TIF Commission convenes starting Feb. 4 for Crestwood mall plan from McBride/Dierbergs

The+empty+Crestwood+mall+site%2C+with+the+buildings+demolished+and+the+site+leveled%2C+as+seen+in+May+2019.+

Photo by Jessica Belle Kramer

The empty Crestwood mall site, with the buildings demolished and the site leveled, as seen in May 2019.

By Gloria Lloyd, News Editor

The Crestwood mall site has its fourth developer in seven years, but city officials are confident that the latest plan combining proposals from McBride Homes and Dierbergs Market will actually be built, with a TIF Commission convening next week.

McBride and Dierbergs, both companies based in St. Louis, announced Dec. 22 that they have the 47-acre former Crestwood Plaza mall property at Watson and Sappington roads under contract from owner UrbanStreet Group after months of negotiations.

For decades it housed an outdoor mall, then an indoor one. But the mall’s last stores closed in 2013. The site at the center of the city has been vacant ever since, as three other plans to develop the property came and went. One major milestone along the way is that UrbanStreet demolished and leveled all the mall buildings, so the land is now level with Watson Road and easier to redevelop.

But City Administrator Kris Simpson sees this proposal as stronger than the ones that came before, backed by the companies’ strong track records.

“Recognizing that it’s the beating heart of Crestwood, we always wanted the mall site to have a certain energy,” said Simpson. “What that translated to from the city’s perspective was a mixed-use development — this project is going to have a place for people to shop, it’s going to have a place for people to dine and it’s going to have a place for people to live. Two developers working with one site to make this a vibrant project.”

A spokeswoman for McBride declined to confirm last week whether the new developers had closed on the property yet, but said the development is still on.

Members of the new Crestwood TIF Commission have been selected and will start meeting Thursday, Feb. 4, City Clerk Helen Ingold confirmed to The Call Wednesday. When the commission last met in 2016, it met weekly.

Members from Crestwood are former Mayor Gregg Roby, who was mayor when the previous 2016 TIF for UrbanStreet was approved; Mike Balles, who served on the last TIF panel; and Jim Zavist.

Lindbergh Schools will be represented by Superintendent Tony Lake and Chief Financial Officer Joël Cracchiolo. St. Louis County will be represented by acting Planning Director Gail Choate, Stephanie Streeter, Andria Roberts, Paul Hampel, Kevin McKenna and Jay Nelson.

History of the site

Three plans to develop the site have been proposed and dropped in the last seven years. First, a plan from mall owner Centrum, based in Chicago, fell through when the city balked at tax-increment financing. UrbanStreet Group bought the former mall at auction and demolished it, while proposing a large mixed-use development for the newly leveled ground. After UrbanStreet got a TIF but couldn’t sign up enough tenants, St. Louis-based Walpert tried a $300 million redevelopment called “Crestwood City Center” and signed up enough tenants to move to financing, but backed out earlier this year when financing fell through due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Plan comes together through RFP

The city sent out a request for proposals in June that drew two responses, including one that Simpson described as a large mixed-use development. The Board of Aldermen met in closed sessions for months to discuss the plan.

McBride was one of the two applicants who responded to the city’s RFP last summer, with a mixed-use plan for a single-family subdivision and some kind of retail component, without any details on the retail yet. Dierbergs later approached the city with a proposal for a retail development, and city officials asked the companies if they would be willing to combine plans. The two companies have been working together since September.

“This partnership, it just seemed destined from the beginning,” Simpson said.

McBride has shown a willingness to redevelop beloved properties into subdivisions, as seen with its plan for houses at Tower Tee that it pulled out of when local developers said they would be willing to buy the site and reopen it as a golf course and sports facility. The builder also developed a subdivision across from Grant’s Farm.

Dierbergs has grocery stores spanning the St. Louis area, but has a hole in its coverage area around Crestwood: Mayor Grant Mabie found a Dierbergs document dating to the 1980s in which the company said even back then that Crestwood would be a good place for the company to locate.

Crestwood has two grocery stores that are directly across from the mall site, Schnucks and Aldi. It had a third until Shop ’n Save closed in 2018, so city officials believe the city can support three grocery stores. Past mall proposals have included ideas for a “high-end grocery store,” and Simpson confirmed that was sometimes Dierbergs, and the grocer has also eyed other nearby sites in the city.

Many details still have yet to be worked out and there is no formal redevelopment proposal yet. But Simpson said that in early conceptual plans, the 47-acre site will be split roughly half and half between housing and retail, “maybe a shade more for McBride.” The new Dierbergs and surrounding stores would occupy the western half of the site where Macy’s used to stand while McBride would build more on the eastern side, which is where Crestwood Plaza shoppers would remember most of the mall being located and where the onetime open-air mall was.

Developer will ask for TIF; already has existing one

The $25 million in existing tax incentives for UrbanStreet are attached to the property, not the owner, so the soon-to-be new owners already have subsidies in place.

However, Dierbergs and McBride will be seeking new tax incentives instead of keeping the current subsidies that include: $15 million in either a TIF or a Chapter 353 subsidy; $5 million in Community Improvement District funds; and $5 million in Transportation Development District funds.

The companies will likely seek zoning and tax incentives at the same time, Simpson said.

“What we’re contemplating is a brand new set of incentives for the site that’s tailored for this project, we don’t have any specific details on the amount exactly or what the components are, that’s what we’ll be evaluating in the coming weeks and months, but we do know that the only incentives that are going to be TIF is going to apply to the grocery store and retail components, it’s not going to apply to the housing,” Simpson said.

Simpson points to two reasons for seeking a new TIF.

The TIF on the mall site was set for 23 years, with five years already ticked off the clock since the incentives went into effect in 2016, making them “less valuable, less useful,” the city administrator noted.

Second, the existing TIF covers the entire 47 acres, but both developers are on the same page with the city that a TIF should not apply to McBride’s subdivision, Simpson said: “Nobody wants the TIF to apply to the housing component of this. We all recognize that that would be taking money from the school district while adding a bunch of potential new students to the schools. And we don’t want that to happen. McBride didn’t want that to happen.”

Lindbergh welcomes new housing

The TIF became a major point of contention between Crestwood and Lindbergh Schools in 2016, when the school board unanimously approved a resolution against the TIF because it would apply to a 225-unit apartment complex that UrbanStreet wanted to build. The development would bring more children into the schools, which were overcrowded with surging enrollment at the time, while taking money away from the property taxes that would usually fund those schools, now-retired Superintendent Jim Simpson said. At that time, neither the city nor UrbanStreet talked with the school district or gave school officials the plan ahead of time, before it was released to the general public. The Crestwood TIF Commission approved the incentives despite the formal opposition of the school district.

This time, however, city officials and Mabie discussed the pending project with Lake before the announcement was made. Lindbergh is also less crowded since the opening of its seventh elementary school, Dressel Elementary, in August 2017.

In a statement to The Call, Lake said about the project, “We look forward to welcoming this new development to our school district, and especially the new families who will join our Lindbergh Schools community as a result. I also appreciate the ongoing conversations we’ve had with Mayor Mabie and Crestwood officials in recent years, which has allowed us to build a collaborative relationship that serves our community well.”