pretty soon. When we do, I’ll have some town-hall meetings to get the people involved. We cannot get this accomplished without the people supporting us. If they want their city back the way it should be, they’re going to have to get on the bandwagon and help us. They will not get everything that they think ought to be there because we don’t own the property.
“But I think we can get a little bit of what everybody visualizes should be there. And if you get something, you ought to be willing to support it.”