Crestwood officials are not taking a “normal” approach to the proposed redevelopment of the former Crestwood Plaza, according to Lindbergh Schools Superintendent Jim Simpson.
During his roughly 26-year career in education, Simpson has been involved with many developments that utilized tax incentives. Before coming to Lindbergh July 1, 2008, Simpson served as superintendent of the Joplin School District for seven years.
The Chicago-based owner of the mall, UrbanStreet Group, is proposing a mixed-use redevelopment — including 225 apartments — at the 48-acre site at Watson and Sappington roads.
UrbanStreet is requesting nearly $28 million in tax incentives, including tax-increment financing, or TIF, for the roughly $99.5 million project.
The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously last month to adopt a resolution directing City Clerk Helen Ingold to provide notice to other taxing districts of the city’s desire to convene a TIF Commission to consider UrbanStreet’s proposal for the former mall site.
The 12-member TIF Commission would be comprised of six city representatives, three county representatives, two school district representatives and one representative of other taxing districts.
In a May 14 letter to Lindbergh Schools and the Special School District, Ingold wrote, “I am hereby requesting the Lindbergh School District and the Special School District collectively organize the selection of two individuals to serve on the TIF Commission …”
Lindbergh Schools received Ingold’s letter May 18.
“Please notify me of your appointments, in writing, no later than 30 days after the receipt of this letter. (State law) provides that if St. Louis County, school boards or the other taxing districts fail to appoint its member(s) to the TIF Commission within 30 days, the other appointed TIF commissioners may proceed to exercise the power of the TIF Commission,” Ingold wrote.
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 — up to 100 percent of property taxes and 50 percent of sales and utility taxes — is used to retire the TIF obligation.
Simpson told the Call he believes Crestwood officials’ plans to convene a TIF Commission are premature.
“I think that putting together a TIF committee is pretty far down the road in a normal TIF pattern, even though they want to say different …,” he said. “Deciding to put the TIF committee together means that you love what the developer is doing and everything about it. And that you have decided it’s worth the taxpayers’ money to incentivize the developer to do these plans — that you want these plans so much and they’re so powerful and that they make your community so much stronger.
“And the desirable retail that you don’t have in your community, it’s going to be happening with this development (and) you’re ready to do the TIF.”
In other words, Simpson said, “I’m ready to put a committee together to move the money over to your side of the table as a developer.”
The superintendent believes UrbanStreet’s plan to construct 225 apartments at the mall site “is the worst scenario for Lindbergh Schools,” as it would exacerbate the aggressive enrollment growth that already is challenging the school district.
Lindbergh officials have requested that any tax incentives for the apartments be removed from the proposal. The Board of Education voted unanimously May 5 to adopt a resolution opposing any use of TIF for residential development.
School district officials estimate the 225 apartments would be valued at roughly $30 million, which would generate about $200,000 annually in property taxes for the school district. If UrbanStreet is unwilling to remove the tax incentives for the apartments, the district would like to receive $200,000 annually as part of the redevelopment agreement for the project, according to the Simpson.
City officials, including Mayor Gregg Roby, and the city’s planning consultant, Peckham Guyton Viets & Albers, are treating the convening of the TIF Commission “as if it’s just the most innocent little procedural thing. That’s not a normal way …,” Simpson said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of TIFs. It’s almost game over when the committee gets together. It’s the ninth inning when the TIF committee comes in.
“That’s one reason that we are perplexed a little bit that if they’re wanting to move so fast and work with that and push this to the end game so fast, why it wouldn’t be in the best interests of everyone to take the $200,000 tax base out of the apartments, since it is a hundred-million-dollar operation,” Simpson said. “Taking the $200,000 out seems like a normal request, especially since the $200,000 goes into the classroom. To leave it in there, puts it in the pocket of the developer. So it’s pretty easy on our side of the view to see that, wow, you’re going to build $30 million worth of apartments and you really don’t even want to give your tax base to help educate the kids that come out of those apartments?
“And I would hope that the city would say: Let’s take that off the table right now because we are moving pretty quick here and into the end game …”
Roby did not respond to a request for comment before the Call’s press time. On his official mayoral Facebook page, he contended the city’s approach to the proposed redevelopment of the mall is typical of other development projects.
“As many of you have read in local paper (sic), several residents are critical of the way the communications are being handled for the Crestwood mall redevelopment. First, let me say that we are progressing forward in a manner not unlike any other development project that has taken place in and around our community,” he wrote. “We have professional planners, legal counsel, a developer and other team members of the developers who are all working in harmony to insure (sic) this development receives the due diligence necessary to make it successful for everyone. Although there are no guarantees in any of these developments, we continue to follow the process and procedures outlined for us by professionals.
“The property is not owned by the city and it is therefore not appropriate for us to make public statements regarding the business of the owner until he has released that information. We have commented publicly on items mentioned in the developer’s initial proposal as citizens have had questions or required clarification on items contained therein. We have not responded to many published comments by others in order to prevent confusion or misinformation.
“The developer will provide release of information when appropriate or necessary through his office. We are excited, like everyone, to see something happen at this site and will continue to update you on progress as it happens,” the mayor wrote.