Winners of Crestwood’s April 3 election to be sworn in next week

Successful candidates cite concerns about the condition of shopping mall

By BURKE WASSON

Harold “Mac” McGee, Steve Knarr, incumbent Crestwood Board of Aldermen President Jerry Miguel and John Foote will take their oaths of office Tuesday, April 24.

The four were elected April 3 to serve until 2010 on the Crest-wood Board of Aldermen.

Knarr edged Danielle Oettle in Ward 2 by less than 5 percentage points. Knarr received 196 votes — 52.13 percent — while Oettle received 180 votes — 47.87 percent.

Foote easily won in Ward 4 over former Alderman Bob Parsons. Foote received 365 votes — 64.37 percent — while Parsons collected 202 votes — 35.63 percent.

McGee in Ward 1 and Miguel in Ward 3 were unopposed.

McGee replaces Ward 1 Alderman Richard Breeding, who could not run for re-election because of term limits. Knarr replaces Ward 2 Alderman Jim Kelleher, who did not file for re-election.

Knarr has served on the Planning and Zoning Commission since 2002.

Miguel was elected to his second consecutive three-year term on the Board of Aldermen.

Foote replaces Ward 4 Alderman Pat Duwe, who could not be re-elected because of term limits.

While the Board of Aldermen has much to consider in the near future, each successful aldermanic candidate in the April 3 election pinpointed one frequent concern that they heard from residents while campaigning — the condition of the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood.

The mall has been the subject of sales efforts by the Westfield Corp. as recently as January and has not seen any major redevelopment plans announced since West-field planned in 2005 to build a new AMC megaplex movie theater.

No construction has ever taken place, and Westfield officials have declined to comment on that project’s future.

But as city officials are attempting to present suggestions for the mall area’s improvement to Westfield, Foote said he believes the real power of influence belongs with the people, whom he urges to “vote with their wallets.”

“There’s only so much the city can do simply because it (the mall) is a private entity operated by a corporation widely separated by distance from Crestwood,” Foote said. “So maybe the answer isn’t anything more than voting with our wallets. And what I mean by this is that if we continue to not go to the mall, not talk to the main anchors at the mall, ignore that shopping opportunity, the mall can’t succeed …

“If you dodge and evade the mall and go somewhere else and spend your dollars, there’s not much that will happen to the mall. So what we really need to do is complain less to ourselves about the mall and complain more to the people who are running the mall — the retailers, the people who sell the goods, the security forces. Speak up,” the new Ward 4 alderman added.

Because he also is concerned about the mall, McGee said he is also encouraged that city officials are continuing to bring business through not only Westfield, but also along the Watson Road corridor.

He points to the new openings of Westlake Ace Hardware and Monkey Joe’s at Crestwood Square as signs of business success, as well as the opening of Fletcher’s Kitchen and Tap in the former Houlihan’s location at the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood.

“Crestwood is still working to bring business back to the mall,” McGee said. “Crestwood mall is not dead. It’s true that there are a lot of black curtains and empty places. But you’ve got the big anchors still going good. Macy’s is not broke, Dillard’s, then you’ve got the little places and a couple of good restaurants, jewelry stores. So it’s not dead. Crestwood is diligently working with other businesses to come … New businesses are going to be coming. But it’s going to take a little time.”

Besides making efforts to increase the city’s revenue generated through the business community, all candidates also mentioned watching the city’s spending to ensure that no more obligations like the city’s previous $1.5 million line of credit can occur.

“We definitely need to be very cognizant of our spending because we’re in a position now where the city is paying its way, which is good,” Knarr said. “But we don’t have the kind of fallback or the kind of cushion that we had with the line of credit — even though it was sort of a bad thing to be getting into. But it was always there, and now we don’t have that. So I think we need to be a little more cognizant of our spending and in line with our revenues.”

Miguel, whose second successfully elected term makes him the longest-tenured alderman in Crestwood, also said he will push the board to continue to watch spending to avoid any other debts that the city has already corrected.

“Reflecting on the past three years, I think we have been successful in turning the city around financially,” Miguel said. “I believe 2006 was the first real budget surplus that we’ve had since 1998 or ’99. It was a difficult and painful process, but it was something that had to be done. I think the board and the mayor eventually got across the picture that something had to be done about the deficits that had been run up in the past several years, and the people responded. So I feel really good about that.”

As for the future, candidates said they have a variety of goals.

These include McGee’s desire to maintain the city’s strong service in its police and fire departments while also taking time to properly upgrade streets and the Watson Road corridor, Foote’s wishes for the city to better connect with residents and offer more affordable housing over time, Miguel’s concerns about staying fiscally responsible and Knarr pledging that the city will not become complacent in any of its goals while also personally offering fresh, unbiased ideas.

“I don’t think I come in aligned with anyone or with any sort of agenda to affiliate with anyone,” Knarr said. “I’m pretty much just coming in on my own. So, I’m not saying that anybody else is coming in that way. That’s just the way I look at it. I’m bringing my experience with the city and my personal background to the table to try to help Crestwood … My main concern is that we keep our nose to the grindstone and not get complacent about the fact that things are a little better than they were. I still think we’ve got a ways to go.”

To each of the aldermanic candidates, attempting to re-store viability at the Westfield Shoppingtown Crestwood would be a solid step in the right direction.

“We’ve got to keep the line of communication open,” Miguel said. “We have to look to partner with them. We need to encourage them to invest in the mall. If their intent is to sell the mall, then to work with them to sell the mall to an operation that will come back and invest in the mall. As far as what direction or the redevelopment of that mall or what it needs or what could take place there, it’s wide open.

“I think that taking that going forward, we need to get the community involved with what is going on with the mall as well. It’s going to come down to a community effort on the mall. We need to get the shoppers to come back. We need to make Westfield aware that the people are interested. And it’s something we need to work on in the community.”

If the efforts of city officials won’t work with Westfield, Foote challenges Crestwood residents to make their voices heard.

“It doesn’t matter what any of the elected officials say,” Foote said. “We’re just eight people plus a mayor. But the residents voting with their wallets and raising their voices asking for change to take place will make a difference to the mall. If you were a salesperson or you were a business owner and a customer came to you and said I’m willing to shop here, but I’d like to see these changes, would you in your right mind ignore that? No.

“The way to bring change about in the mall is to get actively involved in the mall by letting your opinions be heard by the people that can make the changes. Vote with your wallet and your voice.”