South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Westfield now ‘willing to work in a positive manner’ with Crestwood to redevelop mall

Jan. 9 consensus vote to hire PGAV legal, city attorney tells aldermen

After informing Crestwood officials they would “seek legal redress for any and all damages” from the city’s efforts to redevelop the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood, Westfield representatives now are “willing to work in a positive manner” with the city to redevelop the mall.

In a Sept. 20 letter to Mayor Roy Robinson, Westfield Executive Vice President of Development Tim Lowe wrote that Westfield also is searching for prospective companies to purchase the mall. Westfield is using the services of a real-estate investment firm, Eastdil Secured, to find companies that would like to acquire the mall for redevelopment opportunities.

Lowe also indicated that while Westfield still does not support the Board of Aldermen’s unanimous Aug. 28 decision to request proposals from developers to redevelop the mall, the company is willing to include city officials in talks with prospective buyers found through Eastdil Secured.

City Attorney Robert Golterman said last week that despite a previous Sept. 7 letter from Lowe indicating that Westfield would “have no choice but to seek legal redress” if the city approved a request for development proposals, or RDP, at the mall, Westfield is not considering legal action at this time.

“The city has absolutely no reason to believe at this point that Westfield is considering, contemplating or planning to file any type of legal action against the city of Crestwood,” Golterman said. “That would be completely contrary to their position and representations to us during the meeting a couple weeks ago. So that is not something that the city would anticipate at this point in time.”

Instead, Lowe has told city officials that he and Westfield representatives now are willing to work with the city to redevelop the mall.

Lowe’s Sept. 20 letter, which Golterman read at the Board of Aldermen’s Sept. 25 meeting, states: “I wanted to again thank you for taking the time on Sept. 12, 2007, to meet with Westfield and its representatives. I certainly understand and appreciate the city’s desire and willingness to pursue a redevelopment of Westfield Crestwood.

“As I explained during the meeting, Westfield has retained the services of Eastdil Secured, a real-estate investment firm specializing in the acquisition and disposition of regional shopping-center properties to effectively market the property.

“Their expertise, knowledge and industry relationships will enable them to locate interested and qualified companies to review the property and redevelopment opportunity.

“For the reasons we discussed at the meeting, Westfield is not supportive of the city’s RDP process. But Westfield is willing to work in a positive manner with the city of Crestwood to provide interested parties the opportunity to acquire the property concurrent with the RDP process. Westfield also appreciates the city’s willingness to meet with prospective purchasers identified by Eastdil to convey the city’s position relative to the redevelopment opportunity.

“It is Westfield’s desire, as I believe it is the city’s also, to find a qualified developer/purchaser of Westfield Crestwood with a vision and willingness to redevelop the property in a manner appropriate for the market. Your understanding and assistance is very much appreciated,” Lowe wrote.

Lowe’s recent willingness to work with the city is a contrast to his initial feelings on the RDP, of which he stated in a Sept. 7 letter “will generate little, if any, interest.” Lowe also felt that the RDP “may seriously impair Westfield’s legal rights and the value of its property.”

While the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood has an assessed valuation of more than $31 million, John Brancaglione — a consultant with Peckham, Guyton, Albers & Viets Inc. — has speculated that the mall could sell for as low as $21 million.

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

Because Section 610.015 of 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.

“I think they (Crestwood officials) screwed up,” Maneke previously told the Call. “The law is very black and white that all votes taken in closed meetings must be by roll-call vote. It seems to me there is no excuse for a public body to fail to take a roll-call vote in a closed-session meeting and then to think that because they did it by consensus they don’t have to release the vote. That is a clear violation of the law.”

During last week’s Board of Aldermen meeting, Golterman disputed Maneke’s assertion that the closed-session consensus vote to hire PGAV violated state law.

“Contrary to what you may have read, I will assure the board that there was no violation of the Sunshine Law in connection with the Jan. 9 proceedings in closed session — contrary to what you may have read,” Golterman said.

After the RDP was developed by PGAV, Crestwood aldermen unanimously went forward with a move 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. City officials have 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 city officials have not ruled out any possibilities to redevelop the mall area, they 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 available economic-development tools like 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 Westfield.

But 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.

City Administrator Frank Myers has indicated that the city 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 Westfield still fully owns.

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