South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Schlink breaks tie to name Centrum developer for mall project

Mayor says he will oppose current proposal by Centrum at TIF Commission public hearing

Breaking a tie to name Centrum Properties the preferred developer for Crestwood Court’s redevelopment was an “easy decision,” according to Mayor Jeff Schlink.

However, Schlink told the Call “in no way” is his vote “an indication to anyone that I support the current project or the current financing.”

“There’s people that I’ve talked to recently that asked me why did I approve the (tax-increment financing) for Centrum, and that’s not even close to what had happened at the meeting …,” he said.

The resolution naming Centrum the preferred developer authorizes city officials, staff and consultants to prepare a redevelopment plan and to “take certain actions as necessary, pursuant to the TIF (tax-increment financing) Act, including, but not limited to convening the TIF Commission, according to the laws governing same.”

The next step in the redevelopment process is convening a St. Louis County TIF Commission, according to Schlink.

Each county TIF Commission has six members appointed by the county executive, three members appointed by local municipal officials, two from school districts and one from another taxing jurisdiction.

TIF Commission members have not been appointed at this point, according to Schlink, who said he would be “more than surprised” if the TIF commission approved the redevelopment proposal “as is.”

Centrum, the mall’s owner along with Angelo Gordon Co., proposed an open-air entertainment and retail venue earlier this year that would include restaurants, a movie theater and a bowling concept.

The total redevelopment cost is roughly $121 million, with economic assistance in the form of tax-increment financing, a transportation development district, or TDD, and a community improvement district, or CID, reaching roughly $34 million, according to revised numbers presented to the city.

Centrum’s initial plan listed total cost at roughly $102 million, not including the second phase of the project, and economic assistance for both phases at nearly $42 million. Barket told the board at a work session earlier this month Centrum reduced its CID and TDD requests from 1 percent to 0.75 percent.

Schlink told the Call he would oppose the current proposal at a county TIF Commission public hearing. If the commission would not recommend approval of the request, the mayor said the proposal would come back to the Board of Aldermen and require a two-thirds’ majority for approval.

“Everybody (on the board) has dug into their position. Centrum’s going to have to change what their proposal is for this to actually get approved …,” Schlink said. “I think that the city has a lot of brakes that they can use to either slow this down or take it off the road and bring it to a stop …”

The mayor also said he has “full faith” in the “safety nets” of the TIF Commission and the Board of Aldermen and that they will “do what they’re supposed to do.”

Ward 1 Aldermen Darryl Wallach and Mimi Duncan and Ward 4 Aldermen John Foote and Dan Tennessen voted Nov. 13 in favor of naming Centrum the preferred developer. Ward 2 Aldermen Bob Deutschmann and Tim Trueblood and Ward 3 Aldermen Paul Duchild and Jerry Miguel were opposed.

Centrum submitted the only development proposal, and was rejected as the preferred developer with a 5-3 vote Oct. 9. The board voted 6-2 Oct. 23 to reconsider that resolution.

Tennessen, who initiated the vote to reconsider Centrum as the developer, told the board he is in favor of “working with any company that wants to develop a business in Crestwood.”

“I believe that this is a valid situation that I believe that we should support to try to work together for a solution,” he said.

With the approval, Sol Barket, of Centrum Properties, told the board it will see “a ton of momentum, not just by your vote but because it’s all built up to this.”

“The market’s only been back pretty much this year, so we’re talking about nine months or so, 10 months, of really the market being back in a significant way, and over this period of time, we’ve built a lot of momentum …,” he said.

Miguel reiterated his uneasiness to the developer about moving the redevelopment forward without having tenants committed to the project.

But potential tenants, according to Barket, “don’t even want to go to lease until they know there’s a real project.”

“The tenants are saying, ‘How do we know it’s real?'” Barket said, “and I’m up front with people because my reputation is everything.”

Barket said he told all the retailers the project requires TIF.

“It cannot be built as I envision it without a TIF,” he said.

Miguel said he had no difficulty designating Centrum as the developer, but had “difficulty authorizing the formation of a TIF Commission.”

“I have no problem with further negotiations,” Miguel said. “I think those negotiations are warranted, but I have a real problem with authorizing the city and the staff to begin the process of convening a TIF commission. To me, it really diminishes the role of this council in the negotiation process.”

If the board waits until a development agreement is reached to start the TIF process, Duncan said she believes the city will be “behind the game.”

“We’ve got a good developer in my opinion,” Duncan said. “We are not committing to anything other than picking the developer this evening and starting the process for the TIF.”

Barket also noted it is “very, very true” Centrum lost Toby Keith’s Bar and Grill as a tenant “because of what happened at this last hearing” with the board’s 5-3 denial of Centrum as the project developer. Toby Keith signed a letter of intent with Centrum roughly 30 to 60 days before the board’s denial, according to Barket.

“I’m not saying that this city on its own caused Toby Keith to leave. A lot led up to it because we didn’t get it going fast enough,” Barket said, “but he gave us one final chance to prove that it was real …”

Resident Martha Duchild, wife of the ward 3 alderman, told the board it should not “want to hook (its) fortunes on a company that may not be able to deliver.”

“You can get as excited as you want about this development, but until you have vetted the developer, you don’t even know if he’s able to deliver what he’s promising,” Martha Duchild said.

Martha Duchild referenced articles from various business journals about Centrum’s financial status, including one from the Florida Business Journal, which reported in May Bank of America won a $20.4 million foreclosure judgment against Centrum and its partner MCZ Development due to a $14.3 million mortgage.

Barket said having concern about a company’s ability to complete a project is a “100-percent legitimate concern, but questions should be asked and people need to “listen to the response before assumptions are made.”

From 2000 until about 2008, Centrum was the “largest condo converter” in south Florida, according to Barket.

“What happened is, literally, overnight, in areas such as Florida, Arizona, Nevada, credit dried up overnight. Unemployment skyrocketed,” Barket said, “And what happened? Well, these people that made obligations to me defaulted … This happened to me in a huge, huge way. It happened to me and my partner … in a huge, huge way. It happened to Donald Trump.”

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