Town-hall meeting on mall set next week in Crestwood

Mayor to offer overview of city’s finances in light of pending redevelopment of mall

By BURKE WASSON

Crestwood officials have scheduled a town-hall meeting next week to present information and field questions about the redevelopment of the recently sold mall now known as Crestwood Court.

The town-hall meeting will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 30, at the Community Center at Whitecliff Park to discuss the city’s options of redeveloping the former Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood.

Mayor Roy Robinson said while the shopping center’s new owners — Centrum Properties of Chicago and New York-based Angelo, Gordon & Co. — will not be able to attend the meeting because they still are developing architectural options, city officials would present any information they have.

Robinson said the new owners would prefer to take a variety of plans to the International Council of Shopping Centers’ spring convention from May 18 to May 21 in Las Vegas, Nev., before divulging any plans.

“I hoped that the new owners would be there,” Robinson said. “However, they have asked that they would rather come when they can present something or at least give us some ideas. They’re preparing architectural designs as we speak. And they’re going to the conference in Las Vegas where all the retailers are. They’re working everything toward that so they can be out there with these new plans and what their ideas are so they can start rounding up new retail and all that.

“They said when they get back, they’ll probably have a layout in the mall showing what they plan on doing. But we haven’t met with them to talk about anything yet. They’ve been pretty busy trying to work with the tenants over there to try to keep them in there.”

Instead, Robinson said he will offer an overview of the city’s finances with the prospect of the mall’s redevelopment now pending.

“The facts ought to be put on the table,” Robinson said. “We’re doing OK, and a lot has been determined since we have found that the new owners have bought it. And I’m reassessing all the details to try and figure out what we need during this redevelopment time.”

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 mall property in 1998 for $99.3 million.

The sale signals an end to the Westfield Group’s efforts since 2006 to sell the mall property and a beginning to what Crestwood officials hope is resurgence of the mall through redevelopment.

Andrew Jacobs, a director with Angelo, Gordon & Co, previously told the Call that the two companies are working to redevelop the mall property.

Centrum and Angelo, Gordon are keeping their options open in terms of redeveloping the mall property and would prefer to keep the property as a retail center, according to Jacobs.

Jacobs has said that a mixed-use redevelopment that incorporates a residential aspect is “one of a number of scenarios we’re looking at.”

Previously discussed plans for the mall property, which has sustained annual declines in sales-tax revenue and a deteriorating structure, have included converting the mall into a mixed-use development as part of a project valued more than $200 million.

Crestwood 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 has said that he has told prospective developers that the mall “will” be redeveloped in phases to allow the city to continue collecting revenue from existing stores.

The sale and future development of the struggling Crestwood shopping center — which last year had a reported 55-percent occupancy rate — have been a concern for city officials.

And despite the recent sale, Waldenbooks announced last week that it will close its location in the Crestwood mall.

While city officials reported last year that 53 percent of Crestwood’s sales-tax revenue comes from the mall, that percentage has dropped in recent months.

But before plans are even drawn for redevelopment, developers and city officials alike face a number of challenges, including a freeze on the issuance of bonds for tax-increment financing.

While all cities in St. Louis County are for the time being restricted from utilizing tax-increment financing to assist companies in developments, Robinson said that city officials could still weigh other tax incentives like transportation-development districts and community-improvement districts.

A group of St. Louis County municipalities, including Crestwood, filed a lawsuit in February challenging changes to the state’s tax-increment financing law adopted last year by the Legislature.

At Robinson’s request last fall, aldermen had appropriated $30,000 in the 2008 budget for “potential legal fees” tied to the redevelopment of the mall.

Board President Gregg Roby of Ward 3, Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland and Ward 2 Alderman Chris Pickel voted “yes” to participate in the lawsuit.

Ward 1 Alderman Mac McGee, Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel and Ward 4 Alderman Steve Nieder voted “no.”

Ward 2 Alderman Steve Knarr and Ward 4 Alderman John Foote were excused from the Feb. 12 meeting.

Because the Legislature mandated the establishment of new 12-member TIF commissions in St. Louis County, Jefferson County and St. Charles County, the powers of already-existing TIF commissions in various municipalities has been questioned.

Bond-counsel firms in Missouri will not issue bonds for any TIF district until legal questions relating to the newly formed TIF commissions have been settled.

Representatives for those firms also have said that a decision on those TIF commissions could come as late as August, delaying development or redevelopment projects in all three counties until then.

With all of these obstacles still standing, Robinson believes it is necessary for the city to schedule next week’s town-hall meeting to hear residents’ ideas and share as much information as they can.

“I want to go up and let people come and talk about the mall,” Robinson said. “We’ll talk whatever they want to talk about.

“I’ll give them my assessment of what I believe are the financial results of all of this. We’ll see what kind of response I get. And that’s where we’re heading,” he added.