Westfield considers legal action against city of Crestwood

Mall owner unhappy with city’s attempts to redevelop shopping center

By BURKE WASSON

In response to Crestwood’s efforts to redevelop the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, the mall’s owner is considering legal action against the city.

Tim Lowe, Westfield executive vice president of development, recently informed city officials that Crestwood’s move to solicit proposals to redevelop the mall not only would impair the Westfield Group’s legal rights, but also decrease the value of the shopping center.

Because of this, Lowe wrote in a Sept. 7 letter to the city that if Crestwood officials choose to move forward with the request for development proposals, or RDP, at the mall, Westfield would “have no choice” but to sue the city for those damages.

Lowe’s letter, which was read at the Sept. 11 Board of Aldermen meeting, states: “The city’s decision to ignore my letter of Aug. 28, 2007 which requested a delay in the issuance of the RDP will not benefit the residents of the city of Crestwood, the Board of Aldermen or Westfield.

“Notwithstanding Westfield’s objection, it appears that the city has decided to move forward with the RDP in an attempt to appease residents who want ‘something done even if it is wrong.’

“This course of action may seriously impair Westfield’s legal rights and the value of its property. Should the city elect to move forward with the RDP over our objection, we will have no choice but to seek legal redress for any and all damages which are a result of the course of action chosen by the city. This is particularly regrettable because we believe, based upon our review of the RDP and the list of proposed recipients, that, if circulated, the RDP will generate little, if any, interest.

“We therefore again reiterate our request that the city delay sending out the RDP until an agreement can be reached between the city and Westfield,” Lowe’s letter stated.

City officials met with Westfield representatives last week to discuss the issues with the RDP. Officials from both the city and Westfield have declined to comment on the outcome or nature of those talks.

At last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting, City Attorney Robert Golterman said the talks between Westfield and the city were to be moderated by a third-party marketing firm hired by Westfield.

“They’ve hired a third-party real-estate broker marketing firm,” Golterman said. “And that gentleman is going to be brought in as well. So they want to outline their strategy and discuss these issues with the city.”

On Aug. 28, Crestwood aldermen voted unanimously to seek requests from 82 developers to redevelop the struggling mall.

The Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood will see the closing of Dillard’s by Oct. 20 and has suffered from annual 13-percent decreases in sales-tax revenue.

The city’s administration has projected that the closing of Dillard’s will result in a loss of $300,000 to $350,000 this year in sales-tax revenue collected by the city. The city originally had projected a surplus of $639,445 at the end of this year in its three major funds.

While the city’s administration has not ruled out any possibilities to redevelop the mall area, officials would consider an open-air, town-center style and are open to offering certain incentives to interested developers.

Within the request for development proposals sent to developers, city officials are open to using such economic-development tools as tax-increment financing, or TIF; a transportation-development district, or TDD; and a community-improvement district, or CID.

The RDP also indicates that the city is open to using eminent domain to acquire the mall property from West-field.

But Crestwood Economic and Community Development Manager Tryla Brown has said that while Westfield officials recognize the city’s need to issue an RDP, they would fight condemning the mall property.

Aldermen originally decided by consensus during a Jan. 9 closed session to authorize the consulting firm of Peck-ham, Guyton, Albers & Viets Inc. to draft the RDP for a cost of $5,000 to $7,000. But Jean Maneke, the attorney for the Missouri Press Association, has said that consensus decision to hire PGAV violated state law.

Because Section 610.015 the Missouri Open Meetings and Records Law — better known as the Sunshine Law — stipulates that “any votes taken during a closed meeting shall be taken by roll call,” Maneke said no government body in the state can legally take a consensus vote in closed session.

City Administrator Frank Myers has indicated that the city also likely will pay $10,000 to $20,000 in upfront costs for a redevelopment plan of aldermen’s choosing.

Brancaglione has estimated that the mall’s redevelopment — which would be done in phases — will be a roughly $250 million project.

The Crestwood mall is the only shopping center in the St. Louis area that the Westfield Group still fully owns, and Westfield officials have indicated they are still trying to sell the Crestwood mall.

While Mayor Roy Robinson was hesitant to address much of Lowe’s letter during last week’s Board of Alder-men meeting and added that officials were “not going to discuss that letter in any detail,” board President Gregg Roby said he believed it was necessary for the letter to be read at last week’s meeting for the sake of the city’s residents.

“The only reason this subject was brought up tonight was because we want the public to know what we know, plain and simple,” Roby said during the meeting. “We’re not here to try to keep anything from you. You’re the citizens of Crestwood. We represent you. You’re entitled to know, in this case, what we know. That’s the reason it was read.”

Ward 1 Alderman Richard Bland also pointed out that Lowe’s previous letter asking the city to delay a decision on the RDP for two weeks was received by the city just a few hours before the board’s Aug. 28 meeting.

He added that if Westfield officials had any objections to the city’s effort to redevelop the mall, they missed an opportunity at a recent public hearing.

“I think it’s important to note that the letter to which this document is referring was issued after 4 p.m. the evening of our last Board of Aldermen meeting,” Bland said. “And I think the other thing that is also important to note is that Aug. 21 we had a public hearing to outline the RDP and to hear how that proposal was going to work. And, if I’m not mistaken, there were no representatives from Westfield at that meeting. And that would have seemed to have been an opportunity for them to have voiced their concerns as well as the citizens were able to voice their concerns.”