Tentative plans for Crestwood mall could be unveiled to board May 27

Crestwood mayor plays active role in choice of new mall owners

By BURKE WASSON

The Crestwood mall’s new owners are working this month to develop architectural renderings for redeveloping the shopping center and could present them publicly May 27.

Crestwood Mayor Roy Robinson said at an April 30 town-hall meeting that representatives of Centrum Properties and Angelo, Gordon & Co. will take those ideas to the International Council of Shopping Centers’ spring convention from May 18 to May 21 in Las Vegas, Nev., before divulging any plans. Robinson added the new mall owners likely will present those initial plans at the Board of Aldermen’s May 27 meeting.

Centrum Properties of Chicago and New York-based Angelo, Gordon & Co. purchased the former Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood in March for $17.5 million, according to St. Louis County records.

The Westfield Group originally acquired the property in 1998 for $99.3 million.

The two companies merged on the sale as brothers Sol and Keith Barket, originally from the Affton area, represent both. Sol Barket is Centrum’s managing partner of retail development, and Keith Barket is the senior managing director of Angelo, Gordon.

The property is expected to be redesigned as a “town center” with a square or fountain serving as a centerpiece. Its focus will remain retail, but some residential pieces are being considered. In addition, Centrum and Angelo, Gordon are planning a larger movie theater, restaurants and a facility to house outdoor concerts.

While the Crestwood mall today is roughly 1 million square feet, the new owners have indicated that the new redevelopment would be 500,000 to 1 million square feet.

The mayor is pleased with initial efforts from the two companies to not only redevelop the mall property, but also focus on keeping current tenants. From the time that the two companies entered sales negotiations last fall until they purchased the property in March, Robinson said 21 stores had closed.

“After talking to the new owners, they had told me that an additional 21 stores had left (since last fall), which really shocked me,” Robinson said. “We called over there (April 30) to find out how many new stores are there and the new manager said 65 percent.

“I would bet that it’s closer to 50 percent. But if they can maintain the 50 percent, which it sounds like they’re trying to do, that’ll help us, too.”

Between the drop in stores and a year-to-year drop in sales-tax revenue at the mall, which city officials estimated to produce roughly $600,000 less in 2007 than 2006, Robinson is adamant that aldermen take advantage of this opportunity for redevelopment.

To do so, he is encouraging the use of such tax-incentive tools as tax-increment financing, or TIF, as well as a community-improvement district, or CID, and a transportation-development district, or TDD, to assist the owners in development.

But until a Cole County circuit court decides the fate of a suit that a group of St. Louis County cities, including Crestwood, filed this year to challenge the state’s new TIF laws, no bonds for a TIF can be issued.

“This is just the first step,” Robinson said. “This is not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a very long process …

“Contrary to what you hear or read, none of this can happen with this development without TIF and these economic-development tools. It’s imperative that we get that worked out. And I think the Legislature will find out they have done something unconstitutional the way they structured the TIF laws here in the state of Missouri. We’re quite confident that we’ll hear, when something is decided by the courts, we should hear something positive about that.”

Robinson has told the new owners that he would prefer that the mall property be redeveloped in phases to allow the city to continue collecting revenue from existing stores.

The mayor urged residents last week at the town-hall meeting to share their ideas and wishes for the mall with aldermen.

“… Most of the aldermen are agreed. But some of them will probably for whatever reason want to be negative on it. There’s probably two or three that might do that. However, I’m not saying they don’t have the right to do it. But tell them what you want.”

The mayor also said that without the Board of Aldermen’s decision last summer to issue a request for development proposals, he does not believe the mall property would have been sold.

“I know there’s some people in the community that think the mayor didn’t do anything, the board didn’t do anything and things just happen,” Robinson said. “Well, they don’t. What happened on this deal was Westfield would probably be still here if it hadn’t been for the Board of Aldermen that requested the mayor and then the city administrator to listen.

“And they went forward with a redevelopment plan, which was from the city. If that hadn’t happened, Westfield probably would be still sitting right where they are — or where they were. But by doing so, well, we got a little flak from some people saying: ‘Well, you shouldn’t do this and you shouldn’t do that.’ Sometimes, you’ve just got to do what’s best for the community and not listen to all the negative.

“So the board decided that they would do this redevelopment plan. And it actually irritated Westfield because they got upset they were doing this. But we refused to back down. And they eventually asked us not to do a whole lot on that until they had a chance to sell the property.”

Additionally, Robinson said Westfield included the city in its search for companies to purchase the mall and noted that he played an active role in that decision.

“There was about I think eight companies nationwide from all over the United States that were interested in purchasing that property,” Robinson said. “Well, they picked the top three, which they considered the top three people or three companies. And they asked us to sit in on it and interview them and see who we thought we were going to be interested in working with …

“I had to call Los Angeles headquarters and talk to the legal staff at Westfield … I said we’re calling because we sat in on the meeting over there and nobody asked our opinion. When you’re usually involved, you’re usually asked your opinion. They apologized, which I thought was very gracious of Westfield because I don’t think they apologize to too many people.

“They turned around and said: ‘Who is it that you would prefer?’ I told them I prefer Centrum. And a week and a half later, they were involved and sold it to Centrum. So, a lot of people have said we don’t have anything to do with anything when you’re in these positions. But if you do become active and move on it, they do listen.”